The Commons: Stephen Harper decides to play poker

The PM thinks there simply isn't much to say about the mysterious phone calls to voters

The Scene. Rising just before Question Period, the NDP’s David Christopherson read aloud from the official opposition’s indictment.

“Canadians demand answers. They deserve better than another five-year runaround by the Prime Minister before their next inevitable guilty plea. The Prime Minister has it within his power to get to the bottom of this today, to identify the guilty parties and to ensure that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” he ventured, “or the Prime Minister will have proven that in no time at all he has become exactly that which he used to loathe.”

He stretched the vowel sound of this last word for the sake of indignation. Seated across the way, making a rare Monday appearance, the Prime Minister noticeably bounced in his spot with a guffaw. He chuckled again a moment later when Nycole Turmel suggested special by-elections might soon be in order.

The opposition members, their outrage pent up after four days of allegation and accusation, could not contain themselves.

“What is the Prime Minister doing to prevent these fraudulent tactics?” Ms. Turmel begged with her first opportunity. “What will he do to really restore people’s confidence and improve rather than reduce the voter turnout? That’s the question: the rate of people’s trust in the electoral process.”

“Mr. Speaker, it is more in sadness than in anger that Canadians watch what could be the most comprehensive election fraud in Canadian history and there is not a person in the country that is buying the lone gunman on the sixth floor of the book depository theory,” Pat Martin fumed awhile later. “This took big money and sophistication to execute.”

Dean Del Mastro, the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, stood and gasped that this was “patently false.” Mr. Del Mastro apparently being quite a stickler for truth in analogy.

“Mr. Speaker, it is hard to understand or believe the government’s answers,” Bob Rae lamented. “The party that has control of the information with respect to Crestview, with respect to RackNine, with respect to campaign research, with respect to in-person calls, robocalls, at midnight, during the day, the party and the government that understands that and knows that and has control of that information is over there. They are the ones who have to come forward with the information.”

He raised his voice and jabbed his finger. “When,” he begged, “is the Prime Minister of Canada going to take some degree of personal responsibility for what is taking place in this country?”

As much as the government was desperate to say everything, the government side was eager to say nothing. Or at least to say that there was nothing much here to say.

Mr. Del Mastro, for instance, ventured that allegations of voter suppression were unfounded because, in fact, total voter turnout in 2011 was improved over 2008. (The Liberal party might beg to differ with his math.)

Mr. Harper was mostly upturned palms and shrugs. He castigated the Liberal corner for its willingness to make “broad, sweeping allegations.” And he seemed to not quite believe any of what he was hearing was substantial enough to worry about as yet. Indeed, he very nearly dared the other parties in this regard.

“If the NDP has any information that inappropriate calls were placed, and we certainly have information in some cases and we have given that to Elections Canada,” he said, “then I challenge that party to produce that information and give it to Elections Canada.”

Here then, it seems, a sort of gamble. That the other parties around the table don’t have much. Or, at the very least, they don’t have enough to beat him. That for all that is being reported and alleged, everything that may or may not mean about our politics and the last election, it all doesn’t—or won’t—amount to anything.

“I can certainly assure the member that on this side we can produce all the documentation necessary on our own activities,” he chided Mr. Rae, “but we are interested to see what information the members opposite actually claim to have.”

So the state of our democracy is now a matter of who’s bluffing.

The Stats. Ethics, 18 questions. Military procurement, three questions. Online surveillance, government spending, Saudi Arabia and immigration, two questions each. The Canadian Wheat Board, Iran, aboriginal affairs, telecommunications, crime, pharmaceuticals, Africa and bilingualism, one question each.

Dean Del Mastro, eight answers. Stephen Harper, six answers. Pierre Poilievre, four answers. John Baird, Diane Finley and Julian Fantino, three answers each. Vic Toews and Jason Kenney, two answers each. Denis Lebel, Dave Anderson, John Duncan, Mike Lake, Rob Nicholson, Leona Aglukkaq and Bev Oda, one answer.