The Commons: The hangover and the afterglow

Much applause for Kevin Lamoureux, newly-elected MP for Winnipeg North

The Scene. The Speaker rose and announced that a new member had arrived and here a short, balding, baby-faced man appeared at the entrance to the House. This man was Kevin Lamoureux, the victorious Liberal candidate in the recent by-election ordered to fill the vacancy in the riding of Winnipeg-North.

In keeping with tradition, the leader of the new member’s assigned party was dispatched to retrieve him. Michael Ignatieff, finding something here for which he could surely not be blamed, positively beamed as he took Mr. Lamoureux by the arm and led him to where he would be formally introduced to the Speaker. All sides stood to applaud as Mr. Lamoureux made his way down the aisle, the Liberals hooting and hollering most of all. As he then went to find his seat, various members of the official opposition reached out to shake his hand. Hedy Fry planted a kiss on his cheek.

Momentum here seeming to swing on the most flimsy and fleeting of grounds—a bit like a professional wrestling crowd, only less rational—the official opposition was obviously chuffed, noticeably buoyant. If the government had spent last night dancing and singing and feigning interest in the ideals of John Lennon, this was apparently the opposition’s turn to revel for the cameras. 

The Liberals had barely stopped applauding the arrival of Mr. Lamoureux when they were up again to stand and cheer Mr. Ignatieff as he opened Question Period. Reviewing various alleged capitulations to the American administration and taking note of a report in one of the morning papers that Canada is negotiating a continental security perimeter with the United States, the Liberal wondered aloud how Canadians could expect this government to protect this nation’s sovereignty.

When the opposition parties pressed the government side this week on matters of climate change, it was often unrelated ministers who rose to respond. And so here, faced with a question not particularly related to global warming, the government sent up, to howls from the Liberal side, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of the environment to expound on the government’s agenda in Cancun.

Mr. Ignatieff was duly unimpressed.  “Mr. Speaker, I am wondering whether the opposite side could inform the honourable member that the question was about the secret perimeter negotiations with the Americans, not Cancun,” he shot back. “Will the member wake up and treat this House with respect?”

In fairness, the government was perhaps slightly hung over. Pressed, for instance, by Jack Layton to explain why the integrity commissioner had proven to be “somewhat short on integrity,” the apparently sleep-deprived Stockwell Day stood and lamented that Parliament had not been smart enough three years ago to loudly reject the Prime Minister’s chosen candidate for the position. “He should know very well,” Mr. Day said of Mr. Layton, “that this person is put in place by Parliament.”

Mr. Layton duly mocked this response and when the Liberals picked up the line of questioning, Mr. Day decided to suggest that there might not have even needed to be an integrity commissioner, if the previous Liberal government hadn’t been so beset with scandal. Even by the generous standards of relevance that must normally be applied to government responses in this place, this seemed a stretch too far.

Shortly thereafter the Speaker called on Mr. Lamoureux and the Liberals stood again to cheer the new fellow’s existence. The short, balding baby-faced man, a veteran of the Manitoba minor leagues, was obviously ready for his call-up. “Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister and his government says yes to $6 billion in corporate tax breaks, yet families in Winnipeg’s north end are concerned about the government completely ignoring important issues such as youth programs and seniors pensions,” he declared, wagging his finger and crying out his words like he’d been here for years. “In the recent by-election the Prime Minister had a chance to justify his priorities to the people of Winnipeg North but instead he had a meeting behind closed doors. Why was the Prime Minister scared to engage real people in Winnipeg’s north end?”

The Liberals rose to cheer again as he finished.

The Human Resources Minister was chosen to take this one and Ms. Finley valiantly attempted to claim that, despite the recent polling of Elections Canada, the people of Winnipeg-North were quite understanding and supportive of government policy. Over then again to Mr. Lamoureux to declare that “the government has failed the test of compassion.”

“The Prime Minister’s priorities are billions in corporate tax breaks and billions untendered fighter jets,” he reported. “Governments need to put people first, demonstrate a real interest in improving our health care system, develop more effective programs for our youth. In Winnipeg’s north end the Conservatives have failed on all fronts. How can the government explain its complete failure to improve the living conditions of our communities?”

Once more the Liberals leapt up to applaud.

Only the patronizing tone of Peter MacKay’s voice could save the government side now and indeed here the Defence Minister shouted something about “the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces,” prompting a number of Conservative backbenchers, perhaps moved only by instinct, to stand and clap.

The Stats. Ethics, eight questions. The environment, six questions. Seniors, five questions. Foreign affairs and cigarettes, three questions each. The military, employment, copyright, aboriginal affairs and government spending, two questions each. Terrorism, disaster relief and the economy, two questions each.

Diane Finley, seven answers. Stockwell Day, six answers. Mark Warawa and James Moore, four answers each. Peter MacKay, Leona Aglukkaq, Vic Toews and John Duncan, three answers each. Christian Paradis, two answers. Tony Clement, Chuck Strahl and Ted Menzies, one answer each.

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