The Commons: The Harper government fully embraces satire -

The Commons: The Harper government fully embraces satire

And it happened under the leadership of Peter Van Loan


The Scene. The Prime Minister wasn’t present for Question Period this afternoon. He had a photo op to attend to. As a result, it was Peter Van Loan’s responsibility to stand and lead the Conservative response this day. History will make notice of this only because it was under Mr. Van Loan’s leadership today that the Harper government fully embraced a satirical approach to political discourse.

After two Conservative MPs had been sent up to mouth this month’s talking point—Rick Dykstra deserves special mention for managing to accuse the NDP leader of both not backing down on cap-and-trade and not sufficiently defending it in the House—Thomas Mulcair stood and ventured his own version of events.

“Mr. Speaker, yesterday I asked the Prime Minister what his government is doing to help the unemployed. The Prime Minister’s answer was bring in more temporary foreign workers,” Mr. Mulcair reported.

This seems a creative recounting of Mr. Mulcair’s fourth question and Mr. Harper’s fifth response on Tuesday.

“Can the Prime Minister tell us,” the NDP leader asked this afternoon, “exactly how bringing in more temporary foreign workers will help unemployed Canadians find jobs?”

In response, Mr. Van Loan deferred to an impressive-sounding number (“770,000 net new jobs”) and scary-sounding monsters (” job-killing carbon taxes”). Mr. Mulcair had some numbers of his own. “Mr. Speaker, there are still over 300,000 more people unemployed today than before the 2008 recession. That is the fact,” Mr. Mulcair asserted. “Wrong! Wrong!” cried various Conservative voices.

“The question is,” Mr. Mulcair clarified, “how will bringing in more temporary foreign workers help the unemployed in Canada? We wanted to help Canadian unemployed. The government is obviously helping unemployed in another country. The Conservatives have changed the rules to make it legal to pay temporary foreign workers up to 15% less than Canadian workers doing the same job. Is that their message to the unemployed? ‘Work for less or we will bring in someone to replace you.’ ”

There was some desk thumping on the opposition side and a dozen New Democrats stood to applaud their man’s outrage.

“Mr. Speaker, on the contrary, our policies aim to create more jobs for Canadians,” Mr. Van Loan asserted, left hand in pants pocket, right hand gesturing variously. “That is why we have brought in changes to our immigration policy that will actually put a preference on giving jobs to Canadians to see that Canadians get those jobs first. We want to see that happen.”

To square this rhetorical circle, the NDP leader moved on to the Harper government’s employment insurance reforms (“From now on, Canadians will have to choose: take a 30% permanent pay cut or be kicked off EI”). The Conservative House leader pronounced more shame on the New Democrats (“We believe that Canadians prefer to have a job and do not prefer to be on employment insurance”). And then Mr. Van  Loan attempted to read from the NDP’s 2011 platform.

“The problem,” Mr. Van Loan posited of Mr. Mulcair, “is he will not address what he will do to kill jobs in Canada. He pretends it is not there, but it is here in black and white.”

Mr. Van Loan held in his hand a piece of paper. “It is called the New Democratic Platform 2011 and it says a ‘Total Expenditure.’ Sorry,” he stumbled, ” ‘Green Job Creation.’ Sorry. ‘Cap and Trade Revenues By Year,’ $21.5 billion—”

He was out of time and the New Democrats were standing to applaud and laughing happily at Mr. Van Loan’s bumbling.

“Mr. Speaker,” chided Mr. Mulcair, “I thank the other side very much for reminding Canadians about our plan to create green jobs.”

Mr. Van Loan gave it another try. “It is in black and white. He denies it and pretends it does not exist, but the problem for him is that it is here,” the Government House leader protested. “He ran on it in the last election and he pretends it is not there now.”

To think that a politician would run for office while promising a specific policy—put it in black and white in a campaign platform—and then pretend that policy was no longer there? (Imagine if that politician got elected? And then imagine if that politician went and attacked another politician for promoting the same policy that politician had once promised?) One can only assume Mr. Van Loan was being ironic in alleging such a ridiculous farce.

Now Mr. Mulcair was up, louder and more demonstrative and seeming to suggest that the next to be unemployed were sitting across from him.

Mr. Van Loan now turned to new evidence: the NDP’s motion calling on the Prime Minister to accept an invitation to meet with the premiers to discuss the economy. “We finally got details of the NDP plan for the economy above and beyond the carbon tax,” the Government House leader reported. “Tomorrow, in its opposition day motion it has set out its detailed economic plan. He has been asking for point-by-point details. What is the NDP plan? Let us have a meeting in a couple of months. That is his idea: more meetings. That is not going to solve the economy.”

This was indeed hilarious. Primarily because of the six-point plan the Prime Minister announced the day after the election in October 2008. Point #2 was a meeting with the European Union. Point #3 was to have Parliament meet to review a fiscal update. Point #4 involved participating in a meeting of G20 finance ministers and calling for a meeting of G7 finance ministers. And then there was Point #6: “Convening a First Ministers’ Meeting on the Economy to discuss with premiers and territorial leaders a joint approach to the global financial crisis.”

For sure, the punchline to Mr. Van Loan’s sly joke takes a bit of explanation. But once you understand the subtext, you surely can’t help but guffaw.

The Stats. The economy, eight questions. Aboriginal affairs, five questions. Foreign investment, four questions. Taxation, three questions. Transportation, gas prices, foreign aid and asbestos, two questions each. The Canadian Forces, employment insurance, the RCMP, co-ops, pensions, the coast guard, crime and immigration, one question each.

Peter Van Loan and Christian Paradis, eight responses each. Greg Rickford, five responses. Gail Shea, three responses. Steven Fletcher, Julian Fantino, Diane Finley and Gerry Ritz, two responses each. Peter MacKay, Steven Blaney, Gerald Keddy, Tony Clement, Keith Ashfield, Rob Nicholson and Rick Dykstra, one question each.