The Commons: The mild voice of consensus

With the Throne Speech through, MPs returned to the House to lounge about before business began. Speaker Peter Milliken fiddled with the morning paper’s Sudoku. Veteran Affairs Minister Greg Thomson flipped through the New Yorker. The Prime Minister scrutinized a copy of the new seating chart, periodically looking up to see precisely where his least favourite members of the Liberal side were now seated.

Eventually it was decided that perhaps they should get on with the business of rescuing the nation from economic apocalypse, so Milliken put away his Sudoku and called the proceedings to order. The Prime Minister rose to a standing ovation and commenced with the procedural formalities.

When it came time to begin debate, Mr. Harper turned to Tilly O’Neill-Gordon, the retired elementary school teacher from Miramichi who sits in the back row and speaks in exactly the tone of voice one would expect from a retired elementary school teacher. Here, one imagined, was the mild voice of consensus we had been promised.

She spoke of our “unprecedented time” and its “unprecedented challenge.” 

“What,” she asked, “are we going to do about it?”

She promised “action” not “words.” She dismissed “partisan games” and “abstract facts” and “elite academics” and “special interests.” She observed that we need both “big ideas” and “concrete ideas.” She appealed to our national spirit, expressed concern for seniors, young families and small businesses. At her right elbow, Pierre Poilievre, the angel-faced student, nodded enthusiastically.

“Will politicians,” she asked, “once again angle for partisan interest?”

On her side of the political divide, she explained, “unprecedented consultation” had resulted in an “unprecedented action plan.” Shovels, she vowed, would soon be in the ground.

“There is still time,” she begged, “to prove that the system works.”

With their first opportunity, the Liberals sent up Lise Zarac, heir to Paul Martin’s Montreal riding and last on the alphabetical list of our 40th Parliament. She rose with all variety of troublesome questions, about the suspension of parliament, the previously promised surplus, the newly discovered deficit and how it is we came to find ourselves wherever we are at this moment.

Louis Plamondon, the longest-suffering of our current MPs, rose for the Bloc Quebecois, wondering about the yawning chasm between election rhetoric (No deficit! No recession! No worries!) and government action (Huge deficit! Possible depression! Everybody panic!). “How,” he asked, “can one explain this discourse?”

Fear not, Tilly comforted, just listen to the soothing words of the “unprecedented Throne Speech.”

The NDP’s Thomas Mulcair stepped forward with an old quote of Mr. Harper’s—one which seemed to lament the preemptive leaking of theoretically confidential budget information—and a question about the billions of dollars in disclosures over the last 72 hours.

“These are not leaks,” the Conservative corrected, “these are announcements. Canadians had questions, we are answering them.”

On that note, Paul Szabo—who, while a Liberal is still more or less a Canadian—rose with query. Would new spending promised in this year’s budget, he asked, have to wait until the next fiscal year or be dispensed forthwith? 

“I’m not prepared to speculate on what might be in the budget,” Tilly demurred. “Like they say in school, just one more sleep.”