The Commons: Yell louder

The Scene. “Mr. Speaker,” Chuck Strahl said the other day, scolding Todd Russell, the typically loud Liberal from Labrador, “there is that old saying on the preacher’s note, ‘unsure of point, must yell louder.'”

It was a witty retort. And a remarkably candid explanation of how this government has apparently decided to approach this moment of economic crisis, unwinnable war and newly emboldened opposition.

The yelling began in earnest last week. Armed gangs ruled our streets. The Russians were threatening invasion. And, worst of all amid these infinite threats, the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois weren’t showing the government due deference. Speaking in British Columbia, the Prime Minister dismissed opposition parties as sympathetic to criminals and disrespectful of democracy, then threatened them and everyone else with an election.

Back in the House this week, his obedient backbenchers were dispatched to read statements of outrage for the Liberal leader. On this day, for instance, four Conservatives were sent up in the 15 minutes before Question Period to disparage the opposition, most of the complaints having something or other to do with the Liberal side.

“Mr. Speaker, I understand the Liberal leader will be launching a book called True Patriot Love,” observed Laurie Hawn, a 61-year-old former air force colonel, taking issue with the relatively insignificant comments of a senator you’ve probably never heard of. “I would like to know if true patriot love includes having someone who supports the creation of the Bloc Newfoundland and Labrador in the Liberal Party.”

A moment later, Michael Ignatieff still somehow summoned the courage to stand and ask the afternoon’s first question.

How, he wondered, could the government account for its inability to spend some $3 billion in previously budgeted infrastructure spending?

Stephen Harper promised to spend significantly in the coming months.

“Mr. Speaker,” Ignatieff corrected, “we are talking about money that will lapse if he does not spend it shortly.”

The Prime Minister once more referred him to the spending in next year’s budget and accused the Liberal of not being helpful enough in that regard.

Ignatieff persisted. With his final answer on the matter, the Prime Minister decided to frame the matter on his own terms.

“I hate to use this expression,” he said, “but the leader of the opposition really is engaged on this entire budgetary business on the biggest exercise of suck and blow I have ever seen in Canadian history.”

Stephane Dion made his return then, receiving a standing ovation from the Liberal side and even a smatter of applause from the NDP.

“Didn’t you used to be somebody?” chirped a Conservative.

“Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Federal Court told the government that it must take all reasonable steps to stop the execution of the Canadian citizen facing the death penalty in Montana. The court said that the government’s refusal to support this Canadian citizen was a breach of duty, unlawful and invalid,” he explained. “Will the Minister of Justice assure Canadians that he will not appeal this ruling and that the Conservative government will finally stop picking and choosing which Canadians to defend and which rights it stands up for?”

Peter Kent, the converted newsman, was nominated to take this one. “Mr. Speaker, before I answer my honourable colleague’s question, I would like to remind him of the two young aboriginal men whose lives were brutally cut short by Ronald Allen Smith who marched them into a Montana forest and shot them execution style,” he said. “That said, we are currently reviewing the court’s decision and it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

“Mr. Speaker, tragically no capital punishment will bring these lives back,” Dion shot back in English before repeating his question in French.

“Mr. Speaker, it would be nice if the opposition members showed as much compassion and concern for the lives of victims and their families as they do for those of criminals,” replied Kent, sounding nearly prime ministerial.

The rest of the day was all yelling and hand gestures—the Liberals taking great fun in taunting Kent, the Conservatives later enjoying an opportunity to mock Ken Dryden.

Bob Rae rose to press, again, the matter of whether Canada might appoint a special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kent suggested that perhaps he should show more confidence in our diplomats.

Conservative Phil McColeman was sent up to ask his own government about the situation in Sri Lanka and a Tamil rally taking place on Parliament Hill. Kent took the opportunity to suggest a Liberal MP had been pandering to terrorist symbols.

A few moments later, Conservative Greg Rickford was dispatched to publicly wonder about the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition and the Plains of Abraham. Pierre Poilievre rose in response to explain that, in addition to the aforementioned pandering, Liberals were also not sufficiently distanced from racist and separatist elements.

“The Liberal leader should show true patriot love,” he explained, “condemn separatism and stand up for Canada.”

The Prime Minister smiled, seeming to find great fun in this.

The Stats. Employment, eight questions. Infrastructure and Afghanistan, five questions each. Pay equity, four questions. Capital punishment, Aboriginals, child care and Chuck Cadman, two questions each. Mexico, immigration, trade, Sri Lanka, fisheries, Saudi Arabia, Bisphenol A, history and government contracts, one question each.