Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. We livestream and liveblog all the action, and then highlight the most important or interesting moment afterward.
The prime minister’s written response to the apparent beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya, Egyptians murdered by killers who claim allegiance to Islamic State, struck all the traditional notes. Stephen Harper was “outraged and saddened” by the “barbaric acts,” he offered “deepest condolences” to everyone in mourning, and he reiterated that Canada will “stand firmly together” with the military coalition that hopes to extinguish Islamic State.
Harper’s response used a prime ministerial brand of strong language that’s become standard whenever fanatics unleash nightmares on innocent people. World leaders used the same words when a madman attacked Parliament Hill. The rhetoric comprises a widely accepted worldview that innocent people ought to live in peace. It also reinforces a popular belief, one that’s by no means universal, that armed conflict against extremists who threaten those innocent people is worth the cost.
Jason Kenney, the new defence minister with a knack for candid speech, cribbed largely from the prime minister’s rhetoric as he responded to the Coptic slaughter during question period. Kenney also referred to Islamic State as a “death cult,” a moniker he first applied last October as he made the case for airstrikes in Iraq—and which others in the House have since repeated. This afternoon, in question period, he applied his go-to measured tone, eschewed any opposition shaming, reinforced his government’s belief in ongoing airstrikes, and sat down to light applause. Fiery jingoism, it was not.
But yesterday was different. Kenney’s tweeted reaction to the beheadings was far less conventional. He recalled that the victims were killed because of their standing as “followers of the Cross,” and then, out of respect for the faith of the dead, typed out a prayer retweeted 128 times: “Eternal rest grant unto them, let light perpetual shine upon them.”
#ISIL death cult has beheaded 21 Copts for being “followers of the Cross.” Eternal rest grant unto them, let light perpetual shine upon them
A typical observer might not think much of Kenney’s tweet. But imagine the reaction of an extremist who’s hell-bent on killing anyone who disagrees with his view of the world. The Canadian minister responsible for war responded to the intentional slaying of Christians with a Christian prayer. Kenney is no fool; he knows how inflammatory that sounds to the people who are, it’s worth remembering, also on the receiving end of Canadian airstrikes.
The new defence minister may sometimes speak with a calm voice, but monotonous he is not. First, Jason Kenney’s trademarks used to be immigration reform and a jobs plan. Now, he’s taking on a gang of murderers he pointedly, and repeatedly, labels a death cult. This is not like his other jobs. This will not be a boring minister.
The last time the deputy speaker adjourned the House of Commons, the date was Feb. 6, the clock read 2:03 p.m., and parliamentarians who stuck around to the end of the Friday sitting had just unanimously passed Bill C-608, the National Day of the Midwife Act, at third reading. Everybody left the chamber, most MPs went to their ridings for a week, and politics decided to get interesting.
What’s changed in 10 days? A new guy heads up Canadian foreign policy, a new guy heads up the Canadian Armed Forces, a former Conservative now sits among the Liberals, and a former conservative news network is no more. Boring doesn’t describe any of those promotions, or lateral moves, or disappearances (you and the person beside you might disagree about which counts as what). Rob Nicholson, the new foreign minister, had a few days to become as strident in his adopted portfolio as his predecessor, who spent four years with the gig. Jason Kenney, the new defence minister with a reputation for long hours in the office, has spent years remaking Canadian immigration and jobs policy. He will now oversee a war. Eve Adams, the newest Liberal MP, could have a tough time finding a place to get re-elected on Justin Trudeau’s team. Sun News Network’s demise might not change the ratings game, but it’s one less place to hear a right-leaning voice.
Now, because non-boring is in vogue, the government is threatening to force an end to a CP rail work stoppage. New Democrats who famously filibustered a bill that forced mail carriers back to work in 2011 are, predictably, not impressed. Question period could give us a vintage, left-right fight over the right to strike. Boring? No way.