The last howls of the 41st House of Commons

The 41st edition of the House of Commons comes to an end after four years of fights. The confirming or humbling exercise of democracy is four months away.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Chris Wattie/Reuters

“Mr. Speaker, that is the kind of arrogance that could mean that this is the Prime Minister’s last question period,” Thomas Mulcair said with a slight smile.

“Mr. Speaker, I remind the leader of the NDP that it will be Canadians, not him, who decide the results of the next election,” the Prime Minister responded with the hint of a grin.

“Mr. Speaker, Canadians have already decided, and they want change,” the NDP leader came back.

“The kind of change Canadians are seeking is change that means more prosperity, lower taxes and greater trade,” Mr. Harper ventured.

Politics is the art of the possible, and the enduring allure of politics is the thought of what might be possible. And, at the moment, nearly anything is possible.

It’s possible, for instance, that when next the House of Commons is convened, Mulcair will be sitting in the spot he has intensely stared down these last two years. It’s possible he’ll have the Prime Minister’s seat as a result of some arrangement with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. Or vice versa. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Mulcair will still be in the opposition leader’s seat and Trudeau will be in the Prime Minister’s seat. Or vice versa. It is at least not implausible that the Conservatives, New Democrats and Liberals will all wake up on Oct. 20 with 112 seats and that it will then be up to Elizabeth May and Brent Rathgeber to decide who the prime minister will be.

It’s also possible that Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau will be in exactly the same seats after Oct. 19.

It is possible that we are still, or, once again, underestimating Trudeau; that this could still be his moment. Or, of course, it might not be. So eager are the Conservatives to believe him mockable that they immediately burst into laughter on Wednesday when he began a question with the words, “It’s 2015.” His actual question was about the rather unfunny topic of sexual harassment in the military.

That was in the middle of Mulcair’s fascinating set-to with the Prime Minister, a fine display of why each is such a formidable opponent, and a reminder that Harper will not easily be defeated. (The government’s desire to make the official Opposition’s satellite offices out to be the greatest political scandal of the last decade is rather brave—”This is exactly the kind of thing that happened in the sponsorship scandal,” the Prime Minister ventured on Wednesday—but it is at least an unfortunate detail for an NDP side that might otherwise claim to be holier than thou.)

Immediately after the leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister finished, Liberal MP Wayne Easter stood and pursued the small question of whether or not government records were unlawfully destroyed, a matter that is seemingly rendered moot by the government’s use of an omnibus budget bill to retroactively reimagine the will of Parliament (one of Mulcair’s questions had been on this). The Public Safety minister stood and explained that this was really about the registration of firearms. That Parliament managed to so casually do what it did this month—never mind a legal challenge, never mind an OPP investigation—does not flatter this town. Perhaps if it weren’t so late in the game and it wasn’t something to do with the long-gun registry, there would have been more of a fight. (Perhaps, if the NDP forms a majority government this fall, it can retroactively rewrite the rules to ensure its satellite offices were allowable.)

After the clumsy wrestling of the minority Parliaments, there was at least some fight in the 41st. It more or less began with a filibuster, Jack Layton’s last act as a parliamentarian. There was a fight over C-38, and the general notion of proper legislation. There was a fight over C-45, and environmental regulation and Aboriginal rights. There was a fight over C-23, and what constitutes a fair election. There was a fight over C-51, and civil liberties and terrorism. There was the celebratory defiance of Oct. 23. And there was that time Peter Van Loan and Thomas Mulcair got all up in each other’s business.

There was Harper trying to fight off his decision to appoint Mike Duffy to the Senate. There was Mulcair fighting to be noticed. There was the Liberal party fighting for its survival.

All of that playing out against the lamentable backdrop of an institution flailing at the task of being properly useful.

For all that fighting, barely anything has been settled, which is perhaps the eternal truth of politics. The basic structures of our democracy are up for debate. The Senate’s lifelong existential crisis might actually bring about some kind of change. Various parts of the Harper government’s agenda might be undone, adjusted or solidified. The philosophies and economics of child care are at issue. An inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women hangs in the balance. At least implicitly, there remains some discussion to be had about the shape and role of government. In the final days of the 41st edition of the House of Commons, the New Democrats and Liberals could invoke no less than the Pope to chastise the government’s approach to climate change; the government was at least respectful enough to avoid accusing His Holiness of favouring a job-killing carbon tax. Parliament concludes without having passed a bill on transgender rights. Doctors were in the streets this week to protest changes to the health care provided for refugee claimants. The last bill tabled by the government in the House of Commons this afternoon would ban the niqab during the swearing of the citizenship oath.

The howling now moves beyond Parliament to the less genteel surroundings of suburban banquet halls and kitchen photo-ops and TV studios and Facebook feeds. Twitter will soon be hell.

Three parties can justifiably tell themselves they have a shot. Any one of three men could be prime minister by year’s end. The competition at this level has never been tighter. The possibilities are nearly endless. The great feat of daring is afoot, the confirming or humbling exercise of democracy is four months away.

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