The Commons: Lights on, nobody home - Macleans.ca

The Commons: Lights on, nobody home

What’s left of the legislative process once the furious indignation and the bad puns are stripped away? Not much.

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For the record, the doors were, in fact, locked. The House of Commons, all lit up, was empty and quiet. At worst, a betrayal of our democracy, a grievous symbol of Parliament’s decline. At best, a minor waste of electricity.

In the morning, the Liberal and NDP caucuses had taken turns standing in front of the Commons in order to demonstrate their similar frustrations. Michael Ignatieff took the opportunity to propose a number of reforms that might ensure we never have to witness these sorts of photo ops again. The press gallery took that opportunity to express its confusion and impatience with infinitely debatable complications of constitutional law.

By the afternoon, things had quieted down some.

In the foyer outside the Commons, a large spotlight stood unfilled. A standing microphone, unbreathed-upon. A booth full of coat hangers, unburdened. The halls of our democracy, owing to a day of unseasonably warm temperatures, were a bit stuffy and humid.

Around the time Question Period would’ve begun, Bob Rae and John McCallum arrived to discuss the questions they would’ve asked. Mr. McCallum, wearing a “Liberals at work” button, explained that he would’ve quizzed the Prime Minister about the paucity of jobs for employable Canadians, a topic the Liberals were, coincidentally, discussing in a day-long forum down the hall. Mr. Rae reviewed all the respectful questions he had about the government’s efforts in and for Haiti.

“Rather than curse the darkness,” Mr. Rae mused, “we’re going to light a few candles.”

While the two Liberals entertained reporters, a pair of tour groups were led into the House lobby to gawk at the out-dated relic of democracy that is the Commons.

In the Railway Room, one of Parliament’s two main committee rooms, the Liberals were about then beginning a session on youth unemployment. After a few opening words from Mr. Ignatieff, the discussion was presided over by Justin Trudeau, he a young person who has found lucrative work in a highly selective field despite the economic downturn and without having to tame his exuberant locks.

From a makeshift stage, various representatives of various organizations and causes explained their various situations to about three dozen Liberal MPs. On a table by the back wall, a few stray sandwiches and wraps sat unspoken for. If the meeting had been called for the sake of the press gallery, it failed miserably—there being just one scribe present and he being of absolutely no influence whatsoever.

Problems were identified, proposals were offered. Mr. Ignatieff sat in the front row, his reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, listening seriously. It eventually came time for questions. The MPs seemed to struggle with this opportunity to ask things of people who were not also politicians and without the usual constraints of Parliamentary discourse. After a couple long-winded contributions, Mr. Trudeau reminded his audience to be succinct and focused. Larry Bagnell rose then with a five-point statement. Ken Dryden rose and spoke for three and a half hours before arriving at a deep existential question about what separates those who succeed from those who fail.

The situation called out for some sort of overseeing power to enforce time limits and order—call it, maybe, a “Speaker.” And for whatever it possessed in deep and nuanced discussion of policy and social structures, it surely lacked in furious indignation, bad puns and the implicit suggestion that whoever was standing opposite you is inherently evil.

Alas. The third of March can not come fast enough.