University of Toronto
3 min

Democracy is just a distraction

While Rome burned, they say, Nero played the violin; as parliamentary democracy in Canada is undermined to a dangerous extent, we find ourselves talking about head shots in hockey. The parliamentary budget officer produced some figures based on fairly solid data that said the cost for the F-35 fighters will be much more than the government said; Stephen Harper (who wasn’t in the House) brushed it off by saying, "I'm not getting into a lengthy debate on numbers.” As though the business of supply is so trivial given that the government won’t produce its own numbers. When confronted with the Speaker's ruling again that his government was in a prima facie breach of privilege, Harper shrugged and said, “You win some, you lose some.” And hey, isn’t it awful what happened in that hockey game.

Some, like Liberal MP Glen Pearson, now call the House of Commons broken. I don’t believe that; the institution itself is just fine. What is broken is the will of its occupants to do their jobs, which is to hold the government to account. Only they can do that, by holding the government’s feet to the fire and threatening to bring it down. Oh, but nobody could do that. Canadians don’t want another election! So now you have a government that quickly grows arrogant and flouts the very institutions of parliamentary democracy because they know they can get away with it. After all, the opposition won’t bring the government down over it because Canadians don’t want another election!

With that in mind, we turn to the first round of yesterday's question period. John Baird replied to Michael Ignatieff’s questions on the Speaker’s recent rulings by saying that these were all “Liberal distractions” and that we should focus on the economy. Ignatieff called him on that; he asked if the government believes that democracy is just a distraction. Meanwhile, the opposition abets the government because they won’t bring it down.

Dominic LeBlanc followed the first exchange by asking about the aforementioned PBO report on the F-35s; the PBO was assailed in return. Gilles Duceppe went after Bev Oda, who replied for herself, saying that she would cooperate with the committee. Christiane Gagnon went after the government’s planned advertising spree for the 2011 budget, which Flaherty shrugged off as routine and not the “propaganda budget” Gagnon called it. Layton closed off the round with questions on the Speaker’s ruling.

Round two kicked off with Siobhan Coady and Pablo Rodriguez returning to the topic of the planned advertising spree ($4 million in ads over a single week). Jean-Claude D’Amours and Meili Faille asked about Christiane Ouimet’s severance package, and Robert Carrier asked about the allegations of corruption at the Montreal office of the Canada Revenue Agency. Rob Oliphant went after Jason Kenney on where he got the demographic data for his ethnic outreach program and the amount of department resources that were spent on it. Martha Hall Findlay went after the funds the party received as part of the In & Out scheme.

Round three saw questions on the F-35s, EI programs, forestry assistance, Bev Oda and the Kairos funding, asbestos, In & Out, First Nations policing, and news that New Brunswick had apparently been declared a unilingual province despite its large Acadian population.

Sartorially speaking, it was a day of few opportunities for snaps, so I’ll move directly to the citations: Gary Schellenberger for his mint-ice-cream green jacket; Marlene Jennings for her orange leather jacket with red top beneath; Stockwell Day for his fluorescent blue shirt; and Meili Faille for a leather jacket just a shade or two off Day’s shirt.

On the subject of Ouimet, the disgraced former integrity commissioner did appear at committee. She came out swinging by hitting back at the auditor general’s report on her office. She also said that the government pushed her out and that she didn’t leave willingly. This last bit is very interesting as it should have been Parliament that had the power to remove her, not the PMO. It is also suspect for Harper to say now that her severance package was the “quickest and cheapest way” to deal with the problem. There is likely more to this story.

Elsewhere, Bob Rae reminds us that we should be as worried about democracy at home as we are about attaining it in the Middle East.

Watch Jason Kenney embarrass himself as he is crowned “King of Multiculturalism” at a Conservative party event with the Filipino community in Brampton. And hey, spending in his office has soared. It’s only because multiculturalism has been added to the portfolio (which is a conflict of interest and why it wasn't added before) and not because he’s using his office for illicit partisan activities. Right?
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