With Michael Ignatieff absent, and Stephen Harper dropping in on our soldiers in Afghanistan unannounced, Canadians could at least be reassured that the man who was once Prime Minister on TV was keeping an eye on things. Paul Gross was in the Members’ Gallery, in town to accept a Governor General’s Award, and he seemed pretty keen as to the goings on during Question Period.
Canadian acting giants aside, it was a bit of an odd day on the Hill for other reasons. For one, a number of MPs including Martha Hall Findlay, Peter Stoffer, Justin Trudeau and Marina Minna were all in wheelchairs (when not in the House) to promote awareness for spinal cord injuries. A short time after Question Period, they also participated in wheel chair races in front of the Parliamentary lawn. That’s one of the things about the Hill – when the House is sitting, there’s almost always something going on.
During Members’ Statements, Conservative Laurie Hawn roundly condemned Bob Rae and the Liberals’ “silence” on the expulsion of two Canadians working for NATO from Russia (even though we were assured from everyone that this was a tit-for-tat measure that had nothing to do with us). Rae was actively heckling Hawn, calling him a chicken and clucking at him. But it was Liberal Whip Roger Cuzner’s statement in support of Jim Balsillie’s desire to bring a second hockey team to Southern Ontario that got everyone on their feet.
Question Period got off to an amusing start when the Speaker inadvertently referred to Rae as the Honourable Leader of the Opposition – and after the laughter subsided and Rae thanked everyone for their support, albeit a bit late, he launched into the first of many questions for the day about the plight of Abousfian Abdelrazik, the Canadian trapped in our embassy in Sudan, unable to return to Canada because of the current government’s intransigence. Armed with a statement by the UN officer in charge of the no-fly list that Abdelrazik finds himself on – and the illogic of our providing a cot for him to sleep on in the lobby of said embassy if he’s supposed to be a danger to national security – Rae, Layton and others badgered the government about their intransigence, and Lawrence Cannon simply replied that Abdelrzik was on the no-fly list and there was a court challenge in process.
But there were two particular heckles during those answers – as well as one of Rae’s hectors – that best speaks to this situation. When unseen Liberals called out “He’s a citizen of this country,” Rae’s mention in his first supplemental asked “There are no second-class citizens in this country.” That’s telling – especially when you compare Abdelrazik’s situation with those of Maher Arar, Omar Khadr, and others. And during an answer to one of Layton’s questions, a lone Liberal called out “Is there anyone who understands the rule of law there? A single one?” Apparently not.
The government seems to be going out of its way to pick and choose who it defends abroad and who it doesn’t – whether it’s Canadians on Death Row in Montana, Canadians in legal challenges without due process in Mexico, Canadians rotting in Guantanamo Bay after facing torture, or someone who has been cleared of wrong-doing by both CSIS and the RCMP, and yet still finds themselves on a Bush-era travel ban, the Conservatives have an almost vested interest in their stubbornness. I wonder how much of this is a proactive exercise in spin – heading off any potentially dangerous or embarrassing situations at home, international reputation be damned – or if it really is an almost casual disregard for human rights and law because it suits them. And we should be both aware and concerned by that.
EI reform remained an issue, as did American subsidies on black liquor. Scott Brison rose to ask about mounting US protectionist forces in the States, while the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of International Trade rather uncomfortably tried to convince the House that the government expected President Obama to live up to his word when he said that he didn’t want to get into the “slippery slope” of protectionism. Also, apparently, unicorns exist and can be seen prancing along the Parliamentary lawn.
And after a couple of thinly-veiled references to Ruby Dhalla’s issues with live-in caregivers, it was announced after Question Period that Dhalla and the caregivers in question were being invited to speak to the Immigration committee, and that it was all just a coincidence that they were going to be studying temporary foreign workers at this time anyway. Really. I think Bob Rae called it best when he said this was turning into a feeding frenzy.
Sartorial snaps go out to Bloc MP Gérard Asselin for his bold choice of a Paprika-coloured jacket, which definitely stood out from the usual crowd. Justin Trudeau shaved off his beard, which I definitely approve of. But the style citation is combined with the Megan Leslie outfit watch – her greige dress was paired with bright teal tights, a red beaded necklace and (I believe) gold shoes. So. Very. Wrong. You were doing so well for three days! What happened?