And on the third day of question period, the NDP discovered how to build a narrative, and the Liberals demonstrated how to use it. So say we all.
Jack Layton kicked off question period by asking about corporate tax cuts and subsidies to oil companies, to which Harper responded by touting the country’s job creation record. Layton carried on, taking all five opening slots, by moving to the topic of service cuts in the budget, which Harper said would not include “key services.” And in his last spot, Layton asked about Laurie Hawn’s statement on unemployment driving Canadian Forces recruitment. In response, Hawn shouted a classic “nonsense” before suddenly looking sheepish, knowing that he’d broken the heckling ban. Harper simply gave a bland statement about supporting veterans. Bob Rae then asked whether Harper had plans to meet with the premiers over the healthcare accord, and Harper said that there was time before they expire, but he did look forward to discussing the issue. Hedy Fry closed off the round on the topic, shifting to the pharmacare aspect of the 2004 accord and the lack of federal leadership on it. Colin Carrie, the parliamentary secretary, gave a bland response about working with the provinces.
Round two kicked off with Alexandre Boulerice asking about budget cuts, to which Jim Flaherty responded with a clear fiction that there hadn’t been a strategic review in 15 years – they started one in 2006 just as Paul Martin’s government started one. Fin Donnelly brought up both World Oceans Day and fisheries and oceans cuts (Keith Ashfield: prudent spending!); gay MP Phil Toone, followed by Ryan Cleary and Jack Harris, pressed on about the search-and-rescue distress centres being closed in their regions (Ashfield: a central call centre will save costs); and gay MPs Dany Morin and Randall Garrison, as well as Élaine Michaud, brought up DND cuts and the impact on jobs at military bases in their ridings (Chris Alexander: overall we’ve spent lots of money on the military!). Massimo Pacetti brought up the Champlain Bridge (Denis Lebel: we’re investing in it!); Lawrence MacAulay returned to the fisheries and oceans cuts (Ashfield: strategic review!); Scott Simms finally brought some life to QP by passionately rebutting Ashfield’s remarks, taking exception to the minister using the term “call centres" when referring to search-and-rescue centres; Megan Leslie brought up emissions targets (Peter Kent: yay oil sands!); and Romeo Saganash asked about the Keystone pipeline (David Anderson: the NEB is a strong regulator).
Round three saw questions on the army helping with the aftermath of the Quebec floods, the costs imposed by the HST, the mandatory plebiscite on killing the Canadian Wheat Board, the market imbalance favouring rail companies for transporting grain and timber, the effect of the oil spill in Alberta on first nations communities, a Mackenzie Basin agreement, stability for the ecoEnergy program by extending it past a single year, a deportation case and what the government is doing about the Canada Post strike (Lisa Raitt: I’ve met with both sides, we have mediators at the table).
Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Lisa Raitt for a fitted indigo dress with a black sweater and Scott Simms for his grey pinstripe suit with a purple shirt and tie. Style citations go out to Joy Smith for her awful pastel-pink top with a powder-blue jacket, pleated skirt and sparkly belt, Alex Atamanenko for his powder-blue jacket and Pierre-Luc Dusseault for his eye-searing bright-blue shirt from Simons under his grey suit.
On the whole, it was good that the NDP started to use its numerous question slots to develop a narrative, but it's still trying to put up as many faces as possible, so there’s no momentum. With the MPs still reading off scripts (which a lot of veteran MPs still do), this sanctimoniously decorous QP needs some dynamism to keep us from nodding off. Scott Simms pulled it off today by going with no script and holding the minister to account for his words – like a member of the Opposition should. When the NDP keeps putting up as many faces as possible, each with their own script, it’s not allowing for follow-up questions, which lets the government rattle off its talking points without being challenged. The Opposition needs to think of a particular strategy to keep the pressure up, rather than diffuse it to the point of being meaningless.