If you’re going to institute a ban on heckling during question period, could you at least engage in some witty repartee to replace it?
And that really sums up the first question period of the new Parliament. There was no drama, and given that it was carried out in a hugely scattershot fashion, with across-the-board questions to give as many critics exposure as possible, there was no coherent narrative.
Meanwhile, Stephen Harper was off touring the flood damage in Quebec, so he wasn’t in the House. That left Jack Layton to lead off the day by standing up to remind the government that 60 percent of Canadians didn’t vote for it, and hey, you didn’t ask for our input on the speech from the throne. Peter Van Loan responded that they were just outlining the election promises they were going to implement. Layton got back up to ask whether the government is going to work with the NDP. Van Loan said he is hoping for meaningful debate. Layton closed his first round by asking about assisting the transition of government in Egypt and why Canada didn’t give more funds to help the Arab Spring at the G8 meeting. John Baird responded by talking about the money that was previously committed and the work Canada was doing in the region.
Moving along, Hélène Laverdière asked about humanitarian aid for Libya and reported rapes there (Baird: we’re equally concerned); Paul Dewar asked again about the G8 pledge for the Arab Spring (Baird: we’ve already pledged support); Bob Rae asked about poverty reduction going unmentioned in the throne speech (Van Loan mumbled something); Chief Atleo asked for a government-to-government meeting between first nations and the federal government (John Duncan: setting something up for the fall); and Denis Coderre asked about more army help for the Quebec floods (Peter MacKay: we’re sympathetic to the victims).
Round two saw Tarik Brahmi pick up the floods issue with a particular twist about EI claims (Diane Finley: we’ve investigated the issue, and it’s up on the website); Jamie Nicholls asked about funds for infrastructure and public transport (Pierre Poilievre: we’re making the gas-tax transfer permanent in the budget); same again from Olivia Chow (and from Poilievre); Yvon Godin asked about Canada Post and privatization plans (Stephen Fletcher: look at all the investments we’ve been making in it); Libby Davies asked about pharmacare (Leona Aglukkaq: we’ll negotiate with the provinces for the next healthcare accords); and Françoise Boivin asked if the government planned to scrap the Status of Women Committee (Rona Ambrose: no). Dominic LeBlanc asked about our objectives in Libya (Baird: protecting civilians); the French government recognizing the opposition forces in the country as a legitimate government (Baird: we recognize countries, not governments); John McKay asked about plans to relocate our former Camp Mirage base to Kuwait (MacKay: your facts are wrong); Jack Harris asked about leaks around the Afghan mission extension (Baird: we don’t comment on foreign leaks); and Peter Julian asked about shipbuilding (Ambrose: we have a transparent process). The first government suck-up question of the new Parliament came from John Williamson, the former head of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation (and also a former director of communications for the prime minister), who asked about the farce that is “tax freedom day." Apparently, we have just reached it, and Ted Menzies assured us that it arrived 20 days sooner this year than under the previous government.
Round three saw questions on temp workers in the Public Service Commission; the delay in transmitting data on our greenhouse gas emissions to the UN, and the omission of tar sands data (Peter Kent: we refer to them as “oil sands”); why climate change was not in the speech from the throne; cuts to housing programs; a veteran suffering from PTSD who is on a hunger strike outside the Veterans Affairs offices; US Steel’s ongoing drama, Diamond Aircraft in London, Ontario; and a Bloc question about the Quebec floods.
Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Rona Ambrose for her black jacket and fitted black-and-white dress beneath and Maxime Bernier for his finely tailored light-brown suit. Style citations – and there were so many – go out to Richard Harris for an awful pale-beige jacket with a finely striped blue shirt and a busy black-and-yellow tie and to Chris Charlton’s bright lime-green jacket with a black top and trousers. I should also note that certain NDP MPs keep wearing orange, which does not suit their complexion (and really, few people can actually wear it) and a lot of men are wearing beige suits for summer, which doesn’t suit them either.
Also, the “ban” on heckling was held largely intact. The Liberals were the only real offenders when certain ministers didn’t answer questions. As well, given the new seat distribution in the House, the rhythm of QP is vastly different than it was before, which will take some getting used to.