Must-see QP: Rob Nicholson loves his frigates

Your daily dose of political theatre

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. Today, QP runs from 2:15 p.m. until just past 3. We livestream and liveblog all the action.

The must-see moment

The defence minister told the House of Commons a very basic thing during question period. “We are considering options that will ensure our ships are resupplied in the medium term,” said Rob Nicholson, the man whose written job description should include a line about finding a way to resupply the Royal Canadian Navy. There’s a basic problem with Nicholson’s basic declaration: He’s so far failed to do that part of his job. Canada’s Protecteur-class supply ships used to be old and getting older. They used to be on the verge of retirement for years on end. They used to sail.

Now, Canada has no supply ships. They hit a breaking point and are in the process of decommissioning. The country’s next generation of Queenston-class ships isn’t expected for up to seven years. Canada does have allies with those kinds of vessels, but Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the man who runs the Navy, sees that as a band-aid. “No matter what we do, we don’t see a long-term, sustainable solution coming from our allies,” Norman told the Commons defence committee yesterday.

This afternoon, the NDP asked the government for a plan. Nicholson blamed New Democrats for never voting for military funding. The two parties have been down this road before. Recall NDP MP Nathan Cullen and former defence minister Peter MacKay taunting each other on support, or lack thereof, for the military.

Back to Nicholson, who finished attacking New Democrats and went on to laud the government’s program to modernize its fleet of frigates. Indeed, the multi-billion-dollar frigate refits are on budget and on schedule, as Nicholson helpfully noted. That program is what the Navy would call a good-news story. The Navy doesn’t have many of those to celebrate. Nicholson’s problem is that no one asked him about the frigates. They asked about a plan to resupply them.

Yesterday, the Navy’s boss was upfront publicly about the challenges he faces. Today, his boss, Nicholson, simply has no answer.

The recap

The context

We were watching a former Bloc Quebecois MP, Maria Mourani, join the New Democratic Party—though, importantly, not the party’s parliamentary caucus. Mourani doesn’t count as a floor crosser, because she’ll remain an independent MP. We also awaited the sentencing of Michael Sona, the only man convicted of wrongdoing related to the 2011 robocalls scandal. We also read the latest in the ongoing sexual harassment allegations plaguing Parliament Hill.

In sum: a not-quite floor crosser buoys the NDP, but only so much; a convicted electoral fraudster reminds Conservatives of a scandal they’d like to forget; and harassment allegations with no resolution in sight keep the Liberal caucus short a pair of parliamentarians. And now they take their seats for question period.

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