The Commons: A little progress

A moment of silence, then oral questions

The Scene. In succession, Susan Truppe, the parliamentary secretary for the status of women, Bloc MP Jean-Francois Fortin, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Conservative MP Shelly Glover stood in the moments immediately preceding Question Period to mark the anniversary of the massacre at  l’École polytechnique de Montréal. At the conclusion of Ms. Glover’s remarks, all members stood and a moment of silence was observed.

The Speaker then called for oral questions.

“Mr. Speaker, the Toronto Star informs us this morning that the Conservative government plans to weaken gun control laws even further,” Mr. Mulcair reported.

There were a couple jeers, likely at this reference to the Star.

“Can the Prime Minister tell Canadians if that is indeed the case?” the NDP leader asked.

“Mr. Speaker, I am aware of the story,” the Prime Minister responded. “Let me be as clear as I can be, prohibited weapons exist as a category under the law for essential reasons of public security. The government has absolutely no intention of weakening that category of protection.”

The Conservatives stood to applaud their man’s assurance, but the Prime Minister’s response was notably limited to only one of the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee’s recommendations. After restating his question en francais and receiving the same response, Mr. Mulcair alerted the House to the Prime Minister’s specificity. In response, the Prime Minister seemed to broaden his rebuke. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “this document does not represent the government’s position.”

The NDP’s Francoise Boivin pressed further. “Mr. Speaker, the changes that Conservatives are considering to weaken gun control are dangerous. This could reduce mental health checks for those renewing gun licences,” she explained. “The tragic events of December 6 teach us that public safety, not divisive politics, must be our guide when it comes to gun control.”

There was some grumbling at this reference to divisive politics.

“Will the minister now reassure Canadians,” Ms. Boivin asked, “that he will reject these reckless and dangerous changes proposed by his firearms advisory committee?”

Mr. Toews deferred to statistics. “Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to note that the overall incidents of firearms crime is at the lowest rate in 50 years. The homicide rate with firearms is down 30% since 2008 because of the very strong measures that this government has taken against the criminal use of firearms,” he reported. “I would ask that member to start supporting us on finding ways to prevent the criminal use of firearms.”

The Conservatives stood to applaud.

When it was Bob Rae’s turn, he directed his query at the firearms committee itself. “Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the Prime Minister could perhaps tell us if he would now consider, in light of the recommendations which have come out of this particular committee, adding the chiefs of police to the group of people who will be on the committee as well as those who are engaged in combatting domestic violence and those who are dealing with suicide prevention,” he offered, simply and straightforwardly. “Would the Prime Minister agree that the perspective of these groups might be helpful in reaching a more balanced approach than the one we appear to have?”

Here Mr. Harper clarified the extent of his concern. “Mr. Speaker, once again, I want to emphasize that the positions in this report do not reflect the positions of the government,” he said. “I will take the advice of the leader of the Liberal Party under consideration. Obviously, there is concern with some of the recommendations made in that report and I think that the committee does need some re-examination in that light.”

Mr. Rae seemed almost touched. “Mr. Speaker, it is not often that I can tell the Prime Minister that I appreciate the response,” he offered. “I think it represents a little progress in the discussions.”

The Stats. Firearms, six questions. Crime, five questions. Foreign investment and the F-35, four questions each. Aboriginal affairs, government spending, rail service, Syria, asbestos and foreign aid, two questions each. Equality, housing, abortion, pensions, pharmaceuticals, the arctic, employment insurance and the environment, one question each.

Stephen Harper, seven responses. Christian Paradis, six responses. Rona Ambrose, four responses. Diane Finley, three responses. Denis Lebel, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, Tony Clement, Rob Nicholson, Vic Toews, John Baird and Julian Fantino, two responses each. Colin Carrie and Gerry Ritz, one response each.

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