The Commons: A salute to cognitive dissonance

NDP governments and Pierre Trudeau have unlikely fans in the Conservative cabinet
Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, November 3, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Scene. Shortly before the start of Question Period this afternoon, Conservative backbencher Patrick Brown rose to repeat his side’s line that the NDP is too “disunited” to govern. A moment later, Conservative backbencher Greg Rickford rose to lament that the NDP, in punishing two MPs who defied the party’s decision to whip a vote on the gun registry, was also too committed to enforcing unity.

Presumably this was Mr. Rickford’s way of protesting his own government’s decision to whip this week’s vote on asbestos exports. Hopefully his caucus leadership won’t too severely punish him for so bravely asserting the independence of individual MPs.

Immediately thereafter, the Speaker then called for oral questions and the official opposition sent up Joe Comartin, Mr. Comartin having apparently discovered an example of irony that he was eager to share with everyone.

“Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Public Safety launched a full frontal attack on defence lawyers in this country,” he recalled. “The irony is that the government’s misguided prison agenda will see provinces shelling out for more prisons, more already overworked prosecutors and yes, for more defence lawyers. The only thing we will not see is more police officers on the street to prevent crime.”

In the game of musical ministers that the government has been playing in the Prime Minister’s absence, it was apparently Jason Kenney’s turn to lead the Conservative side and so the Immigration Minister stood and noted that the NDP government of Manitoba was quite supportive of the Conservative crime agenda. Mr. Kenney then launched into a sermon about Mr. Comartin’s “full frontal attack on the integrity and credibility of a member of the Supreme Court of Canada,” one which had been “repudiated by Mr. Justice Rothstein.”

Happily and loudly, the Conservatives leapt up to cheer Mr. Kenney’s demand that Mr. Comartin apologize and retract forthwith. Presumably this was Mr. Kenney’s way of apologizing for his own attack of some months ago on the judiciary, one which earned him his own rebuke from a sitting Supreme Court justice.

Mr. Comartin was unmoved. “I will just ignore that, Mr. Speaker,” he sniffed.

He reminded Mr. Kenney that Ontario and Quebec were not interested in picking up the tab for the federal government’s policies. Mr. Kenney responded that New Brunswick was only too happy to do so. Mr. Comartin noted that British Columbia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island were equally enthused. Mr. Kenney noted that a poll of Quebeckers showed strong support for more severe penalties for those who commit crimes.

It seemed increasingly clear that the only answer would be to split the country in two.

Over then to Jack Harris, who referred the government side to the Conservative justice minister in Newfoundland. “Newfoundland and Labrador’s justice minister says he has never seen a study favouring more jail time as a way to improve public safety,” Mr. Harris reported.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews duly referred Mr. Harris to the mayor of Winnipeg. “Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Toews declared, “today we heard from the mayor of Winnipeg, who indicated that naysayers of Bill C-10 are sitting idly by while more innocent people are murdered.”

Ignoring Sam Katz‘s constitutional precedence in this regard, Mr. Harris returned to the provincial level. “Mr. Speaker, the provinces are not buying what the minister says about costs,” he ventured. “Newfoundland and Labrador’s justice minister says past social transfers are not sufficient to cover the costs of these megaprisons and Premier Ghiz in P.E.I. says if the federal government wants to increase costs for the provinces, it should pay the bill.”

Ignoring whatever Mr. Kenney had said a few moments ago about the NDP in Manitoba, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson responded here with a general condemnation of all who operate under the New Democrat banner. “Mr. Speaker, let us be clear with respect to the NDP,” he clarified. “Even spending $1 on fighting crime would be too much for the members of the NDP party.”

A moment later, on another matter entirely, Jason Kenney was back on his feet, this time to praise the wisdom and judgment of Pierre Trudeau.

The Stats. The economy, seven questions. The G8 Legacy Fund, six questions. Crime and the auditor general, five questions each. Military procurement, four questions. Veterans, three questions. Prisons, two questions. The judiciary, the seal hunt, salmon, democratic reform, employment and parliamentary debate, one question each.

Shelly Glover, seven answers. Jason Kenney and John Baird, six answers each. Julian Fantino, four answers. Vic Toews, Steven Blaney and Tony Clement, three answers each. Randy Kamp, two answers. Rob Nicholson, James Moore, Tim Uppal, Kellie Leitch and Peter Van Loan, one answer each.