The Commons: Democracy and testicles

Are the unusual habits of the beaver a metaphor for abandoning the Canadian Wheat Board?

The Scene. Time, once again, to yell about the Canadian Wheat Board.

The first sign that this afternoon would not pass without shouting was the Prime Minister’s right fist, bobbing up and down in front of him as he asserted that “Western Canadian farmers have long been looking for the freedom to market their grain, just like farmers in Quebec and other parts of eastern Canada have, and we are going to give them that freedom.”

This was but the end of his first answer and already he was gesturing forcefully. Usually, at this point, he is all shrugs and up-turned palms. But there would be no conciliatory hand movements this day.

Nycole Turmel stood here and insisted on reading what is written on some piece of paper somewhere.

“Mr. Speaker,” she said, “here is what the law says: ‘The Minister shall not cause to be introduced in Parliament a bill that would exclude any kind, type, class or grade of wheat or barley unless (a) the Minister has consulted with the board; and (b) the producers of the grain have voted in favour of the exclusion or extension.’ That is the law of the land. Why will the Prime Minister not respect the law, respect the producers and keep the Canadian Wheat Board in place?”

Here Ms. Turmel pumped her own fist and the New Democrats around her duly sprang up to cheer.

The Prime Minister was thus compelled to raise his volume. “Mr. Speaker, the law of our constitutional system is extremely clear,” cried Mr. Harper, variously wagging and jabbing with his right index finger. “A previous government cannot bind a future government to its policy. This government received a mandate from western Canadian farmers, who did not vote for that party or anyone over there, to make sure that these people have the freedom that other people in this country have long taken for granted and we are going to give it to them because that’s what they want us to do.”

Up leapt the Conservatives to cheer their man.

Over to Ms. Turmel, now chopping her hand and raising her voice. “I just read the law to the Prime Minister. It says that the minister shall not cause to be introduced in Parliament a bill impacting the Wheat Board’s mandate unless the producers have voted in favour of these changes. It has not happened.”

Back to Mr. Harper, first for a Clintonian fist pump, then back to finger-wagging. “Mr. Speaker, this party has for a long time received a strong mandate from western Canadian farmers in a democratic election for the platform on which we are proceeding,” he declared. “That party over there does not speak for those people, does not care about those people, does not represent those people. We do and we are going to act in their interests.”

To this tumult was soon added Pat Martin, waving his arms and accusing the government side of doing the United States of America’s “dirty work.” In response, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was all Harperian shrugs and reassurances.

“The Canadian Wheat Board will survive on a voluntary basis,” he said.

“Yeah, right!” moaned Peter Julian from the opposition side.

“Farmers will be able to move on grains that they are not pooling now,” Mr. Ritz continued, undaunted. “They will be able to broker grains. Everyone will be better off all the way around. Anywhere in the world this has been implemented, farmers have benefited.”

This failed to assuage Mr. Martin even a little bit. And so he was compelled to invoke the most cautionary of tales.

“Mr. Speaker, folklore has it that the Canadian beaver will bite off its own testicles when it is threatened and offer them up to its tormentors,” he explained. “I think that is a fitting metaphor for the way our Canadian government reacts to bullying on trade issues by carving off pieces of our nation and offering them over to the Americans.”

The government side opposite howled with a mix of incredulity, outrage and laughter. Seated a scant few feet from this analogy, Olivia Chow descended into giggles.

His preface stated, Mr. Martin then tabled several questions. Up came Gerry Ritz with a response to none of them and all of them at once.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I think that is a very fitting metaphor because the member for Winnipeg Centre is impotent to stand in the way of farmers getting freedom.”

The Conservatives were delighted. John Baird nearly fell over himself pantomiming a baseball swing (to suggest, you see, that Mr. Ritz had hit a homerun).

Mr. Ritz is more or less right, at least so far as Mr. Martin’s singular inability to prevent the Conservatives from doing what they will to the Canadian Wheat Board. And with that we all be able to celebrate one thing: the existence of one less thing to yell about.


The Stats. The Canadian Wheat Board and trade, seven questions each. The economy and the G8 Legacy Fund, four questions each. Small business, three questions. High-speed rail, gay rights and immigration, two questions each. Crime, bilingualism, Canada Post, Nova Scotia, pensions, shipbuilding, search-and-rescue and the Supreme Court, one question each.

Stephen Harper and John Baird, six answers each. Jim Flaherty and Ed Fast, five answers each. Gerry Ritz, Denis Lebel and Maxime Bernier, three answers each. Jason Kenney, two answers. James Moore, Steven Fletcher, Ted Menzies, Rona Ambrose, Keith Ashfield and Rob Nicholson, one answer each.

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