The Commons: Grumpy old men

Joe Oliver and Peter Kent have had enough of the hippies on the other side of the House of Commons
Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Thursday November 24, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

The Scene. Whatever Joe Oliver and Peter Kent are actually accomplishing in their capacity as ministers of the crown, these two children of the 1940s have at least the basis of a promising buddy comedy.

If memory serves, Mr. Oliver’s first forays were mostly unmemorable. Then, at some point, the Natural Resources Minister started shouting.

Recent weeks have been spent metaphorically shaking his fist at the official opposition and imploring them to get off his metaphorical lawn. He has linked them to Hugo Chavez and “European socialists” and “jet-setting Hollywood stars” and, worst of all, “European bureaucrats.” He has said that their only priority is to protect the interests of “their foreign socialist comrades and billionaire U.S. limousine liberals.” He has accused them of standing in the way of social services for children and health care for the elderly. He has ventured, in the course of a single sentence, that “NDP members have never met a job creating private sector policy or project that they do not want to kill, a tax they do not want to raise, a regulation they do not want to impose, a freedom they do not want to curtail, an issue they do not try to use to divide Canadians, and a fictitious problem they do not want the government to solve at great cost.” One day he concluded his remarks with a cry of “send in the clowns!”

All of this, apparently, because the New Democrats have some reservations about the Keystone pipeline project. And all of it committed to the record in the sort of tone—grumbly and impatient—that is generally employed to advise hippies that they might cut their hair and get a job.

Mr. Kent, seated a few seats down from Mr. Oliver at the far end of the room, prefers to patronize. Rare is the question that is not beneath him.

“Mr. Speaker, every assumption in that question is absolutely false,” he huffed at the NDP’s Carol Hughes a few weeks ago.

“Mr. Speaker, I would once again encourage my colleague to use better sources in the research of her questions in the House,” he scolded Liberal Kirsty Duncan this past Monday.

“Mr. Speaker, if there are any shortcomings in this House, it is in the quality of the questions from the Liberal opposition,” he sighed in Justin Trudeau’s direction the same day.

Yesterday, the minister grumbled that Ms. Duncan should “use more reliable research”—this after she had formulated a question on the basis of his own written statement.

This afternoon, Mr. Trudeau offered Mr. Kent a second chance to agree with himself. “Mr. Speaker, I have a simple question on ozone monitoring based entirely on what the Minister of the Environment himself has already said,” the Liberal prefaced. “In the House he said that his cuts are simply consolidating and streamlining duplicating measurements. But in his own signed order paper answer, hopefully not an unreliable source, he states that: ‘These measurements complement but do not duplicate each other.’ Can the minister please clarify for us whether the two measurements that his department uses, ozonesondes and Brewer, are complementary or duplicated?”

Mr. Kent stood, buttoned his jacket, and sneered. “Mr. Speaker,” he counselled, “I would suggest that my honourable colleague spend less time trying to mine past statements to prove some dire, hypothetical outcome.”

A few moments later, Megan Leslie rose and wondered if the Natural Resources Minister might devise a sustainable plan for the country’s natural resources. Mr. Oliver was obviously quite eager for the opportunity to grouse.

“Mr. Speaker, in a torturous scrum yesterday, the NDP environment critic twisted herself into a pretzel of contradiction and bizarre ideas,” he growled. He ventured that, so far as her position on Keystone is concerned, Ms. Leslie was afflicted with either “total confusion” or “rank cynicism.”

The NDP critic, 33 years her counterpart’s junior, came back quick. “Mr. Speaker,” she ventured with a smile, “if being a grumpy old man makes one an expert on world—”

The Conservative side howled with feigned indignation—though surely at least Rona Ambrose had to admire this—cutting her off before she could finish the thought.

After the Speaker had restored order, Ms. Leslie continued. “Mr. Speaker, this is the smiling face of cynicism,” she explained, before launching into her own harangue. “This week I met with European representatives who told me that because of the government’s inaction on climate change, Europe is slamming the door on Canadian energy, which is the same reason that the Americans slammed the door on Keystone. With every door that closes, the minister is killing Canadian jobs. When will the government clean up its act and actually support real job growth in the Canadian energy sector?”

The NDP side leapt up to applaud, but Joe Oliver was eager to admonish. “Mr. Speaker, it is one thing to go to foreign countries and work against the interests of Canadian workers and those who are unemployed from coast to coast,” he cried. “It is another thing to insult senior citizens.” He launched into a sermon about something to do with “the shoulders of our ancestors,” but he could not be heard amid the giddy cheers of his beaming teammates.

Returning to his seat, even the minister managed a grin.

The Stats. Health care, seven questions. The economy, five questions. The environment and crime, four questions each. The auditor general and the G8 Legacy Fund, three questions each. Firearms, patronage, bilingualism and aboriginal affairs, two questions each. Veterans, Egypt and employment, one question each.

Stephen Harper, six answers. Tony Clement and Colin Carrie, five answers each. Rob Nicholson, four answers. Peter Van Loan, three answers. Joe Oliver, Vic Toews, Jim Flaherty, Denis Lebel and John Duncan, two answers each. Christian Paradis, Steven Blaney, Keith Ashfield, John Baird and Diane Finley, one answer each.