The Commons: No apologies

The way a Conservative backbenchers sees it, this is all about "sore losers"
New Democratic Party leader Nycole Turmel a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, March 8, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Scene. Asking about a new report of political belligerence, Nycole Turmel eventually rounded on the Prime Minister.

“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister must take responsibility,” she ventured. “He created a culture in his party: victory at any cost is what matters.”

Mr. Harper was unmoved. Or at least undaunted. “What I would say is this,” he said. “The Conservative party always accepts the verdict of the voters. We have accepted the verdict of the voters when we have won and also when we have lost. I would encourage the other parties to accept the verdict of voters as well.”

So there. As one of the Prime Minister’s backbenchers put it recently, this is all about “sore losers.” The public has passed its verdict. And the Conservatives have won a sufficient number of seats in this place to form a government. And that means, should they so choose, they can sit here for another three-and-a-half years. And there’s not much anyone can say to change that.

Of course, that also means—at least until they find a way to avoid this place entirely—that they must sit here most afternoons and listen to these inquiries and provocations.

“Mr. Speaker, this morning, like others, I was shocked to hear the recorded fundraising calls of one Don Duke, calling on behalf of the Conservative party,” Libby Davies reported next. “In these calls he treats people on the other end of the line like dirt, all in the name of filling up the Conservative war chest. The company doing the calling, RMG, received over $1.3 million from local Conservative campaigns and an unknown amount from the central campaign. My question is, how much did the Conservative war chest grow from these strong-arming tactics?”

Dean Del Mastro stood as the government side’s standard-bearer. “Mr. Speaker, I am aware that a single member was fired for not upholding the very clear standards that this party holds itself to,” he testified. “We are very proud of the standards that we have set forth. Obviously, Canadians have supported us in that because they have in fact voted for Conservatives right across the country.”

Ms. Davies was not quite mollified by Mr. Del Mastro’s ipso facto. “Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives cannot write this off by just saying it is some sort of isolated situation,” she ventured. “The fact is, RMG merged with Xentel, that has similar dubious tactics. In February 2010, Xentel was fined $500,000 by the CRTC for violating Canada’s do not call list. It was also charged $75,000 in Missouri for ‘manipulative high pressure techniques to solicit donations.’ Sound familiar?”

This was not quite her question. “The Conservatives are accusing the NDP of demeaning voters when we ask tough questions,” she concluded. “However, what could be more demeaning than funding Xentel and RMG’s unethical behaviour?”

Ms. Davies was a detective trying to connect disparate dots, chasing something, but also maybe nothing. And so now Mr. Del Mastro was a sort of mystic, musing slogans in the form of riddles.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “we make no apologies for the fact that our party has very high standards.”

There were more questions about RMG and questions about voter registration in Eglinton-Lawrence and a question about phone calls in York Centre and a question about phone calls in Kingston and the House drifted off to other matters.

The NDP’s Marie-Claude Morin stood and asked about a report that the government was prepared to begin double-bunking prison inmates. Such arrangements, she said, increased violence, threatened prison guards and aided the spread of disease. The Correctional Investigator, she reported, had warned that double-bunking was unsafe and a violation of human rights. The government, Ms. Morin ventured, must explain these consequences.

To all this the government side sent up Candice Hoeppner, the parliamentary secretary to the minister if public safety.

“Mr. Speaker,” Ms. Hoeppner offered, “it is interesting the NDP are again concerned with the morale of inmates.”

This much was declared quite unapologetically.

The Stats. Ethics, 15 questions. Health care, five questions. Seniors, equality, national defence, prisons and the environment, two questions each. Burma, government spending, affordable housing, foreign aid, pensions, immigration, search-and-rescue and infrastructure, one question each.

Stephen Harper, seven answers. Dean Del Mastro, six answers. Leona Aglukkaq, four answers. Tim Uppal, Peter MacKay and Diane Finley, three answers each. Susan Truppe, Candice Hoeppner and Tony Clement, two answers each. Pierre Poilievre, Alice Wong, Peter Kent, Gail Shea, Bev Oda, Rick Dykstra and Denis Lebel, one answer each.