The Commons: Picking up wherever it was we left off

Harper and Ignatieff emboldened, Tony Clement ever amusing

The Scene. It will no doubt shock you to learn that there remain profound disagreements between the major political parties as to the future direction and management of the country. What’s more, it seems still that when the members of these parties are placed in close proximity and offered the opportunity to speak publicly, they regularly refer to each other in loud tones and critical terms.

Thankfully, everyone is agreed that something should be done to make things somehow better. If only everyone else would agree to act differently than they do.

And thankfully, for however long we wait for this conundrum to resolve itself, there will still apparently be Tony Clement to amuse us.

“What I do find shocking Mr. Speaker,” the Industry Minister testified to the House this afternoon on the matter of the census, waving his hands about and doing his best to sound genuinely concerned, “is that the Liberal party and its coalition partners so willingly are sanctioning the idea that we could sanction Canadians with jail time or with fines to pursue what they think is right. We think there’s a reasonable and balanced approach and that is what we are doing.”

Given much of this dizzy summer to sort out an explanation for his government’s decision to replace the traditional national census with an alternative that was both less reliable and more expensive, this appears now to be the last and best answer Mr. Clement can offer. And for this he deserves your admiration, or at least your sympathy. Indeed, let he who can offer a better, or at least more inflammatory, explanation cast the first stone.

Otherwise, for those seeking change or refreshment this day, there was this: the Prime Minister now wears glasses. Mind you, he has periodically worn glasses in the past. But now he wears them more often, even in the House. And on this, you can hang any number of theories, projections and metaphors. Is he suffering from short-sightedness? Does he see clearer now? Is he trying to appear smarter? More credible? Less threatening? Does this mean we’ll have a fall election? Or is this some statement on the intrusive nature of the state that is demonstrated when the health care system attempts to directly subvert your sight through the application of contact lenses?

Whatever the reason, whatever the meaning, what hasn’t changed are the words that regularly spill from Mr. Harper’s mouth: their tone, character and intended purpose are as unapologetic as they have ever been. Whatever the events of this expensive summer—the billion spent to stage an international summit that became the scene of the largest mass arrest in modern Canadian history, the billions for prisons built with the expressed purpose of locking up the perpetrators of unreported crimes, the billions spent on new fighter jets to repel the USSR—Mr. Harper is not chastened. Indeed, as he generally is by events both flattering and embarrassing, he is emboldened.

Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal leader seeming rather emboldened himself these days, attempted to shame the Prime Minister this afternoon with a review of such charges, adding for good measure the government’s decision to go ahead with corporate tax cuts at a time of deficit. “How can he explain those priorities to Canadians?” Mr. Ignatieff wondered aloud.

“Well,” the Prime Minister responded, foretelling impending invective, “Mr. Speaker, I have no difficulty explaining that this government’s priority when it comes to crime is having criminals in prison, not out on the street.”

The government side applauded this basic principle of public administration and justice.

“I have no difficulty explaining to Canadians that when we send our men and women into dangerous military situations,” he continued, “we’re prepared to give them the equipment they need.”

The government side applauded again.

“And I have no difficult explaining to Canadians that when we’re in the middle of a recession,” he finished, “we don’t talk about hiking taxes on businesses or anyone else.”

The government side sang its delight.

Mr. Ignatieff attempted to make something of the gaping holes in the Prime Minister’s presentation, but whatever the Liberal leader had to make his case, he could not match the Prime Minister’s pithiness. And that was just enough for Mr. Harper this day.

The Stats. The economy, 10 questions. Gun control, five questions. The census, four questions. The military, three questions. Justice, government advertising, Quebec City, pensions and health care, two questions each. Foreign ownership, Multiple Sclerosis, the public service, natural resources, foreign aid and ethics, one question each.

Stephen Harper, eight answers. Jim Flaherty, five answers. Vic Toews and Tony Clement, four answers each. Chuck Strahl and Leona Aglukkaq, three answers each. Josee Verner, Christian Paradis and Diane Finley, two answers each. Rona Ambrose, Peter MacKay, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Jim Abbott and Stockwell Day, one answer each.

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