The Commons: Stephen Harper, ever undaunted

No matter the scandals that surround him, this prime minister is loud and proud

The Scene. Mr. Harper’s government, as the government of Canada is now to be known, stands accused of various breaches. Of violating electoral law when it won office. Of withholding information demanded of it by Parliament. Of employing a minister who has misled Parliament. Of employing a minister who has misused government resources for his party’s gain. Of paying an exorbitant amount of money to disappear a woman who once held the title of “integrity commissioner.” And yes, of renaming the federal government in the Prime Minister’s own surname.

And so, of course, the government side this afternoon was as gleeful and aggressive as it has ever been. It roared and cheered and mocked and jeered. It laughed and lashed at its critics, it delighted in itself. It was loud and proud.

Mr. Harper sat and smiled and shared the odd chuckle. He reclined as best he could in his chair and fiddled with the cord of his desk’s earpiece. When he stood to answer the Liberal leader’s charges, he shrugged and sighed. If he was the least bit concerned, a tiny bit chastened, it was impossible to tell.

But, of course, he hardly ever appears daunted by such stuff. Indeed, if there is one thing that defines this Prime Minister it is his unrelenting undauntedness, his undaunting relentlessness. He is a man of the post-shame world.

The man who once said there wouldn’t be a recession now congratulates himself for having seen the country through the downturn. The man who once said he’d never run a deficit now says he’s the only one who can be trusted to get us out of the red. The man who once derided Canada now campaigns on his love of country and loudly questions the patriotism of all others. The man who once predicted that the Liberals would lose power when a coalition overtook them and who then joined with the leaders of the Bloc Quebecois and NDP to ask that the Governor General consider her “options” before allowing the Liberal minority government of the day to dissolve Parliament, now says “losers” don’t get to form government.

If he feels the least bit silly about any of this, he hides his insecurity extremely well. Indeed, during the last three years he has perhaps only once appeared well and truly rattled: on that night in November 2008 when he was compelled to walk into the House foyer and announce that he would be using his government’s prerogative to delay a confidence vote, lest Stephane Dion defeat him and replace him as Prime Minister. He walked off muttering to himself that night as questions were shouted at the back of his head.

What the Prime Minister eventually did then and what he does without fail now is to steer into the skid, so to speak. He charges headlong into the charges against him. He dismisses concerns and dares his adversaries to do something about them. He is never anything but unapologetic.

So for days now his International Cooperation Minister, accused of misleading the House of Commons, has been hailed as “courageous.” So today, his Immigration Minister, beset by allegations of misusing government resources, was treated to several standing ovations.

At the risk of unduly expanding this thought to the realms of popular culture and professional sports, maybe this is merely the world we now live in. Maybe this is simply what it takes to win and hold office. For sure, his primary opposition has so far either not come to terms with his resolve or failed to find a way to counter it.

“Last week the House ordered the government to produce important documents relating to the F-35, relating to mega-prisons,” Michael Ignatieff charged this day. “These involve the expenditure of billions of dollars of public money. A decent government would have complied but the Conservative government is not a decent government.”

The government side groaned at this d-word.

“It is a government with contempt for democracy and flagrant abuse of power,” Mr. Ignatieff continued. “When is this pattern going to stop?”

Mr. Harper was unmoved. “Mr. Speaker, the opposition requested certain financial information regarding these decisions,” he responded. “That information has been provided.”

That the leader of the opposition poses the question would seem to indicate that it has not been sufficiently answered and, indeed, Mr. Ignatieff was now quite displeased. “This is not how the system works, Mr. Speaker,” he snapped, gesticulating wildly. “The Prime Minister does not make the rules. The House makes the rules.”

The Liberal leader moved on to other matters, specifically a question about how Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s current chief of staff, might’ve been involved in the in-and-out affair. The Prime Minister was, once more, unmoved. “Mr. Speaker, the individual in question has not been accused of anything,” he sighed. “The fact of the matter, as I said, is that this is a dispute about whether certain election expenses that were fully reported are national or local. We will continue to defend our position before the courts.”

This was about as informative as the afternoon would get. Indeed, soon thereafter Question Period would be rendered moot when Pierre Poilievre, in response to a question from the NDP’s Carol Hughes, stood to ask a question of the NDP’s Libby Davies. The rest of the hour would follow as so, the opposition standing to accuse the government of wrongdoing, the government standing in response to accuse the opposition of equal actions.

Mr. Poilievre was sent up on several occasions to relate how other parties had made financial transfers between the national office and local campaigns. To each of the parliamentary secretary’s reports, the government side howled, apparently feeling their side had made a point of some kind. “Where is Elections Canada?” Mr. Poilievre asked at one point, in case his insinuation was not already clear.

All of which would no doubt seem to bolster the government’s case if the charges against it were strictly about transfers (and not about using those transfers to circumvent spending rules and regulations) and if the parties responsible for pursuing those charges didn’t include an individual nominated by the Prime Minister (chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand) and an office created by the Prime Minister (the department of public prosecutions).

Mr. Harper surely understands such nuances. But he is undaunted by them.

The Stats. Ethics, 22 questions. Equality, five questions. Aboriginal affairs, three questions. Crime and poverty, two questions each. Libya, one question.

Jason Kenney, six answers. Stephen Harper and Pierre Poilievre, five answers each. Diane Finley, four answers. John Baird, three answers. Rob Nicholson, Stockwell Day, Bev Oda, Rona Ambrose and John Duncan, two anwers each. Lawrence Cannon and Vic Toews, one answer each.

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