The Scene. The Conservatives have identified a loophole in the Speaker’s recent ruling against the use of Parliament’s time to launch personal attacks against political rivals—namely that it’s not a personal attack if you don’t immediately identify the individual you are defaming.
So it was that Mike Wallace, another of the government’s enthusiastically obedient, if relatively interchangeable, backbenchers, was sent up before Question Period to air various allegations against “someone.” Only at the final moment did he reveal that this “someone” was, in fact, the Liberal leader. Suffice it to say, the Prime Minister found this quite hilarious.
In related news today, this first day back for Parliament after a week off, the Conservatives also made use of another gap in the Speaker’s prohibition—namely that it does not cover little-known and generally irrelevant late-night television hosts who say rude things about us on American cable news network shows that are watched by fewer people than live in Windsor, Ontario.
So it was that two Conservatives were sent up before Question Period to bemoan the besmirchment of this country’s honour done by one Greg Gutfeld, an American TV personality who once apparently edited the erudite current affairs journal, Maxim.
Up first, Pierre Poilievre.
“Mr. Speaker, 116 Canadian soldiers have died, fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in one of the most dangerous places on planet Earth. They do it in response to the terrorist assault of 9/11 on our best friends and closest neighbours. Most Americans are thankful. However, a few mouthpieces sitting in the safety of their Fox studio are not,” he reported. “Last Tuesday, they suggested our soldiers want a break from fighting to enjoy manicures and pedicures. If these talk show generals think the work of our soldiers is so easy, perhaps they should sweep for mines and exchange gunfire with terrorists. If they cannot stand behind our troops, maybe they should stand in front of them. Freedom of speech is one of the rights our soldiers have died defending. Unfortunately, this right sometimes extends to even the most brain-dead imbeciles.”
There was applause from all sides of the House.
A few minutes later, Rick Norlock stood to add his disappointment. “A clip from Red Eye, a late-night time-filler on the 24-hour Fox news channel, is circulating on the Internet. The host, Greg Gutfeld, ridicules Canadians Forces troops serving in Afghanistan the same week as brave young Canadians gave their lives for the freedom and safety of the Afghan civilians,” Norlock declared. “The clip mocks the courageous efforts of Canada’s brave men and women in Afghanistan and is particularly hurtful as Canada mourns the loss of four more soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Greg Gutfeld’s comments are ignorant and disgraceful.”
All parties stood to show their support.
At this hour, Defence Minister Peter MacKay has appeared on both Canadian news networks to address the situation and Mr. Gutfeld has released an official, written apology. Strangely though, it was Gawker who offered the most sensible statement of the day with its headline on the controversy: “Canada Mistakes Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld for Person of Influence.”
Meantime, after remarks from Michael Ignatieff and the Prime Minister about the most recent casualties in Afghanistan, the House proceeded with the business of scrutinizing the management of this country.
“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has said repeatedly that the Canadian economy will only turn around if President Obama’s stimulus plan works in the United States. In public he has been full of praise of the president but in a private speech to his Conservative friends on March 12 the Prime Minister only had criticism for President Obama’s plan for the U.S. economy,” Mr. Ignatieff began, in reference to Mr. Harper’s remarks to a convention of conservatives in Ottawa.
“The question is,” Ignatieff concluded, “how can Canadians take the Prime Minister at his word when he says one thing in public and the opposite behind closed doors?”
Mr. Harper rose with a clarification. “First, Mr. Speaker, let me correct the preamble to the question,” he said. “I said that the most important thing the United States must actually do is, of course, fix the financial system and be part of the solution to fixing the global financial system. Without a fix to the global financial system, it will be very difficult, in fact very unlikely that we will see a change in the recessionary conditions across the globe.”
With that sorted, the Prime Minister answered his rival’s simplification with an oversimplification of his own. “I think what the honourable leader of the opposition is referring to is my opposition to raising taxes in any way to deal with his recession,” he said. “I know that may be the position of the Liberal party but that is not our position.”
After Ignatieff and Harper had repeated their accusations in French, it was John McCallum’s turn.
“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “everyone in the Liberal Party knows it would be idiotic to raise taxes in the middle of a recession.”
“Ohhhhh!” cried the Conservative side.
“Mr. Speaker, as you know, the difference between the Liberal opposition and the government is that we have an economic action plan,” snapped Jim Flaherty in response.
The Liberals laughed.
“All we hear from the opposition,” the Finance Minister continued, “is criticism and talking down the Canadian economy.”
“Ahhhhh!” moaned the Liberals.
“Mr. Speaker, again and again, the government refuses to answer questions about its disappearing 190,000 job target,” McCallum came back. “I say to the minister again: Does he stand by that 190,000 job target? Has he abandoned it? Has he given up? Does he care? Canadians deserve answers to that question.”
By the end of this, McCallum was pointing in Mr. Flaherty’s direction with both hands, resembling somewhat a man trying to ride an imaginary horse.
“Mr. Speaker, this is rich,” Flaherty sighed. “This is from the party that did not even understand that if they did not pass the budget promptly, unemployment insurance would not have been available. They did not even understand that until we raised it in the House a couple of weeks ago. Then, they did the flip-flop and told the senators that they had better pass the bill, which the Liberal senators did.”
As Ralph Goodale loudly noted from across the aisle, this was not exactly an answer.
The Bloc Quebecois preceded with some questions about the forestry industry. Jack Layton and the Prime Minister then competed to see who could more loudly shout invective at the other.
The Liberals suggested the country’s employment insurance program was insufficient. The Conservatives assured them it was more than enough. Marc Garneau lamented the lack of government funding for science. Gary Goodyear dismissed his concerns. The Bloc’s Joanne Deschamps wondered about cuts to the foreign affairs department. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon explained that what she saw as a decrease was, in actual fact, an increase.
Bob Rae picked up this line of questioning. “I would like to ask the minister, how can he explain, compared to the United Kingdom which has increased its budget for diplomacy and for public diplomacy, the United States which has increased its budget for the state budget and for public diplomacy, why is it only Canada that is going in the opposite direction?”
“Our budgets are there,” Cannon replied, apparently confirming his government’s having written some numbers down somewhere.
Eventually, it came time for the Conservatives to send up one of their own to ask a question. Rising for the second time in the hour, Mike Wallace immediately moved the discussion back to the foremost issue of the day.
“Mr. Speaker, Canadians are outraged at the ignorant comments about the Canadian military that are running on the Fox news show, Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld. The episode mocks the courageous efforts of Canada’s brave men and women in Afghanistan, and is particularly hurtful as Canadians mourn the loss of four more soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Wallace reported. “Can the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of National Defence tell us: what does he think about this appalling episode that belittles the efforts of our Canadian military?”
The House fell silent, anxious to see which way the parliamentary secretary would go.
“Mr. Speaker, I want to first express our deepest condolences to the families and friends of Master Corporal Vernelli, Corporal Crooks, Trooper Bouthillier, and Trooper Hayes, who were returned to Canada today after making the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan,” Hawn began.
“The comments expressed by so-called comedians on Fox News are disgraceful, ignorant, and insulting to the Canadian Forces members, our diplomat, and the development workers who have died in Afghanistan, and others who have been injured. Canadians and others who know of Canada’s efforts are not laughing. Canadian troops have been consistently praised by allied commanders and political leaders for their courage, dedication, and professionalism on the battlefield. I would hope these people recognize their remarks were wrong and would move to apologize to families and friends.”
This was, of course, the most clear and straightforward answer of the day.
The Stats. The economy, seven questions. Employment, six questions. Foreign affairs, four questions. Quebec, three questions. Afghanistan, forestry, science, arts funding, crime, the oil industry and election financing, two questions each. Immigration, evolution, air safety, the seal hunt and infrastructure, one question each.
Stephen Harper, six answers. Diane Finley, James Moore and Lawrence Cannon, four answers each. Jim Flaherty and Gary Goodyear, three answers each. Rob Nicholson, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Denis Lebel, Laurie Hawn and Diane Ablonczy, two answers each. Stockwell Day, Josee Verner, Jason Kenney, Gail Shea and John Baird, one answer each.