The Commons: The power and the responsibility

Saying ‘sorry’ is for suckers

<p>Minister of Defence Peter MacKay stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, December 1, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick</p>

Minister of Defence Peter MacKay stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, December 1, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Scene. Peter MacKay stepped out into the foyer just long enough to turn and walk up the stairs. The small horde of reporters that had been waiting for him were left to shout questions at his retreating figure. For the record, the back of his head had no comment.

“I would suggest to the minister, if he’s open to advice,” the NDP’s David Christopherson offered to a different gaggle of reporters a few minutes later, “that he get to a microphone fast and come clean and tell the true story and then ask for forgiveness.”

It is often said that with great power comes great responsibility and maybe that was even true at some point. At it is, it would be more accurate to say that with great power one is afforded the authority to decide what one wants to take responsibility for. And that modern power means, and depends on, doing everything to avoid ever saying sorry.

It is Mr. MacKay’s current predicament that his plea of innocence on the charge that he was frivolously airlifted out of a fishing trip at taxpayer expense now seems to be contradicted by the written record. The phrase “under the guise of” is involved. And if the minister has an explanation for the discrepancy, he is not yet ready to say so.

“Mr. Speaker, I will ignore the hyperbole and the hyperventilating,” he scolded the NDP’s Christine Moore when the matter was raised this afternoon. “I have said before, I was leaving personal time to go back to work early and before doing so, took part in a search and rescue exercise that we had been trying to arrange for some time.”

Mr. Christopherson ventured that Mr. MacKay had misled the House. But if he had, the minister wasn’t afraid to do so again. “Mr. Speaker, as I just said and as I have said before in the House a number of times, I stated I took part in a search and rescue demonstration. That in fact happened,” he declared. In fact, he had a quote from a brigadier-general, which seemed to vaguely support the minister’s version of events.

Alas, Liberal MP Scott Simms had some quotes too. “Mr. Speaker, if the minister is going to start using quotes about search and rescue, then let us take a look at this one, which was uncovered by the Toronto Star: ‘If we are tasked to do this we of course will comply—given the potential for negative press though, I would likely recommend against it,’ ” the short, fu-manchu’d Liberal related. “That was about the flight, but yet the minister did it anyway. The next day is when they said it would be under the guise of a training mission of some sort.”

For the sake of emphasis, Mr. Simms put guise in air quotes.

There was not quite a question here, but Mr. MacKay, who seemed entirely unbothered this day, stood anyway, mostly for the opportunity to suggest that Mr. Simms had taken part in search-and-rescue demonstrations too. The Conservatives whooped it up, apparently feeling that this was proof of something or other.

That was enough to get Mr. MacKay through the afternoon. And with the weekend nearly here that may be enough to keep the minister in cabinet.

The Stats. Aboriginal affairs, seven questions. Government spending and Service Canada, four questions each. AIDS, three questions. Immigration, the environment, taxation, bullying, infrastructure, seniors and crime, two questions each. Iran, RCMP, Canada Post and the Governor General, one question each.

John Duncan, four answers. Stephen Harper, Peter MacKay, Kellie Leitch, Tony Clement and Colin Carrie, three answers each. Jason Kenney, Jim Flaherty, Vic Toews, Candice Hoeppner and Denis Lebel, two answers each. Joe Oliver, Peter Kent, Julian Fantino, John Baird, Alice Wong, Rob Nicholson, Steven Fletcher and Peter Van Loan, one answer each.