The Commons: With the PM away, James Moore muddles through another day

The Heritage Minister finds reasons to be disappointed in others

<p>Minister of Heritage James Moore stands during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, November 21, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick</p>

Minister of Heritage James Moore stands during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, November 21, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Let us imagine that the Prime Minister was not present in the House this afternoon because he was busy going over every bit and byte of correspondence and paperwork that crossed his office over the past six months, Mr. Harper eager to compile a thorough brief on everything anyone in his immediate employ had to say or do in regard to the matter of Mike Duffy’s expenses. Let us imagine that when Mr. Harper stands tomorrow afternoon to take his first question in the House he will table his report to the unanimous and thankful agreement of all sides.

In the meantime, all this fussing by reporters and opposition MPs over the Prime Minister’s absence is liable to make James Moore feel like his efforts to drive off the government’s inquisitors—the Heritage Minister compelled to stand another 23 times this afternoon—are not terribly well appreciated.

“I will read a quote, which states: ‘The Prime Minister should have known that. He cannot get away with saying, ‘Don’t blame me. I was only the piano player. I had no idea what was going on upstairs,’ ” Thomas Mulcair offered today, recalling a brothel comparison of the past. “Who said that? It was the Prime Minister to Paul Martin during the sponsorship scandal. The current Prime Minister’s own chief of staff gave a $90,000 payoff to silence a sitting Conservative senator and the Prime Minister claims that he did not even know about it.”

Mr. Mulcair balled up both fists and pumped them for emphasis, then stared down the Prime Minister’s empty chair and chopped his right hand in the general direction of where the Prime Minister would otherwise sit.

“When,” the NDP leader wondered, “will the Prime Minister take responsibility, show accountability and finally start answering questions?”

Here now stood Mr. Moore to offer the reassurances.

” Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is taking responsibility and showing accountability by moving forward with what we said we would do, which is reform the Senate,” the Heritage Minister ventured. “Moving forward with Senate reform is what Canadians want. It is what our government is doing.”

It is possible that the phrase “moving forward” has ceased to mean the momentum it was originally intended to convey.

“If the Leader of the Opposition really believes in accountability,” Mr. Moore continued, “he would support those reforms of term limits and Senate elections.”

Actually, anyone who believed in accountability might wish the Senate to be done away with so that the House of Commons could finally be free of its constitutional babysitter, but that is a larger argument for another day.

“If he really believes in accountability,” Mr. Moore finished, “maybe he will tell this House how many more NDP MPs are not paying their taxes.”

The Conservatives have apparently tired of being the butt of everyone else’s jokes and so today they would be full of these little asides—this one a reference to NDP MPs Tyrone Benskin and Hoang Mai. Of course, if Nigel Wright was half the taxpayer-protecting super hero that the Conservatives would like us to believe he is, surely the former chief of staff should now be cutting cheques for Mr. Benskin and Mr. Mai.

“Mr. Speaker, there we go with the Conservative playbook. Plan A is to hide out in South America. Plan B is to blame the opposition,” Mr. Mulcair shot back. “Why do they not try Plan C, which is to start telling Canadians the truth?”

The NDP leader leaned up on his toes and shouted this query above the desk-thumping of the New Democrats around him.

Now he referenced the explanation of the Prime Minister’s Office for the Prime Minister’s absence. “For the Conservatives it is business as usual. Does the Prime Minister think it is business as usual for a Senator to defraud taxpayers? Is it business as usual to give a $90,000 payout?” he wondered aloud. “Dodging questions about political payouts was shameful when Paul Martin did it. Why does the Prime Minister think it is just business as usual today?”

Mr. Moore attempted to pronounce shame. “Mr. Speaker, what is NDP business as usual is to yell from the mountaintops about the need for reform,” the minister explained, “but to not actually support reform when it is before the House of Commons.”

In fairness, the New Democrats did support their own motion calling for abolition.

“We have legislation for Senate elections and legislation for term limits,” Mr. Moore continued.

Legislation that has been collecting dust for a full 14 months now and would be killed if the Prime Minister decides to prorogue this summer, but that would, if ever theoretically passed, at least allow the general public to replace the embattled senators that Mr. Harper once proudly appointed.

“Even the idea of abolishing the Senate requires a mandate from the Supreme Court to understand the mandate capacity of the House of Commons, which is what we have done. However, the NDP are even against that,” Mr. Moore offered, somewhat confusingly. “Again, if the NDP members believe in accountability, they will support these reforms. If they believe in standing up for taxpayers, the leader of the NDP will come clean on how many MPs are avoiding paying their taxes.”

A few moments later, Justin Trudeau stood and wondered if the government might encourage Conservative members of the ethics committee to support an investigation of the matter of Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy. Mr. Moore seemed uninterested in answering this question, but eager to make a vaguely related observation.

“For the Liberal leader, it is kind of interesting to see him stand in the House and pretend as though he actually cares about Senate reform because he does not,” Mr. Moore proclaimed. “He made so very clearly this weekend that he does not believe in Senate reform because ‘We have 24 senators in Quebec and there are only six for Alberta and British Columbia. That benefits us. It is an advantage for Quebec.’  All Canadians should be served by national institutions and the Liberal leader should stop dividing Canadians again and again over these matters.”

And so was the government indicating here that it was prepared to introduce legislation to redistribute the seats in the Senate to more equitably allot senators to the provinces? No, no, of course not—via email the Prime Minister’s Office confirms that the government has no such plans.

Later still, Mr. Moore would accuse the New Democrats of residing in a glass house. Last week, it was the Liberals who Mr. Moore declared to be residing in a dwelling of such construction. It is unclear, by such logic, what foundational material he believes the government’s house to be made of presently, but perhaps the Conservatives are now merely playing for a tie in some competition of whose attics are more filled with disgraces.