The sketch: How little can the Prime Minister get away with saying?

Because Paul Calandra is out of pizza store stories

Adrian Wyld/CP

“Why,” Mr. Mulcair demanded to know at the outset this afternoon, “is the Prime Minister not able to stand up in this House and assume his responsibilities?”

Technically, the answer to this, at least at this particular moment, was, “Because he is in Lac-Megantic.”

Which is not to say Mr. Harper entirely avoided having this day to entertain queries. Of the questions that were posed to Mr. Harper in Lac-Megantic, the CBC figured he “did not answer specific questions,” the Star figured he “suggested … his former trusted chief of staff Nigel Wright lied to him” and the Globe figured he was “continuing to disavow any knowledge of a plan for his Conservative Party to have paid Mike Duffy’s expenses.” The CBC followed up with Mr. Harper’s director of communications and was provided with a simple “no” to the question of whether the Prime Minister knew about the possibility of Mr. Duffy’s expenses being covered by the Conservative party. That assurance was then repeated to Postmedia.

So there is at least now that.

In the House this afternoon, Paul Calandra was praising Mr. Harper’s leadership.

“Mr. Speaker, of course what we saw yesterday is that the Prime Minister took extraordinary leadership on this matter,” the parliamentary secretary reported. “It is quoted right in the documents. ‘Rob Staley, legal representative for the PMO, advised my office that he had clear orders from the Prime Minister to provide complete cooperation with the investigation, and to provide any assistance or documentation the RCMP requested.’

“That is real leadership. That is the leadership that this Prime Minister has been showing. Also, it says in there quite clearly that the Prime Minister did not know and, as the Prime Minister has said, had he known he would have in no way endorsed such a scheme.”

Real leadership can thus be defined as cooperating with the authorities after it has been revealed that one’s chief of staff cut a $90,000 cheque to a senator. Perhaps at some point that definition can be expanded to include an expansive and direct explanation of what he knew and a full accounting for allegations that one’s office was involved in rewriting a Senate committee report and attempting to protect a senator from an audit. (Perhaps the opposition and the press gallery aren’t asking the right questions. Perhaps they shouldn’t have to find the precise wording that unlocks an explanation.)

Of what Mr. Harper had to say yesterday, Mr. Mulcair seemed unimpressed.

“The Prime Minister admitted that he said to Nigel Wright that he was good to go. When confronted with that, the Prime Minister told another nose-stretcher,” Mr. Mulcair reported, perhaps testing how far one can go without suggesting the deliberate conveying of a falsehood. “He claimed that he meant ‘good to go with Mike Duffy paying his own expenses,’ that is what he meant. In that case, there is really only one question. Since when does the Prime Minister of Canada have to approve a senator repaying his own expenses?”

Mr. Mulcair adopted a mocking tone and the New Democrats laughed and then stood and cheered.

Now Mr. Calandra responded in kind, adopting a mocking voice and sort of dancing in place as he recounted how Mr. Mulcair had once been offered an envelope by the mayor of Laval.

Mr. Mulcair wondered why, of the Prime Minister’s staff, only Nigel Wright had lost his job. Mr. Calandra offered a sentence of reassurance and then returned to the story of the envelope.

Mr. Calandra would, over the course of 22 responses this day, raise an impressive number of unrelated references and accusations, the House hearing about the Liberal party’s position on the Canadian Wheat Board, the Liberal party’s allegedly insufficient support for Veterans, the Liberal leader’s comments on China, the Liberal leader’s comments on mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines, the sponsorship scandal, the NDP’s acceptance of donations from unions, Charlie Angus’ involvement in the riding redistribution process and Alexandre Boulerice’s donations to Quebec Solidaire and comments on WWI.

In fairness to Mr. Calandra, none of whatever occurred within the PMO would seem to be any of his responsibility. And the 35 seconds he is allotted for each response must be filled somehow. And he is apparently all out of instructive stories about his father’s pizza store.

As for Mr. Harper, you can hardly blame the Prime Minister if he would rather not get too far into the details. For one thing, it’s not much his style. For another, he has made it this far and so far without much bothering. Perhaps we should have a full accounting of what occurred here, but it seems almost silly to demand that before we have a full accounting of the billions in spending cuts this government has pledged.

Complicating matters here though is the RCMP, with its search warrants and production orders and access to the otherwise private emails of PMO staff. Not merely does that all prolong and focus the matter, but, as we have seen, it provides its own explanation.

After Question Period, the Ghost of Conservative Past floated into the foyer to speak with a TV reporter and was soon encircled by members of the press gallery. Brent Rathgeber reminded everyone of our system of response government, under which the Prime Minister is responsible for his department. This matter, the Independent MP ventured, called “for an explanation, some contrition and a promise to clean house and do better in the future.”

Even just the first of those things might be refreshing.

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