Question Period Live

Behold the power of the parliamentary softball

The backbenches are where question period’s real news lies in wait—just kidding

When Mark Adler was elected to the House of Commons, surely he dreamed of the day when he might rise in question period and cause news to be made. Way back on May 2, 2011, when Adler triumphed over Liberal darling Ken Dryden in one of Toronto’s inner suburbs, the rookie MP must have treasured his chance to make a real difference in Parliament, to do his constituents proud, to raise the level of public debate to heights never before reached—and to lob a softball of a question, ever so gently and under the bright lights of question period, to a finance minister with a possible new measure on the tip of his tongue.

“Mr. Speaker, our government has lowered taxes and enhanced voluntary options so that Canadians can save more of their hard-earned money,” said Adler, who’d risen from his seat in the backbenches, yesterday afternoon at about 2:45 p.m. He dutifully trash talked the government’s opposition, because that’s in vogue on that side of the aisle. “In contrast, the Liberals and the NDP want to hike taxes and hike CPP payroll taxes. Canadians know what this means,” he said. “It will mean killing jobs and Canadians keeping less of their hard-earned money.”

Adler looked to the front bench, spotted the country’s saviour from those opposition fools, and put the question. “Would the Minister of Finance please tell the House what other voluntary options he would consider?”

Joe Oliver stood up, not for the first time that afternoon. He’d already fielded two questions from Liberal MP Scott Brison. He could have spoken about whatever “voluntary options” he was about to address during either of those responses. Ministers routinely ignore questionsthat interfere with their desired narratives. And his office had even tipped off reporters beforehand.

But Oliver waited for Adler to rise before he said what he wanted to say, because that’s how question period works: policy that’s half-announced, half-buried, packaged so nicely with the cooperation of a willing backbencher. “I am pleased to inform the House that we are open to giving Canadians the option to voluntarily contribute more to the Canada pension plan to supplement their current CPP retirement savings,” Oliver announced. “What we will not do,” he said, “is reach into the pockets of middle-class Canadians with a mandatory payroll tax like the Liberals and NDP would do.”

As it turns out, Oliver’s idea for voluntary contributions isn’t an original one; both the Liberals and New Democrats promised a similar measure in 2011. The finance minister, however, doesn’t care for those tidbits. He only cares that taking credit for them might help turn Adler into a two-term MP, the sort who happily lobs softballs on demand.