The Prime Minister attempted a joke, in this Parliament’s dying days, at the expense of his fiercest critic in the House of Commons. Yesterday, after NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s eleventh query of the day during question period, Stephen Harper chuckled at his foe’s insistence. “At least the Leader of the Liberal Party knows when to stop getting up,” he said. Hyuk hyuk.
Mulcair responded by standing up for the dozenth time. He claimed that Harper’s snark expressed “the kind of arrogance that could mean that this is the Prime Minister’s last question period, so I hope he does not mind that we have a couple more.” The remark resembled a half-hearted attempt at Adlai Stevenson’s famous “hell freezes over” moment at the United Nations in the thick of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when he dared the Russians to admit they’d placed weapons on the island nation and shot back that he’d wait for the truth until hell freezes over. (Okay, Mulcair was maybe not quite so melodramatic.)
Yesterday’s Harper-Mulcair battle of wits was perhaps not the stuff of legend, but it did effectively distill an entire Parliament’s disagreements into a half-hour of reasonably entertaining television. Mulcair used 14 questions to ask the PM about deplorable military sexual misconduct; the woeful Senate expenses scandal, including the Wright-Duffy saga; allegations of electoral fraud going back to the first Tory win in 2006; an allegedly harmful anti-terror bill; the government’s apparently poor jobs record since the last recession; poor policy for seniors; the PM’s inability to ask the Pope to apologize for residential schools; and the unreasonable Tory approach to veterans affairs.
That’s a mouthful. Harper responded with his own mouthfuls, dismissing New Democrats as cheating, tax-hiking cheaters who Canadians will punish for all their cheating and proposed tax hikes. The PM slammed the NDP’s “protectionist, anti-prosperity agenda” as “high-tax snake oil,” and he labelled the $2.7 million in NDP spending ruled inappropriate by the all-party board of internal economy as “exactly the kind of thing that happened in the sponsorship scandal” that sunk the Liberals in 2006. These gentlemen are not friends, not at all, and their rhetoric leaves no one guessing about that. Today, if they don’t find their way into question period for a final duel before the House rises until the other side of the election, the two leaders must wonder: Will they ever rise again under the bright lights of that remarkable chamber?