BTC: Lament for the backbencher

Contrary to what you might believe from staring into Maxime Bernier’s sturdy visage, the business of running this country is not all so glamorous. No, much of it involves selfless acts of partisanship, the denial of one’s individual respect in the interests of more senior ministers. And for this stuff, the government keeps a couple dozen backbenchers at the ready—each eager to read from whatever piece of paper they’re handed whenever the Minister of Defence needs a friendly question or a former prime minister needs his reputation guarded at committee.We’re thinking here of the grumpy David Tilson or the wild-eyed Jeff Watson, the latter a man who is forever smiling like those fans you see in the background of hockey fights. Poor Rick Dykstra, the honourable member for St. Catharines, would be relatively anonymous if not for his standing up ever second QP and lobbing a safely scripted query at whatever minister needs to tout an accomplishment. 

Still, every so often, one of the grunts is rewarded. Perhaps with a spot on CBC’s afternoon panel. Or, in the case of Rick Norlock, a spring break trip to Mexico.

Norlock is, unluckily enough, the official representative of a constituent by the name of Brenda Martin, an altogether unlucky chef currently held in a Mexican prison. As a result, Norlock was called upon last week to have the following, completely spontaneous exchange with Maxime Bernier during QP.

Norlock: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I have met recently concerning the plight of Brenda Martin, who remains in a Mexican jail awaiting the completion of her trial. I have spoken with Ms. Martin’s mother. She is concerned, I am concerned, my constituents are concerned, as are many other Canadians. We want to see action and justice for Ms. Martin and that is what I believe this government is doing.

Can the minister give the House an update regarding the steps our Conservative government is taking on behalf of Ms. Martin to ensure a speedy completion of her legal situation and a return to the loving arms of her mother as soon as possible?

Bernier: Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and also for his hard work on this case. We are working to help Canadians. We are working to help her to be sure that she will be back in Canada and that she will have a process. An important point— yesterday, we sent a very clear diplomatic note. We asked for additional guarantees from the Government of Mexico to ensure that Ms. Martin’s rights are being respected.

Good stuff. And in case there were any doubts about his resolve, Norlock told the local paper back home how he’d pleaded his constituent’s case with no less than the Prime Minister.

Funny thing though, early this week concerns were made public about how sincere Mr. Norlock was being in his insistent concern. The reason for such cynicism?

When he was approached by a Canwest News Service reporter in February 2007 for the first story about Martin’s imprisonment, he told the reporter he had reviewed her file and said she belonged in prison. He then abruptly hung up and did not return subsequent calls.

Oh. Well. Probably just a bad connection. And anyway, the honourable member was off to Mexico with one of the Prime Minister’s most trusted deputies, Jason Kenney, to speak directly with Ms. Martin and ensure her well-being.

After a long day of diplomacy, Mr. Norlock spoke with another local scribe and detailed the government’s progress. Ms. Martin, he said, would be home soon enough. Just a matter of paper work. And, for that matter, she’s doing just fine. Even got her own bed.

Funny thing though, Ms. Martin then gave her own interview.

A Canadian woman imprisoned in a Mexican jail says a visit by a pair of Conservative MPs was nothing more than a “dog-and-pony show.” A tearful Brenda Martin says she thinks Tory MPs Jason Kenney and Rick Norlock met with her for political gain now that her case is garnering more media attention.

Though perhaps not to the benefit of his own re-election campaign, Norlock can at least now go back to anonymity (or wherever Helena Guergis is being kept these days), leaving the likes of Kenney and Bernier to answer opposition questions about which is the dog and which is the pony.

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