The Commons: ‘A bit of respect, please’

If this government has demonstrated anything, it is that it has little interest in being taken seriously

The Scene. Michael Ignatieff was begging the Prime Minister. “A bit of respect for the institution, please.”

It was to laugh.

A night earlier, the government members of this House voted against a Bloc motion pledging confidence in Elections Canada, the independent institution of Parliament charged with overseeing the democratic process in this country. The motion passed, mind you, but the opposition of 117 Conservative MPs is now recorded for history. (As an aside, the Conservatives have made much of opposition voting habits this session, but their own leader didn’t bother to register his official vote on this one.)

So… what exactly? So the Conservatives won’t recognize the results of any future elections here? So they’ll demand that UN observers be called upon to ensure Elections Canada isn’t fixing the results? What, specifically, are we to take from this government’s public expression of non-confidence in Canadian democracy?

In a way, we are probably not meant to take away anything significant from this latest display. Indeed, if this government has repeatedly demonstrated anything of note, it is only that it has little interest in being taken seriously.

Ignatieff’s request today had to do with a rather straightforward pair of questions. When did the Prime Minister become aware of his party’s controversial plan to fund national election advertising? And did he approve of it?

After wishing the Prime Minister a happy birthday (Mr. Harper turns 49 today, but he surely doesn’t act a year over 21), Stephane Dion asked those questions in French. The PM avoided answering, so Dion tried in English, then again in French.

Then Ignatieff, first in English, then in French.

Then Marlene Jennings, twice in French.

Then Dominic LeBlanc, once more in English.

The Prime Minister stood for Dion’s queries, but left the rest to trusty and brave Pierre Poilievre, who continued with his kamikaze mission of innuendo and allegation. Again, so daunted were the Liberals, that several of their members cheered, called out for more and even, at one point, began chanting the Conservative MP’s name.

The Bloc, meanwhile, who surely see in this in-and-out business their finest opportunity to tarnish the burgeoning Conservative brand in Quebec, were proving perfectly fiery foils to the structured interrogation of the Liberal side.

“Does the Prime Minister have a problem with democracy?” Gilles Duceppe wondered.

“We’re seeing the heights of demagoguery,” Michel Guimond cried, ridiculing a Conservative suggestion that Elections Canada had afforded preferential treatment to a sovereigntist party.

But back to those Liberals. Though obviously a neat trick to keep asking the government a question it steadfastly refuses to answer, their uniform questions were apparently mere prelude.

Up for a second time came LeBlanc. “Mr. Speaker, eight times we have given the Prime Minister the opportunity to answer a simple question. Let me jog his memory,” he offered. “The former Conservative candidate in Berthier—Maskinongé, Ann Julie Fortier, said she confronted him personally before the last election, saying Conservative organizers tried to force her to pass off $28,000 of national expenses as their own. Is this why the Prime Minister will not answer the simple question?”

Perhaps. But we may never know. Because Poilievre took this one.

That Petit Pierre couldn’t muster a direct answer was hardly surprising. Nor particularly disappointing. Such a reaction requiring a level of expectation perhaps only Mr. Ignatieff still holds for this bunch.

The Stats. Election financing, 14 questions. The economy, 12 questions. Omar Khadr and diplomacy, three questions each. Gas prices, government disclosure and food prices, two questions each. International aid, one question.

Pierre Poilievre, nine answers. Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice, seven answers each. Maxime Bernier, six answers. Jim Flaherty, five answers. Vic Toews, two answers. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Bev Oda and John Baird, one answer each.

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