The Commons: ‘Canadians are not as cynical as he thought’

Ignatieff blasts Harper and sets out his “not-so-threatening” prorogue agenda

Michael IgnatieffThe Scene. He opened with pleasantries—”Happy New Year,” he said—and then a joke.

“I’ve hope you’ve all had a good rest. Time with your families,” Michael Ignatieff said, surveying the cluster of reporters in front of him. “Now your family’s thrown you out and told you to get back to work? Same here.”

Aside from a working crew tearing up the front steps to Centre Block—access to our democracy, quite literally, being demolished!—Parliament Hill was quiet and dark, security guards standing around without much to mind. Mr. Ignatieff stood at a lectern in the foyer, behind him the closed doors of the Commons, behind them a group of university students participating in a mock Parliament—the closest the chamber will get to functioning democracy for some weeks yet.

Mr. Ignatieff proceeded with his prepared remarks.

“Mr. Harper prorogued Parliament, shut Parliament down on New Year’s Eve, when he thought no one was looking,” he reviewed. “He thought Canadians didn’t care. And it turns out they do care … Canadians are not as cynical as he thought.”

So it is that our cynicism apparently has its limits. Or perhaps it is merely that some don’t appreciate having their cynicism so unashamedly confirmed. Either way, here we are, openly and heatedly discussing the parameters of Parliamentary democracy, tens of thousands of Canadians signing up for a Facebook group that trumpets the word “proroguing.”

“We’re listening,” the Liberal leader continued. “And we’re going to be going back to work.”

Mr. Ignatieff proceeded to explain what this work would entail. First, a speaking and listening tour of universities. Upon the return of Liberal MPs and senators, as previously scheduled, to Ottawa on January 25, there would be “public hearings” and “public discussions” and “public policy forums,” not to mention “consultations on the economy” and “public consultations on governance,” as well as some “looking at the environment.”

With all of that stated, the first question seemed obvious: So, er, when are we going to have an election?

Actually, to be fair, the first of the reporters’ queries was much more artfully worded. “Do you think he’s gone too far”—he being, in this case, Mr. Harper—”and do you think it’s time to bring him down when you get a chance?”

“Look, what we think about this is, we want to get the other guys back to work,” Mr. Ignatieff managed. “That’s the key thing. The reality is, Mr. Harper always goes too far and then Canadians have to call him back.”

In a red tie and navy blue suit, Mr. Ignatieff continued to stress all of the matters with which we should be dealing and all of the ways in which the Liberals would be attempting to do so.

“We’re not just showing up for a photo op,” he said. “We’re showing up to go to work. That’s the point.”

And if the government will not similarly govern, the opposition will apparently study said governance.

“Every time this government faces an institutional challenge from some other part of the institutions that keep us free,” Mr. Ignatieff explained, apparently struggling to find the words to explain such outrageousness, “they fire back. We think this is a crazy way to run a democracy.”

So there.

And yet, some itch seemed left unscratched. Some insatiable hunger unsatiated. Indeed, as we think now of all that we may be forced to do without these next two months, spare a moment to consider the neediest: the poor press gallery member whose only source of sustenance is fresh reason for election speculation.

“What you’re saying,” one reporter interjected after Mr. Ignatieff had spoken for sometime, “is he can push you around and get away with it.”

“I’m astonished,” Mr. Ignatieff exclaimed, accurately describing the look on his own face.

“Why?” the reporter asked.

“We are coming back to do our job,” Mr. Ignatieff explained.

“I know, but there’s no threat of an election,” the reporter came back. “You’re not saying like you did in September, ‘your time is up,’ you’re just saying, ‘we’re having a big gabfest here and come back when you feel like it.’ ”

“Gabfest,” Mr. Ignatieff grumbled sarcastically. “Gabfest.”

“I’m just saying, where’s the threat?” the reporter begged. “Where’s the muscle?”

The Liberal leader resisted the urge here to remove his shirt and challenge the Prime Minister to a pose down.

“Do Canadians want minority parliaments always functioning with threats?” he wondered aloud. “That’s exactly what Stephen Harper does.”

Astonishment had by now turned to incredulousness, and so the words spilled forth, burying the question under syllables.

“I have done this job for awhile and I’ve learned, I’ve got a very clear message from Canadians: Do your darn job,” he said. “Lower the volume. Do what you’re elected to do. That’s what I’m going to be doing in January and February. And it’ll be no gabfest. Let me tell you, this will be serious public policy. This will help Canadians to face the issues. We’ve had no national discussion about the environment. We’ve had no national discussion about the detainee issue and what we do in Afghanistan. We’ve had no national debate about what we do about veterans. We’ve got people coming, wounded, with PTSD, people who have given us everything and we haven’t had a public discussion about that. This is what Parliament is there for. That’s the kind of work we’re going to be doing.”

If politicians are compelled now to so justify their existences, these months without Parliament may yet prove fruitful.