The Commons: There is no there there

Behold government as a figment of the Prime Minister’s imagination

The Scene. Shortly before Question Period, the Prime Minister strode into the House, looking refreshed after his trip to Halifax to announce… well, to announce what exactly? An announcement? A thought? A theory? An idea? A projection? A notion?

Nominally, yesterday’s do was billed as Canada’s new military strategy for the next two decades. But, as one columnist put it today, “the complete plan is apparently locked inside Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s brain.”

Perhaps then, the opposition could ask that the government table the Prime Minister’s formidable cranium. It’d be interesting to see that thing transcribed. Though no doubt they’d have to black out the sweary bits.

“For $30 billion, Canadians expect the kind of detailed, comprehensive plan they normally get from the Department of Defence,” Liberal Geoff Regan huffed on Tuesday, “not just a smokescreen.”

All snide remarks aside, there is something to be said for what the Prime Minister managed yesterday. To use a Gertrude Stein line that Conservative James Moore’s quite fond of—there is no there there. But that doesn’t matter. Because the Prime Minister says there is. So there is.

That there isn’t a plan in a binder on someone’s desk, to be reviewed and vetted and discussed, is now apparently superfluous. On all accounts. Welcome to the new metaphysics.

“This government,” Peter Van Loan vowed today, responding to questions about a possible breach in the Foreign Affairs Minister’s bedroom, “would not put national security at risk.”

How do we know this? Because the Government house leader just said so. How can we be sure? By listening. You see, the government’s words prove themselves.

The opposition demanded to know when they might see the results of a government inquiry into the NAFTA leak. The investigation, Van Loan promised, was “nearing completion.”

How near? Who knows?

The Liberals asked what the government was doing to address the catastrophe in Burma. Maxime Bernier promised “discussions.” A short while later, Conservative backbencher Ed Fast dutifully asked Bernier to expand on “what action Canada can take” in regards to yesterday’s earthquake in China.

“Mr. Speaker, on behalf of all Canadians, I want to reiterate our condolences for the tragic loss of life as a result of the earthquake in China,” Bernier said. “Earlier today I spoke with the Chinese chargé d’affaires to express our sympathies. I also expressed Canada’s willingness to help in any way necessary, including a meaningful humanitarian assistance package. We stand here in this House for the Chinese people.”

In other words, Canada is doing nothing. And yet it is doing everything. There is no there there. But there is. Because Max said so.

The NDP’s Brian Masse asked the government to account for recent job losses in the auto sector, daring to suggest the Conservatives didn’t have the faintest idea what they were doing in this regard.

Oh hardly, corrected Jim Prentice. “It is very clear,” the Industry Minister proclaimed, “that we have an auto strategy that we have been working on.”

In other words, there is nothing. And yet there is.

This is all, of course, fairly irrefutable. Who are you to say what the Industry Minister is thinking about? How is anyone to doubt what the Foreign Affairs Minister intends to do?

The opposition will stew and fume and demand specifics. And they may get them, at least in theory. But this is politics on a higher plain—government as a figment of the Prime Minister’s imagination.

If nothing else, in these times of economic uncertainty and environmental concern, it should cut down on paper use.

The Stats. The Foreign Affairs Minister and the economy, eight questions each. Chuck Cadman and employment insurance, four questions each. Natives, three questions. Burma, NAFTA, election financing, gas prices and crime, two questions each. China and submarines, one question each.

Peter Van Loan, six answers. James Moore, five answers. Lawrence Cannon, four answers. Stephen Harper, Maxime Bernier, Jim Prentice and Chuck Strahl, three answers each. Jim Flaherty, Monte Solberg, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Pierre Poilievre and Dave MacKenzie, two answers each. Gary Lunn and Bev Oda, one answer each.

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