The Commons: Way to go, Skippy

And so the day of apology begets its own apology

The Scene. It couldn’t last. Or at least we knew it wouldn’t last. And, in some ways maybe, it shouldn’t last.

But who knew yesterday’s spirit of common good and cooperative effort was so null and void before most of us had even gotten around to feeling good about ourselves?

Indeed, before the Prime Minister had so much as spoken the first words of this Parliament’s most remarkable hour, exuberant Conservative Pierre Poilievre had put forward a revolutionary, if rather insensitive, reading on the politics of healing. Speaking with the “Lunch Bunch” on an Ottawa radio station, he suggested that compensation for the victims of physical and sexual abuse should be treated as investment. A full accounting required. A proper return demanded.

Worse still, he made gratuitous and silly use of the term “partook”—speaking, as it were, several classes above his weight.

The only surprise in what came next was that it took the Liberals a full 24 hours to formally demand Poilievre’s resignation.

As that press release reached blackberries around the capital, Poilievre was already preparing to apologize. Or, rather, the government was preparing to apologize for him.

In the House, his script at the ready, Poilievre waited his turn. To his left sat Chuck Strahl, the Indian Affairs Minister. Behind Poilievre sat Rod Bruinooge, Strahl’s parliamentary secretary and an aboriginal Canadian from Manitoba. Over Poilievre’s right shoulder was placed Rona Ambrose, well-dressed as always.

All appeared set. But just then arrived Rob Clarke, the newest Conservative MP. A member of the Muskeg Lake First Nation and a former RCMP officer who was posted to various native communities in Saskatchewan, it was obviously important that he be in the frame. But where to put him?

After some discussion, an agreement was reached. Clarke would take Ambrose’s seat and she would move to an empty spot in front of Poilievre. Gary Goodyear, a paragon of virtue whose assistant was recently dispatched for ordering a ticket in his name to a naughty film, completed the scene, filling the seat to Ambrose’s right.

Rising immediately before Poilievre, Liberal Derek Lee helpfully set the stage, reading into the record the young parliamentary secretary’s statements—”Are we really getting value for all of this money?”—and calling on Poilievre to apologize. Dutifully, Poilievre then stood.

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to offer a full apology to aboriginal people, to the House and to all Canadians,” he said.

He furrowed his brow and gulped.

“Yesterday, on a day when the House and all Canadians were celebrating a new beginning, I made remarks that were hurtful and wrong,” he continued. “I accept responsibility for them and I apologize.”

As is the habit whenever a Parliamentarian takes responsibility for his or her egregious failings, Poilievre’s mates in the Conservative caucus stood and applauded. Still standing, the member for Nepean-Carleton shook hands with Strahl, Goodyear, Clarke and Bruinooge. And then, with attention turning to the first query of Question Period, Poilievre’s new friends returned to their usual seats.

Not that the parliamentary secretary was yet in the clear. With their fourth question, the Liberals sent up Todd Russell, a Métis from Labrador.

“Mr. Speaker, first let me thank all party leaders for their words yesterday. They were words of apology and sorrow for the horror of residential schools. I honour those words and hope they are embraced by all Canadians,” Russell began. “But yesterday the parliamentary secretary to the President of the Treasury Board demonstrated through his words ignorance and intolerance, the same attitudes that led to the historic wrongs that were the subject of yesterday’s apology. Will the Prime Minister denounce those words, words that smack of racism and paternalism?”

The Liberal side stood and applauded. Poilievre grimaced.

To his defence came Mr. Strahl. “Mr. Speaker, I think we all heard the words from the parliamentary secretary just before Question Period. I urge all members to consider those. They were heartfelt and I appreciated his honesty and candour.”

Russell was rather unsatisifed. “Mr. Speaker, I am saddened and hurt by the attitude expressed by this official spokesperson for the government. Referring to the residential school settlement, he said: ‘Some of us are starting to ask are we really getting value for this money.’  But how do we place a value on a stolen child?” he asked.

“Just two hours later the Prime Minister stated: ‘There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the residential school system to ever again prevail.’ Will the Prime Minister stand by his words and remove his parliamentary secretary?”

The Liberals stood and applauded Russell once more.

Mr. Harper turned to Peter Van Loan and spoke, apparently to tell the government House leader that this required a Prime Ministerial response.

“Mr. Speaker, as all members of the House know, the parliamentary secretary has apologized for remarks that were wrong. I know that he also forthwith contacted national aboriginal associations to indicate that,” he said. “I know that yesterday we had an historic event, something that aboriginal people in this country have been waiting a very long time for. I know that all parties in this House were supportive of that spirit of apology. I also know the honourable member in question was very supportive of those actions of the government.”

Poilievre sat for the rest of the hour grim-faced, hands folded in front of him. Through pages, he appeared to pass notes, one to Todd Russell, another to John Baird. The Environment Minister, perhaps Poilievre’s biggest fan and seemingly something of a mentor, turned and nodded in his direction.

The young partisan received a note too and after reading it, he turned and exchanged nods with Tom Lukiwski. One disgraced parliamentary secretary commiserating with another.

The Stats. Maxime Bernier, 12 questions. Natives, nine questions. The economy, seven questions. Omar Khadr, four questions. Copyright law, tourism, water safety, child care, fisheries and France, one question each.

Peter Van Loan, 10 answers. Stephen Harper, eight answers. Deepak Obhrai and Jean-Pierre Blackburn, four answers each. Chuck Strahl and Ted Menzies, three answers each. Jim Prentice, Diane Finley, Laurie Hawn, Monte Solberg, Loyola Hearn and Lawrence Cannon, one answer each.

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