The Commons: ‘What happened is what happened’

It ain’t much. But it’s the best explanation this government’s got.

The Scene. Oh how cruel and uncaring are these bounds of logic.

“Mr. Speaker, for at least five weeks classified documents about our forces in Afghanistan and our allies at NATO lay open in a private house. The government has failed to explain how such a security breach was allowed to happen and then go undetected for five weeks at least,” Michael Ignatieff surveyed. “The government is either incompetent or it is covering up the truth. Which is it?”

Peter Van Loan, for the 54th time in the last 48 hours, rose to respond. “On the contrary,” he cried, “such a security breach was not allowed. It was not permitted. That is why the Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he took responsibility for the breach that occurred, tendered his resignation.”

Ignatieff repeated his charge. Van Loan restated his dismissal. And so the Liberal deputy was up for a third time.

“Mr. Speaker, that is again telling the House that a gross security breach was discovered on a Sunday night and there was no action until five o’clock the next day,” he said. “It is just not credible.”
Unable to sit still and leave well enough alone, Van Loan came back. “The foreign affairs department is conducting a review of the matter. It will examine what has taken place with the documents and whether there were any security issues related to that. Obviously it was a breach of the rules.”

And, just like that, the security breach seemingly acknowledged just moments earlier was amended to a mere failure to follow the rules.

“No one believes you Peter!” offered a voice from the Liberal side.

Marlene Jennings, up second for the Liberals, grasped desperately at stated facts. “Mr. Speaker, federal officials retrieved the documents from Madam Couillard’s house on Sunday afternoon. Yesterday the ex-foreign affairs minister issued a statement that said: ‘I informed the Prime Minister of my resignation as soon as I became aware of a security breach.’ Yet, the government House leader insists the Prime Minister only found out for the first time on Monday at 5 p.m.”

“Mr. Speaker,” concluded Van Loan, “the sequence of events is quite clear.”

Indeed, said Gilles Duceppe, “this is a very interesting sequence to follow.”

The Bloc boss attempted to quiz the House leader about the specifics of the misplaced documents. “Mr. Speaker,” signed Van Loan, “I believe the leader of the Bloc Québécois is somewhat confused about the difference between departmental documents and cabinet documents.”

“We are not confused,” Duceppe shot back. “But there are some people who are trying to confuse affairs, that’s for sure.”

“What happened,” Van Loan shrugged, “is what happened.”

Surely no truer words have ever been spoke in this place. Pure zen. And yet still the opposition members persisted in pestering the government’s resident Buddha.

“Mr. Speaker, the ex-minister first told everyone in Canada that he became aware on Sunday afternoon of the breach, and then he advised the Prime Minister on Monday,” Ujjal Dosanjh pleaded. “In the second statement he said that he actually became aware on Sunday, and as soon as he became aware, he actually advised the Prime Minister. Which is it?”

Disturbed from his quiet meditation, Van Loan stood bleary and off-balance. “Mr. Speaker, the honourable member asked which it was. It is exactly as I said. The Prime Minister said that he became aware of it on Sunday afternoon and that is when action was taken.”

“Ohhhhh!” cried the Liberal benches at the House leader’s slip.

“Mr. Speaker, I apologize,” Van Loan offered at the next opportunity. “Obviously, as I have been getting on my feet so often, fatigue is setting in.”

“Ahhhhh!” sang the Liberals with obvious empathy.

And then to soothe Van Loan’s wounds, Liberal Maurizio Bevilacqua was up, speaking in beautiful, lyrical Italian.

“NATO plans in the lover’s room,” he said, quoting the newspaper headlines now greeting the Prime Minister in Europe. “Lovestruck minister loses his head and his documents.”

A day earlier, Van Loan had beseeched his critics to more closely follow the day’s news reports. Quite respectfully, they had returned to their offices and done as told.

“When the Prime Minister launched his European tour are these really the headlines he was hoping for?” Bevilacqua wondered.

“Bravo! Bravo!” the Liberals sang.

Van Loan managed an answer, but the substance of it was altogether moot.

The Stats. Maxime Bernier, 23 questions. Natives, eight questions. Language rights, four questions. Drugs, cities and the environment, one question.

Peter Van Loan, 23 answers. Chuck Strahl, seven answers. Josee Verner, three answers. Tony Clement, two answers. Loyola Hearn, Brian Jean and Gary Lunn.

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