Question period: how to avoid responsibility

di Joe Volpe del February 28, 2020

TORONTO - Sometimes rituals (public practices) are all we have to sustain our collective belief in anything – be it a religion, a political ethos, a legal structure, business enterprise or personal relationship. They are the outward manifestation of what we hope others will recognize as our defining characteristics.

They help keeps everyone’s “eyes on the ball”. Often, maybe too often, we see ourselves and others “just going through the motions”. But those motions at least serve the purpose of seeing us through stressful moments.

We are living through several of them. So, Tuesday, for the first time in years, I thought I would watch Question Period (QP) in the House of Commons debates. For the uninitiated, QP is the 45-minute period during the day when our Executive Branch (Cabinet) is required to answer questions from our Members of Parliament on issues of the day.

Often, it resembles a theatrical production, with government going through the motions of appearing to be responsible to Parliament’s concerns. But the cut and thrust of the verbal sparring (45 seconds for questions and 30 seconds for answers) has made or ruined many political reputations, strengthened or eroded the foundations of the democratic principles of our society.

In my experience, every MP has lusted for the opportunity to be a “gladiator in that fray” …at least once…to shine in defense of the country, so to speak. In truth, though, it is first and foremost a joust between Leaders, secondarily, among Ministers and their shadow critics on the minutiae of important files and issues of the day.

Tuesday, as today, there were several significant issues that even an elementary school student knows need to be discussed and resolved. Let’s look at two.

First, the lawlessness – quasi anarchist defiance – of some people, masquerading as defenders of Indigenous rights. Their activities are bringing mobility of goods and people to a screeching halt while Court injunctions have been going unenforced by police agencies. Second, the decision of a Western-based resource-development company to abandon it $20 Billion proposed development in Alberta. These come in the context of allegations of intransigence, if not downright hostility, by the federal government towards oil and gas industries and their need for stable government.

Both issues are problems in search of a solution. The longer they go unaddressed, the more the perception grows that someone is derelict in their duties…or just plain incompetent.

Prime Minister Trudeau was not present in QP to sort them out or to focus our attention. In his absence, Ministers read and repeated answers from prepared texts. They came across as either unconvincing or not in control of their files – the problems will either solve themselves...or we will have to look elsewhere. Neither Bloc (“rebel without a cause”) nor NDP (“Liberal sycophant”) Leaders had any relevance to the general pan-Canadian issue at hand. By comparison, Official Opposition leader, Andrew Scheer was almost stellar. Incisive in criticism but light on alternatives…and, he needs a tailor, plus a supporting cast.

The performance of one of his putative replacements, Erin O’Toole, reminded me why Parliamentarians are losing the confidence of the public. In a Member’s Statement, he, implored a Liberal Minister for Infrastructure, elected from the greater Hamilton Area, to get behind the LRT project supported by LiUNA, a construction Union. He demanded “action as opposed to “Liberal bafflegab”.

Corriere has written in support of the LRT project. The union in question held massive demonstrations in an eŠort to defeat the former Provincial Liberal government in 2018, and in support of Doug Ford. In 2019 it boasted – rightly or wrongly - to have “gone to the wall” to salvage Federal Liberals in the GTHA from what seemed an imminent defeat.

I could be wrong/naive but, unless O’Toole is trying to drive a wedge between Trudeau and his diminishing supporters in the GTHA, he may simply be trying to harvest union resources for his personal campaign. I will apologize if wrong, however, his intervention smacks of blatant opportunism at a time when our democratic institutions sorely need re-enforcement.


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