View From The Hill – December 4th, 2013

Senate

Is this Stephen Harper’s swan song?

Returning to Question Period after a week of finding himself conveniently elsewhere, the Prime Minister took his seat to take a generally melancholic line of questioning from Thomas Mulcair.

But the big question mark swaying from the rafters above is a question that has bounced around in recent months, and has finally crystallized in a rather spot-on column from from National Post scribe John Ivison musing on how Harper may pack it in once he returns from the Middle East in the new year — originally pencilled in for March, it has supposedly been pushed up.

That means that this round of mid-afternoon bafflegab may be one of Harper’s last.  If so, he didn’t treat it with much reverence.

The opening shot came from Mulcair, who wanted to know whether PMO legal adviser Benjamin Perrin resigned, or was fired. Harper, succinctly, told the opposition that Perrin left of his own accord.

From there, things turned a bit hazy.  Mulcair waddled through some Treasury Board guidelines that he believed proved that Perrin’s emails ought to have been kept.  Evidently, that line of questioning sounded more effective in the limelight of the Opposition Leader’s Office.  Harper’s response, though, was as flatfooted as can be.  He stumbled through his script, and looked despondent as he did so.  He didn’t even address the premise of the mis-fired question, or mock the opposition leader.  He sat down, deflated.

Then we went madly off in all directions.

Why is Canadian Mint chairman Jim Love still employed by this government? jabbed Mulcair, wondering about the stories emerging that Love helped orchestrate a network of offshore tax havens for his clients.  Rhetorically twisting his cap in his hands, Harper meekly told the House of the various measures that this government has implemented to fight tax avoidance.

Then Mulcair took aim on the spate of Canadian Forces personnel who have taken their lives of late.  He asked this to jeers from the government benches, which is — and I’m not even editorializing, for once, here — entirely inappropriate.  What is this government doing? he asked.

Harper, for his part, acknowledged that this problem is a two way street — the government has implemented mental health programs, and soldiers need to reach out and take advantage of them.

But while Mulcair, and later Trudeau, failed to poke holes in that logic, NDP Veteran’s Affairs critic Peter Stoffer figured out the problem later on.

When a soldier comes out with PTSD, it starts the clock on their expulsion.  Will the minister change the policy of expelling soldiers with mental health issues?  Stoffer wasn’t making this up — Canadian Press reporter Murray Brewster spoke with one veteran suffering with PTSD who tried to kill himself after the Forces told him of his imminent discharge.  Nicholson told the House that is not the policy of the Canadian Forces, but then qualifying —  soldiers are not discharged until they are cleared of any mental health issues.

Evidently, that’s not being done.

It was onwards and downwards from there.  The NDP quizzed seemingly newly-created Parliamentary Secretary Jim Watson, who looks like he’s fresh from the Parliamentary Secretary farm, on whatever happened to the airline passengers bill of rights that everyone was expecting in the throne speech.

Watson told the House that under the NDP, Canadians will have a harder time flying home this Christmas, due to their $3.1 billion carbon tax.  And, thus, kicked democracy in the face once more.

The best backbench bunt was tapped by Health Minister Rona Ambrose, in response to a rather touching story from top-notch MP Harold Albrecht, who recounted the story of his late wife, and how her organ donation gave him some solace.  Ambrose highlighted their government’s #GiftOfLife campaign, encouraging Canadians to become organ donors.

Unless, of course, you’re gay.  Then we don’t want your organs.

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Other articles by Justin Ling

The Taming of the Prime Minister

Harper’s Lincoln Continental

The last MP out can turn off the light

Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling

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