View From The Hill – December 5th, 2013

Senate

All-in-all, a pretty morbid Question Period.

In today’s round of scripted demagoguery, the topic stayed pretty well limited — Lac Megantic, the Senate affair and PTSD in the Canadian Forces.

The questioning kicked off with Thomas Mulcair driving at the Prime Minister, in accusing him of being virtually responsible for the Lac Megantic train disaster.  His failure to regulate the tracks, Mulcair charged, led to this disaster.

Harper, evidently, disagreed and parried by saying that the government had adequate rules in place, and those rules weren’t respected.

And his defence didn’t change much when Mulcair moved over and charged that the Prime Minister was still trying to coverup the Senate affair.

What does the government have to hide?  Mulcair wondered, floating his hands around and stalking about his desk.  Why block Runia’s testimony?  Runia, of course, being the friend-of-Senator-Gerstein and Deloitte VP who allegedly tried to influence the Senate audit.

Well any glee that Harper may have once taken in lambasting the opposition leader while deflecting criticism has dissipated, leaving just a thin film of sadness.

Harper’s voice was quiet, his body language deflated, and his answers half-hearted.

The auditors have already testified…

The PMO is not under investigation…

The RCMP are investigating two individuals…

He got a bit of a break when Ralph Goodale and Marc Garneau took over for missing Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, whose face you may have seen pasted on the side of milk cartons.  For their trouble, they were met with a Paul Calandra, who had been benched all week after a month of face-palm-inducing parliamentary infancy.

But after that second-tier slapfight was the main event: Mulcair and Harper, toe-to-toe, for much of the remainder of the period.

Is everyone in the Prime Minister’s Office to blame but the Prime Minister himself?

Is the Prime Minister blaming Benjamin Perrin?

Why is Senator Gerstein still around?

Well the Prime Minister just didn’t accept the premise of those questions at all, no sir, and reminded the opposition leader that he is just a hapless rube and that, while everybody at the office including the security guards and cleaning staff knew of the Duffy deal, he was unaware.  And, not withstanding the widespread conspiracy, everything is fine and nobody is guilty.

We’ll put a pin in that one and see how things shake out next week.

But the Liberals, refusing to be outdone by Mulcair’s prosecutorial prowess, stood on their on two feet and did their best imitation of obtuseness.  Each Trudeau stand-in started their question by expressing shock and dismay that the PMO hid the emails, then admitted that they weren’t hidden and were simply stored elsewhere for a different reason, then doubled down and asked why they were hidden.  Paul Calandra’s non-answers, at least in this regard, felt appropriate.

Then it was on to one of the most brutal exchanges I’ve seen in Question Period in a long time, where Status of Women critic Niki Ashton demanded to know why the government was obstructing an otherwise universally-supported plan for a national strategy on murdered and missing Aboriginal women.  The only barrier is this government, she stung.

Her counterpart in the government stood up.  We are committed to ending violence against women and girls, Kellie Leitch told the House.  And then proceeded to vaguely cite some community programs and First Nations engagement that had all the trappings of the “my Canadian girlfriend” defence.  It netted a DO SOMETHING from one New Democrat heckler.

Ashton rose again and pointed out the obvious: those things you kind-of said are not a national strategy.

So Leitch responded with a terse, as I’ve just said, and told Ashton that there are seven (count ’em, SEVEN!) programs for violence against women and that the government does work on reserves, so there.

It was kind of like watching a bird of prey fight a dove.

In the most interesting exchange in the late show, Elizabeth May quizzed the Prime Minister over the ongoing protests at the Elsipogtog First Nation, in New Brunswick, which has been leading blockages against a proposed fracking site nearby.  Does this government recognize the right of First Nations to control development on their unceded territory?

The Prime Minister, in a surprisingly frank response, told May that, of course this government recognizes their rights, and added that proper consultations must be done with First Nations so that they benefit from the development.  This is an unprecedented opportunity, he told the House.

It’s not too clear that the First Nation feels that way, as they’ve been facing riot batons, tear gas, and arrest for the last few weeks, after refusing to end their blockade and, on several occasions, burning police cars and threatening journalists.

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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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