Parliamentary madness

Paul CalandraQuestion Period should provide more substance, less rhetoric

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Columnist

It has been said time and again that politicians, as public figures and representatives of the country’s citizenry, should set a higher moral standard. It may be an unfair statement to make, but when you witness the kind of behaviours our elected officials so commonly resort to, Canadians should probably strive to have their politicians simply be civil.

One of the key pillars of human civility is to provide an answer to a question posed to you. Canadians from coast to coast should be dismayed that our federal politicians cannot seem to even do that.

Last week, a fairly major controversy erupted during Question Period in the House of Commons. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair asked a question about Canadian involvement in Iraq in the fight against ISIS. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper was not in the chamber, his parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, issued this response to Leader of the Official Opposition: “Our friends in Israel are on the front lines, fighting terrorism everyday.” He then went on to attack the NDP, calling out one of their staffers who allegedly said in the media that Israel is guilty of “genocide” in Palestine.

The exchange would spark a wider controversy, calling into question the House Speaker’s neutrality, eventually leading to a teary-eyed apology from Calandra at the end of the week.

It’s this kind of chicanery within the hallowed walls of Parliament that makes Question Period a must-see spectacle for any Canadian political junkie. People aren’t tuning in for information, which is the intended purpose of Question Period, but rather for the kinds of ludicrous responses that’ll be offered up by the government.

Since the Senate expenses scandal, Mulcair has been far and away Question Period’s top performer, not for the rhetoric, but for what has become his trademark—short, simple, and poignant questions on the issues of the day. Canadians understand the questions Mulcair is asking, and see an ocean of disconnect when they listen to the government’s habitual non-answers.

Taxpayers in this country demand services of their government, but if that government is unable to answer simple questions from the confines of the House of Commons, what gives our government the right to demand any taxes of us? We deserve much better, and a good start would be to change the rules to make Question Period a time for the government to really inform Canadians, through their members of Parliament, on its activities.

Calandra and the rest of the Conservative government can save the stump speeches and tearful apologies for the campaign trail. Canadians expect Harper and the government to lead us by example, and display some civility in the House of Commons.

This starts with the straightforward notion that a simple question deserves a relevant answer.