Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

If You’re Like Us, We’re Against You

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check (Thursday March 22, 2007 at 2:16 pm)

Some folks who hunger for the good old days of Parliamentary debate remember what it is supposed to be: debate. After years of poorly-scripted and single-minded nonsense from Reform, and bland denials from government, they yearn for the days of that legendary exchange:

Member: In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, if he believes what he just said, the Minister must have half a brain.

Speaker: I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to retract that statement, honourable member.

Member: I apologise, Mr. Speaker. The Minister doesn’t have half a brain.

One of the chief characteristics of debate, such as that of Question Period, is the ability to craft a clever, biting, and witty retort to an opponent’s statements. Throw yesterday’s exchange between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition into that category:

Hon. Stéphane Dion (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has to see that his minister was negligent and incompetent with respect to a very serious issue for a country like Canada: the protection of the human lives we are responsible for.
The Prime Minister cannot keep his Minister of National Defence, not unless the Prime Minister is telling us that it is not important for Canada to protect the human lives we are responsible for.

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence has provided a clear explanation to the House of Commons. As the member knows, this government was at the time operating under an agreement signed by the previous government. We have since entered into a new arrangement with the Independent Afghan Human Rights Commission.

I can understand the passion that the Leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners. I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers.

It’s that last part that has Liberals up in arms. How dare the Prime Minister score points by taking a well-crafted shot at the opposition! That’s not what debate is about!

But the opposition claims that it’s wrong to say something unpleasant about them for political gain. That’s why they’ve taken the opportunity to respond in kind:

“It’s indecent,” Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said.

“That’s the same logic as Bush: `You’re with me or against me. If you’re against me, you’re with the enemy. If you’re with the enemy, you support the Taliban’. . .

“But what makes democracy great is that you treat your enemy like a human being – which is something dictatorships do not do.”

Why is it okay to suggest that the Prime Minister is a dictator? Because it’s being done OUTSIDE of debate. And there’s ample precedent for that. Consider the number of times the Liberals have done it to the Conservatives:

  • During the 2004 campaign.
  • At the outset of the 2004 campaign, trading barbs with the Conservatives.
  • In Winnipeg during the 2006 campaign.
  • With a series of ads which:
    • Attack Harper’s comments to an American think-tank in Montreal when he called the U.S. a light and inspiration to Canadians and the world;
    • Claim Harper will either have to raise taxes or run a deficit to pay for his campaign promises;
    • Claim Harper and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe have a close relationship that will not benefit national unity;
    • Claim that Harper once said Liberal ridings in the west of Canada are either dominated by recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada;
    • Report comments Harper made to an American audience, advising them not to feel bad for Canada’s unemployed, who receive “generous social assistance and unemployment assistance,” and that Canada is content to become a second-tier social country;
    • Quote a U.S. newspaper editorial that described Harper as the most pro-U.S. leader in the western world.
  • During the 2006 debate, suggesting that Harper was allied with the United States, while simultaneously claiming not to be doing that very thing.
  • Claiming, in the dying days of the 2006 campaign, that Harper had a secret plan to stack the Supreme Court with dangerously conservative judges.

Which would suggest that casting your opponents in an unfavorable light, truthfully or not, is an acceptable part of politics. Doing so in Parliament requires more finesse, which is exactly what Harper’s response above contained.

Meaning? Those crying foul are hypocritical and stupid.

Why stupid? Because there aren’t any political points in crying to the public over fouls in Parliament when the public no longer considers Parliamentary debate to be pure or austere.

Which shows a common but spectacular combination of incompetencies: poor debating skills, and poor political acumen.

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