In Which Thomas Mulcair Takes the Prime Minister Behind the Shed for a Much-Needed Spanking

by Joey deVilla on May 29, 2013

eye of stephen

The brouhaha surrounding Toronto’s city hall over a video that allegedly shows the mayor smoking crack is still small potatoes compared to what’s going on in the federal government. There’s a scandal over expenses inappropriately claimed by senators and even more inappropriately paid for and covered up by the governing Conservative Party. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to distance himself and claim no knowledge of any of those happenings, but given that’s he’s a bit of an autocratic control freak and the incident involves his hand-picked Chief of Staff writing a $90,000 personal cheque to a senator who expected the Prime Minister’s Office to cover improperly-claimed expenses, it’s pretty unlikely.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair did an excellent job grilling the Prime Minister by dealing with him as one would deal with a petulant adolescent who’s been caught lifting the scotch from the liquor cabinet: ask short, simple questions, and if the answers aren’t satisfactory, ask again. The video below shows the outcome: Mulcair does a killer job as our weaselly Prime Minister dodges, weaves, misdirects, and like that petulant adolescent, wishes he could tell Mommy and Daddy to “eff off”, but for all his vainglorious claims to being the boss of himself, can’t.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason Gilman May 29, 2013 at 1:04 pm

As an American I found the constant clapping after each speaker concluded and the occasional switches to French kind of fascinating. As far as the latter goes was that kind of a covering all possible angles of questioning thing?

Synfandel May 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Jason, Question Period is a piece of semi-improvisational live theatre. It’s not intended to produce actual answers; it’s a chance for the opposition to try to make points with voters by publicly embarrassing or shaming the government. The alternating between French and English is a way of ensuring that your verbal barbs get played back on both English-language and French-language television. It’s also sometimes used as a way to get your opponent off balance. It’s customary–though far from universal–to answer a question in the language in which it was asked. So, you can make life a bit harder for the person who you expect will be answering the question if you ask it in the language in which he’s weaker. That’s not what we saw today: both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Harper are quite fluent in both English and French.

Emma May 29, 2013 at 5:33 pm

I think there are a couple of reasons, one is to get at every way to ask the same question, the other is to ensure that the prime minister’s response can be repeated in French-language media directly I expect.

stavrosthewonderchicken May 29, 2013 at 8:13 pm

FWIW I’m Canadian, and I find the incessant clapping kind of painful and embarrassing.

Ben May 30, 2013 at 3:30 am

The french was a very nice touch by Mulcair. Mulcair speaks french much much better than Harper does. He’s also a lawyer. I’m sure he was using it to catch Harper off guard and force him into a poorly worded response.

Tony May 30, 2013 at 9:06 am

I think that the earlier switches to French may have been a way to suggest that “since you clearly don’t understand the question in English, let’s try another language”.

What I found more distracting was the constant buttoning and unbuttoning of coats!

Rob Strickler May 31, 2013 at 12:56 pm

@Synfandel … I’ll apologize now; my PoliSci education is getting the better of me.

Question Period’s role is to hold the government of the day accountable. Questions must be answered, not necessarily answering the question — a bit of a squirmy out-clause to the system IMO — but even non-answers are telling as to the government’s quality/malfeasance, so “mission accomplished” in terms of a governance model.

There’s no way to skip the question. Aside from prorogation, essentially “canceling” government or being absent (and the PM has done both those things, multiple times), there’s no way the government cannot attend QP.

The alternative would be press conferences or speeches from the floor of the legislature (talk about theatre!). I’ll take the foibles of quirks of QP any day.

If there anything shameful or embarrassing about the government of the day’s behaviour, it should come out. QP does that. So, a good thing.

At least, that was the design behind the system. How individual members or collective parties behave within that framework is another matter. Coordinating and politicizing Members Statements? Even the Conservative caucus is unhappy about that.

@stavrosthewonderchicken
+1 on the embarrassing cheering/clapping. It reminds of old films of political speeches in the USSR. Wasn’t that ridiculed by the western press back then?

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