Parliament, where decorum and diplomacy went to die
Published Thursday, June 18, 2015 5:50PM EDT
After four years and 24 days, the 41st Parliament is limping into history.
Hallelujah. This Commons, which is expected to adjourn tonight or early tomorrow until after the election, badly needs a housecleaning.
By raw production numbers, it has been somewhat efficient having passed 142 bills over 505 days of sitting.
But most of the important bills have been rushed through without amendment by the brute force of a government which set a dubious record for limiting debate.
Still, the problem is as much about toxic personalities as the broken process Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau insists needs his big fix.
The house leaders, who quarterback legislation, have confided that their relationships are toxic.
There’s a particularly visceral disdain of Trudeau coming from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom he clearly regards as an unworthy opponent. He doesn’t appear to have the same loathing of NPD Leader Tom Mulcair, although fear could soon become a factor.
Meanwhile, weak ministers under PMO mind control are in important portfolios. Strong ministers showing creative independence are twiddling thumbs in low-maintenance departments.
Attendance at the moment of accountability in Question Period is down to twice weekly by the Prime Minister and the Liberal leader.
Senior cabinet ministers are increasingly absent or flipping uncomfortable questions to lowly parliamentary secretaries for script-written non-responses.
MP statements designed to salute local constituents or events have become vitriolic attacks, usually without foundation, against other parties.
The 105-seat Senate is down 20 senators after three years of Harper refusing to fill vacancies in the chamber of sobering scandal, although Conservative senators unfortunately remain hardwired to the Prime Minister’s command centre for daily instruction.
In short, this was a Parliament where decorum and diplomacy went to die. It could get worse.
Ministers who respected their opponents – think Jim Flaherty and John Baird - are gone. The most dignified committee chairs – like James Rajotte and Joe Preston – are retiring. Class-act MPs such as Irwin Cotler and Diane Ablonczy are packing it in.
There’s a faint ray of hope the parliament-ending reforms being pushed by opposition leaders and government backbenchers will survive beyond the election.
But if they can’t get it right in the 42nd Parliament, perhaps we have to consider the possibility that MPs are biologically wired to behave badly.