It seemed like an innocuous remark. During Question Period on Wednesday, Environment Minister John Baird gave a little shout-out to an aboriginal delegation in the spectators’ gallery, who had been on hand earlier in the day at the announcement of a big conservation project in Canada’s North.
But that’s a big no-no in parliamentary practice. Only the Commons Speaker can recognize visitors in the gallery, and MPs who have done the same in the past have been banned from speaking in Question Period for 30 days. Baird got off with a warning, though.
Even more extraordinary, though, was how that remark provoked Stephane Dion. The Liberal leader started wildly waving to the aboriginal delegation and then pointing to his own chest with both hands, arguing that Baird was trying to take credit for something he himself had done when he was environment minister. “It was me,” he shouted upward to the aboriginal leaders, who looked a bit perplexed by all the gesturing. Then Dion started barking at Baird, saying all the work on the conservation project had been done before Conservatives came to office and “you only had to sign your name.” Observers on both sides of the House averted their eyes at the outburst.
The lesson of all this? Recognition is apparently a sensitive subject in politics. It can even make you lose your dignity.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an impression of sorts when he landed in Uganda on Thursday to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Wearing a two-tone grey suit, he was pictured in the New Vision newspaper in Uganda bending over shaking a little girl’s hand. Great visuals, but unfortunately, Harper was described in the newspaper only as a Canadian official.
Deborah Coyne, who faced off for the Liberals against NDP leader Jack Layton in the riding of Toronto-Danforth during the last election, has decided not to run again. In a letter sent out earlier this month, Coyne says: “While I am keen to serve my country in Parliament some day, I am faced with significant personal and financial constraints that make my candidacy in Toronto-Danforth impossible at this time.” Coyne is most noted for her constitutional expertise during the raucous debates of the 1980s and 1990s and yes, also for being the mother of Pierre Trudeau’s youngest child, Sarah, born in 1991. No word yet on who will replace her as the Liberal candidate.
A date with Harper
Loyal Conservative supporters received a little gift in the mail this month – a 2008 calendar, filled with photos of the Prime Minister and a nice letter from the Harper himself. Yes, he is now a pinup man. Every month, a different shot – reviewing the troops in April, all decked out in pink (yes, pink) with daughter Rachel at the Calgary Stampede in July, more reviewing of RCMP officers in August and shot of him with soldiers in October; soldiers’ gravestones in November. Is there a theme here, somewhere? Harper explains in the letter that the party needs money to hold back the “vested interests” of Liberals and “vocal interests” of the New Democrats. He likes those phrases so much, in fact, that he uses them twice in the two-page letter.
Unfortunately, there is nothing in the calendar that indicates when the next election will be held.
He walks alone - indoors
Harper no longer walks down the main stairs into the Commons foyer very often, preferring to use back corridors that wind past the spectators’ and media seats on the upper level. And now, just to make sure the PM has no accidental encounters with people on the route, Commons security has been ordered to keep doors closed and media and visitors out of the hallway when he’s passing through. It’s basically a partial parliamentary lockdown – strange, when considering that no one orders the streets or sidewalks cleared when Harper takes occasional walks around the neighbourhood near his residence at 24 Sussex Drive.
Well, not yet, anyway.