Showing up for work: a cautionary tale
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and his MPs intend to show up for work on Jan. 25, despite the prorogued Parliament. This was decided during a conference call yesterday -- story in today's Star.
We don't know yet what the Liberals plan to do, but here's a story (see below) of what happened 10 years ago when another opposition leader, facing an extra-long break in parliamentary business, tried to pull this off. As we see from this (hilarious) Scott Feschuk column from the time, it's maybe an example that shouldn't be followed.
Manning's au revoir the measure of success
Tue Sep 21 1999
Byline: Scott Feschuk
Column: On the Hill
Source: National Post
Jim Armour was asked yesterday if this was his baby -- this Reform publicity stunt, concocted to alert folks to the fact the Liberal government has delayed by three weeks the resumption of Parliament. His eyes shifted warily, and he took a step backward, as though he were being coaxed to play a midway game by a scraggly carnie.
Mr. Armour, chief spokesman for Preston Manning, the Reform leader, finally replied: "I'll let you know after I see whether it's a huge success or a huge failure."
As of 2:25 p.m. yesterday, the gimmick in all likelihood became definitely, positively not the brainchild of Mr. Armour.
That is the approximate time at which Mr. Manning turned on his heels and walked briskly from the microphone in the foyer outside the House of Commons, putting a sniffy end to his attention-grabbing attempt.
The Reform leader began his news conference by calling Jean Chretien a bad man for extending MPs' summer break until Oct. 12, thus brazenly avoiding certain queries on the minds of opposition politicians. He ended it by brazenly avoiding certain queries on the minds of the assembled reporters.
The scheme must have sounded awfully cute in the abstract.
Step 1: Position Preston in front of a microphone, on the day the Commons was originally scheduled to resume sitting, at precisely 2:15 p.m. -- the time at which he would have stood to begin Question Period.
Step 2: Have him pose the queries that he would have yesterday addressed to Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister.
Step 3: Revel in gushy media coverage hailing Reform's bold strategic coup.
Well, at least Mr. Manning showed up at the right time. Alas, then he started talking.
The first problem was that his lead question to Mr. Chretien -- and, remember, these are the questions he was supposedly planning to ask yesterday in the chamber -- centred on why the prime minister chose to delay the resumption of Parliament. Of course, if there would have been a session yesterday, then there wouldn't have been a delay, and therefore Mr. Manning's question would not have made any sense.
The heads of no fewer than four reporters exploded as they tried to follow along (no big loss for those of us in print; a real drag for the TV pretties).
Put another way, the Reform leader's question served to suggest that his party is so very keen to have Parliament resume so it can ask over and over why Parliament was so very long in resuming. Ninety seconds into this news conference and things were already so surreal that the Dali estate was threatening to sue for copyright infringement.
Then again, Mr. Manning seems to be a one-man, watch-melting industry these days. Here is a guy who rants about the desperate need to reduce government interference in the lives of Canadians, then whines that the Liberals are spending fewer days in the Commons and are passing fewer bits of legislation. Here is a guy who routinely assails Liberal MPs for behaving as sheep for their political masters, then threatens to turf those in the Reform flock who utter a peep against his United Alternative project.
And here is a guy who, despite gaining prominence as a Western populist, has devised a rather unusual new battle cry: Toronto wants in!
As his performance continued yesterday, Mr. Manning cited five issues he contends warrant the immediate presence of MPs in Ottawa: the appearance on the West Coast of ships carrying illegal migrants, the dispatching of troops to East Timor, the proposed airline merger, the deterioration of the health-care system and the high rate of taxation. Canadians want a thorough debate on each, he insisted, though you got the sense that by "Canadians" he meant "Me and Rick Anderson."
Whatever the case, the Reform leader was then asked why recalling Parliament is such a big deal, given that he frequently misses two sittings a week (and once skipped a week to take French lessons).
And he was reminded by a reporter that his party has in past worked with the Liberals to cut short sessions of Parliament, most recently this past spring, even as 19 pieces of legislation were waiting to be handled.
Not the same thing, Mr. Manning replied, clearly irritated the media was not asking such things as, "Just how evil are the Liberals and what is the toll-free phone number that Canadians should dial to obtain information about joining the Reform party?"
After a few more questions along this unwelcome line, the Reform leader -- who had shown up to tout the importance of asking questions and hearing answers -- offered a curt au revoir and hastened away, ignoring the shouted queries of reporters, who were left to debate whether what they had just witnessed qualified as ironic or paradoxical.
Mostly, it was concluded, it qualified as silly.