Lit­tle sun­shine for Trudeau gov­ern­ment

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Chan­tal He­bert is a na­tional af­fairs writer. Her col­umn ap­pears Tues­day, Thurs­day and Satur­day.

So much for sunny ways! As Justin Trudeau’s gov­ern­ment nears the half­way mark of its first man­date, find­ing some will­ing­ness to en­gage in adult con­ver­sa­tion on ei­ther side of the House of Com­mons is al­most as hard as it was on the worst days of the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment.

Since the new year, the tone has steadily de­te­ri­o­rated, and if this week is any­thing to go by the cli­mate is bound to be­come more toxic un­til Par­lia­ment fi­nally breaks for the sum­mer.

In ques­tion pe­riod, de­bate has es­sen­tially de­faulted to a di­a­logue of the deaf that al­lows for lit­tle or no rea­soned ar­gu­ments. The op­po­si­tion squawks loudly at a flock of gov­ern­ment par­rots.

This week the gov­ern­ment resched­uled a Con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion day from Thurs­day to next Mon­day. The of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion wants to use the time to turn up the heat on De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan for hav­ing ag­gran­dized his role in the plan­ning of a ma­jor mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in Afghanistan. Con­ser­va­tives and New Democrats have spent the week call­ing for his res­ig­na­tion. The Lib­er­als hope that by next week the story will have run out of steam.

All this is un­fold­ing against the back­drop of a pro­ce­dural war over a clumsy Lib­eral at­tempt to tweak some of the rules of the House to the gov­ern­ment’s ad­van­tage. Such is the bad blood be­tween the op­po­si­tion and the Lib­er­als that when the lat­ter waved a white flag and aban­doned their most con­tentious pro­pos­als, none of the other par­ties would pause long enough to claim vic­tory.

While the par­ties wran­gle, the gov­ern­ment strug­gles to ad­vance its leg­isla­tive agenda. Not that it is par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive. The spring sit­ting will mostly be re­mem­bered for bro­ken or miss­ing-in-ac­tion Lib­eral prom­ises.

Take Trudeau’s com­mit­ment to give the par­lia­men­tary bud­get of­fi­cer more in­de­pen­dence. The leg­is­la­tion brought for­ward by the gov­ern­ment would in­stead fur­ther clip the al­ready short wings of the PBO.

The malaise that has over­taken Par­lia­ment Hill has root causes on both sides of the House.

For all the talk about run­ning a more col­le­gial op­er­a­tion, Trudeau’s gov­ern­ment is as cen­tral­ized as its pre­de­ces­sors. Noth­ing much hap­pens with­out a green light from the PMO.

While Trudeau’s brain trust is watch­ing the White House, it can’t al­ways have its eye on the many other balls that a cabi­net dom­i­nated by po­lit­i­cal rook­ies is li­able to drop.

Lib­eral strate­gists be­lieve the price to pay for hav­ing dumped the com­mit­ment to change the vot­ing sys­tem will not be high in the next elec­tion. Per­haps, but they may have un­der­es­ti­mated the par­lia­men­tary cost of squan­der­ing a se­ri­ous amount of op­po­si­tion good­will and trust in the process.

Trudeau’s re­ver­sal ac­counts for part of the ce­ment that binds the New Democrats to the Con­ser­va­tives in the op­po­si­tion bat­tle against the Lib­eral rule changes.

With the elec­tion of Stephen Harper’s suc­ces­sor less than a month away, the Con­ser­va­tives are not look­ing to tie the hands of their next leader. While they pile on an em­bat­tled min­is­ter or en­gage in pro­ce­dural war­fare, they are spared hav­ing to come up with a cau­cus con­sen­sus on di­vi­sive is­sues like the gov­ern­ment’s cannabis leg­is­la­tion.

Over on the NDP side Thomas Mul­cair’s pro­longed last hur­rah as party leader is turn­ing into an out­let for a lot of pent-up anger. Much of it is di­rected at Trudeau, a coun­ter­part that Mul­cair saw as a po­lit­i­cal weak­ling when they sat side by side in op­po­si­tion and, by all in­di­ca­tions, still sees him that way now that he is prime min­is­ter. The an­i­mos­ity be­tween the two is not just for show.

With ev­ery pass­ing week Mul­cair’s tone seems to be­come more stri­dent — to the point that it some­times over­takes the sub­stance of his ar­gu­ments. On Tues­day, the NDP leader had to apol­o­gize for call­ing Lib­eral House leader Bardish Chag­ger a buf­foon.

As coun­ter­in­tu­itive as it may seem, it may take the ar­rival of two per­ma­nent op­po­si­tion lead­ers to bring a small mea­sure of sun­nier ways back to Par­lia­ment Hill.

CHAN­TAL HE­BERT

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