Bloc Québécois a predictable partner
When Louis Plamondon, the longest-serving member of the House of Commons, took the speaker’s chair Monday to oversee the election of the new speaker, the 12-term Bloc Québécois MP decided to impart some life lessons.
“When I was elected in 1984, cellphones, the internet and faxes did not exist. It was another world, a paradise,” the 78-year-old told the chamber. “You, the new members, will have to deal with the infamous social networks, which can harbour malice, insults, harassment … They are not easy to contend with.
“In my riding, there was an old mayor who was always being confronted by his citizens,” Plamondon continued. “At every municipal council meeting, he was questioned, insulted and harassed, and then he would leave. One day, as he was leaving a meeting, a woman asked him if he was fed up and tired of being insulted, harassed and questioned. He replied, ‘My dear lady, a good politician is like a monument. Sometimes, a little dog passes by, pees on the monument and then continues on its way. It does not really hurt the monument, but it does the little dog a lot of good.’
“Therefore, dear young MPs,” Plamondon concluded, “be the monuments.”
The chamber erupted in laughter. It was a welcome moment of crosspartisan understanding.
It did not last.
After the speaker was elected, party leaders took turns congratulating Liberal MP Anthony Rota as he returned to the chair. The Greens tried to speak but the Conservatives denied them the chance, complaining they weren’t a recognized party (a status obtained with 12 MPs). It was a sign of the tone to come.
This week, as MPs have flocked to Ottawa, gamesmanship has taken centre stage.
On Monday, the Liberals sought to ensure focus remained on unvaccinated Conservative MPs — for reasons still unexplained, Erin O’Toole refuses to say how many of his MPs have medical exemptions from being vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Tuesday morning, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre accused the Liberals of having an “inflation tax.”
Inflation is at an 18-year high, and Canadians are feeling it at the gas pumps, at grocery stores and in the housing market. But Canada is not alone.
It’s a problem shared by advanced economies around the world and exacerbated by choked global supply chains — although it is also true that the $300 billion or so the federal government has injected into the economy to soften the pandemic’s effects has contributed to the problem. Calling the result an “inflation tax” may be good branding, but it is deceitful.
With Abacus Data reporting that an alarming number of Canadians, especially young people, lack basic civic literacy, perhaps politicians in Ottawa should be doing their best to educate the public rather than to mislead them.
Abacus’s October survey of 2,200 adults found three in 10 Canadians — including 48 per cent of those under the age of 30 — could not answer more than two of these questions correctly:
How many times has the NDP formed government in Ottawa? (Answer: never)
Who decides the direction of the government, the prime minister or the governor general? (Prime minister)
Which level of government, federal or provincial, is responsible for education? (Provincial)
Who chooses the members of the federal cabinet: the Queen, the prime minister, the governor general, or the Liberal caucus? (Prime minister)
What proportion of the federal cabinet do women currently make up — 10 per cent, 25 per cent, 50 per cent or 75 per cent? (50 per cent)
This should be a wake-up call to do better.
On Tuesday afternoon, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh lambasted the government over its throne speech, accusing it of having “run out of ideas,” and wouldn’t say whether his party would vote to support it. On Wednesday, Singh explained the reasons for his political manoeuvring: “I want it to be clear to the Liberals that they should not take our support for granted.”
So thank you to the Bloc Québécois for saving Canadians from another trip to the polls. Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet was blunt with his remarks. The speech was vague, he said, but there was nothing in it to oppose. “How can we vote against apple pie?” he asked.
Although Blanchet can be unpleasant, arrogant and condescending, he and the Bloc are often the sole authentic voices on Parliament Hill. Certainly, it helps that his party is not competing for power. For many Quebecers, the Bloc is a “none of the above” alternative on the ballot. But its mantra of being willing to work and negotiate with the government on anything that benefits Quebec, makes it a predictable partner, one focused on policy, and one that has been rather successful.
Sure, Blanchet can hit below the belt, as he did Wednesday in daring the prime minister to suggest that he would have been a better steward of the province’s health and long-term-care systems than the government of Quebec.
One can’t forget, Blanchet is a sovereigntist who wants to demonstrate the federation doesn’t work. But strangely, he’s become one of the government’s most predictable partners.