Monday, September 29, 2014

Ottawa is the moon, a home riding is planet earth and Cons are from Bizzaro World

I gave the following speech today (Sept. 29th) in the House of Commons on a New Democratic party motion to give the Speaker power to force the government to provide relevant answers during Question Period.

Thank you Mr. Speaker,

Soon after I was first elected and came to the nation’s capital, rookie Members of Parliament were called to this very chamber, this very esteemed chamber, for a 101 introduction on how Parliament works.

A crash course on how to be an MP.

The analogy, the lesson that I took away that day above all others was this: Ottawa is the moon, and a riding, including my riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, is planet earth.

What I took that to mean, Mr. Speaker, is that Ottawa is not the real world.

Ottawa is a bubble. So much of what happens here does not resonate at home. People don’t always pay a whole lot of attention.

But they do pay some attention, Mr. Speaker.

They pay particular attention when what happens here directly impacts them, on the ground in the riding, in their living rooms and around the kitchen table.

People pay attention to scandal, when well-paid politicians abuse the public trust.

They pay attention to a skirmish, especially a colourful skirmish—people like a fight. A fighting Newfoundlander. And there's always a fight to be had for Newfoundland and Labrador.

They also pay attention, Mr. Speaker, when politicians who are elected to represent them in these hallowed halls of Parliament ...

Make a mockery of Parliament.

Show contempt for Parliament.

When they embarrass Parliament.

They pay attention, Mr. Speaker, when MPs cross the line.

Mr. Speaker,

Canadians pay attention when their government sends them into harm’s way, into conflict, into Iraq, for example.

So when my leader, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, stood in this House last week during Question Period and asked this government to define the military deployment in Iraq, to confirm that the 30-day Canadian commitment in Iraq will indeed end on Oct. 4, he deserved an answer.

More importantly, Mr. Speaker, Canadians deserved an answer.

But the answer that came from the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister was completely off topic—it was irrelevant to the topic at hand, Mr. Speaker.

It was insulting.

If Ottawa is the moon and my riding is planet earth, the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, the Member of Parliament for Oak Ridges-Markham, must from another planet altogether, Mr. Speaker.

Maybe he’s from Mars. Or some Bizzaro world named Harpertron.

MPs in this House and Canadians didn’t know where he was coming from.

And what was worse, Mr. Speaker, what’s rattled this House, what’s rattled Canadians, people back home in Newfoundland and Labrador, is that the Speaker of the House of Commons apparently has no authority to force the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister to give an answer that’s even remotely on topic, that’s relevant in any way. 

There are rules in place to require questions to be relevant to parliamentary business.

But not answers.

The Honourable Speaker apparently has no authority to judge whether any given answer is, in fact, an answer.

The Honourable Speaker can determine when an MP can speak.

The Speaker can decide when language is parliamentary or not, but he cannot judge the content.

To quote the speaker, “That is why it’s called Question Period, not Answer Period.”

It is in that context, Mr. Speaker, that I stand in support of this motion by the honourable Opposition House Leader, the Member of Parliament for Burnably-New Westminster.

To improve and enhance Question Period.

To make Parliament more democratic.

To force government to be more accountable.

To tell the truth, to answer a question.

At the very least, Mr. Speaker, to stay on topic.

This motion – if passed (and it likely won’t make it to a vote) – would give the Speaker the power to cut off a Member who persists in irrelevance or repetition.

The speaker can do that during a speech, but not Question Period.

How irrelevant were the answers last week by the Parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister on the subject of Iraq?

The Telegram, the daily newspaper in my riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, described it as ``the ever-worsening circus of Parliament Hill.``

But the quote that resonated the most with me, Mr. Speaker, was from an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen:

“It must make the decent MPs from all parties cringe. If this is what a successful MP looks like now (referring to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister), why would anyone even want to go to Parliament, to play that cringeworthy part, to embarrass themselves, their government and their country over and over again?

At some point, it stops being about strategy or even about the rules. This is a fundamental question of honour.”

Of honour, Mr. Speaker.

This brings me to Friday’s apology in this House by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, who wept during his apology, Mr. Speaker.

But the apology was weird, it was off.

At the same time that the member’s voice was breaking, Mr. Speaker, he was saying that he will probably do it again.

`` I don’t think this will be the last time that I’ll get up and answer a question that doesn’t effectively respond.”

I don’t want to pick on the MP for Oak Ridges-Markham, the Honourable Secretary to the Prime Minister.

He’s not the first Conservative lacky for this Prime Minister and he probably won’t be the last.

Mr. Speaker, this government’s conduct in this House is a direct reflection of the leader.

A direct reflection of the leader’s consistent contempt for Parliament.

This House, the office of the speaker, must be given the power to override that contempt, a contempt that threatens to rot our democratic institution.

That’s what this motion is about, that’s the essence of this motion.

Mr. Speaker, last week in this House I posed a question during Question Period and the unbelievable happened.

It was a first in my time here in this House, Mr. Speaker, I raised a question and I actually got an answer.

The question was about an extension to the fixed dates for the food fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador to take bad weather into account.

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans took to her feet, responded on topic and agreed to extend the fishery. 

I was almost floored, Mr. Speaker, floored.

The crowd on this side of the House applauded the minister’s answer and the fact that I got one.

People actually paid attention at home, Mr. Speaker; it played on all the news.

The fact that asking a question and getting an answer results in such fanfare, such surprise, tells you we have a problem, Mr. Speaker.

This past weekend I went back to my riding. I spent much of Sunday in a small wooden boat known as a punt handlining for cod off Petty Harbour.

It was as real as it gets, the sea spray, the sun, the sweat, the handline, the wind, the taste of salt.

Ottawa is the moon.

My riding, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, is planet earth.

This House must be the high ground in between.

This House should set the bar, should raise the bar for truth, accountability, transparency and for honour.

Too often the bar under the Conservatives has been lowered.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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