by Tim Harper
Strip away the contrition, the high dudgeon and the blinkered Liberal apologists suggesting we should just get past the sorry spectacle in the House of Commons this week and you are left with an unassailable truth.
The Justin Trudeau Liberals have been treating the Commons as an annoyance, an inconvenient necessity that merely gets in the way of the Liberal show and its ever-burgeoning approval rating.
This is the place where they stack committees on electoral reform, limit debate because they have mismanaged their legislative agenda and almost – incredibly – lose a vote to an old parliamentary trick when too few Liberals bothered to show up for work.
Before Wednesday’s fracas, the Liberals had doubled down with a threatened motion that all but neutered the opposition, giving government ministers and parliamentary secretaries full control
of the timing of debate.
After Trudeau’s latest apologies Thursday morning, his government backed down on that motion in the afternoon.
Actions do have consequences.
Trudeau’s elbows-up intervention was the perfect metaphor for the elbows-up Liberal approach in the Commons, an attitude that had finally aroused the resolve of a combined opposition that has gone through its six stages of grief over its post-election plight and remembered it is there to oppose this government.
The Liberal petulance over having to deal with an opposition reached its apex when Trudeau strode purposely across the aisle, spouted an obscenity, grabbed Conservative Gord Brown by the arm and in a Rob Ford bull-in-a-china-shop moment, elbowed New Democrat Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest.
He impatiently acted like he ran the joint.
“It’s as if the prime minister and his Liberals don’t want a government and an opposition – they just want a government and an audience,” said Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose.
Yes, politics broke out all over the place here, as it does from time to time, mainly Monday to Friday and the occasional weekend.
The NDP reacted as if its members were being carted off on stretchers, and the Conservatives – the party of prorogation – spent most of Thursday offering up dime-store psychology for Trudeau or verging on tears over the sanctity of the House.
And, yes, there was opposition chicanery afoot, and that is about as newsworthy as reporting that it got dark last night but turned light this morning.
This particular “mischief” may have delayed proceedings by a minute or less – and grabbing Brown was unnecessary to getting proceedings moving – but the prime ministerial intervention has pushed the Liberal legislative agenda back even further. Meeting a Supreme Court deadline for an assisted-dying bill looks ever more elusive.
This was an unforced error by a man who rode to victory offering a more inclusive politics with a softer, more collegial, collaborative tone, and it came a day after the justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, graciously brought New Democrat MP Randall Garrison to an announcement on transgender rights.
That was swept away by the return of the impetuous Trudeau, the Trudeau who kicked his Liberal senators out of the caucus or summarily dismissed two MPs over alleged sexual harassment, or labelled the former Conservative environment minister Peter Kent “a piece of s—,” in the Commons in 2011. For that, as he did for his actions this week, Trudeau “unreservedly” apologized.
We appear to have hit a turning point here this week. The Liberal petulance and hubris had been exposed in the ugliest way.
Trudeau and his government pulled back in the wake of the embarrassment.
Perhaps this will embolden others wary of a seemingly bulletproof government.
Coincidentally, this was laid out to me in a meeting with an official from a leading advocacy organization in the relative safety of a Starbucks, a couple of blocks from Roller Derby track in Centre Block, earlier the same day.
This organization had decided to holster its criticism of this government, deciding to later pick its spot because it believed such critical reports would be ignored and the organization would become an outlier given the Liberal approval rating.
The sense is that opposing views are ignored by this government, enamoured as it is by its public standing.
That had spread to the Commons and Trudeau’s actions were the extreme manifestation of a prime minister and a government used to getting its way, on its terms and timetable.
Trudeau’s apology appeared sincere and should be accepted by all concerned.
He has a huge cache of political capital. No one should underestimate how much of that capital he just spent.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
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Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services