07.07.2014 09:41 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: call in sick and win!

In the Summertime, a young politician’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of…no legislative sittings, and a concurrent growth in popularity!

Yes, yes, we know. That is a terrible, awful bastardization of the immortal words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (“In the Spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of cricket.”). But, most legislatures having risen for the Summer, it sort of fits. For governing politicians, it is sunnier time, literally and figuratively.

Few studies have been commissioned on the subject, but it is truism for most governments in the civilized world: when voters see you less, the more popular you get.

Now, denizens of the corridors of power – and particularly the Ottawa-based Press Gallery – enjoy the cut-and-thrust of Question Period. They think it matters.

This is why so many journalists have such admiration for NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. Mulcair is an outstanding performer in Question Period. He is, he is.

Every Question Period, Mulcair is ablaze with prosecutorial indignation and fury, the grand inquisitor. It is he – and not Liberal leader Justin Trudeau – who is in the House most often, making ministers squirm in their padded seats. He is very good at it.

But, as noted, it doesn’t matter. In fact, it probably hurts Mulcair more than it helps.

Question Period, while important to British Parliamentary democracy, isn’t so important to Joe and Jane Frontporch. They see QP – and, in fact, much of what is televised in Parliament – to be what is wrong with the system, and not what is right. The hollering, hectoring and the hyperbole: they don’t like it, not one bit.

To your average citizen, what goes on the legislative chambers of the nation is enough to make them vote in anger, or not vote at all.

Out in British Columbia, everyone knows this. That is why governments are so intent upon staying out of the Legislature in Victoria – and, accordingly, staying in power.

The BC Socreds, for example, held about 80 sessions a year between 1976 to 1991. The New Democrats, from 1992 to 2000, showed up to work even less, for an average of 78 sessions a year.

The BC Liberals, when they won power in 2001, didn’t even bother to have a Fall legislative sitting. They weren’t punished for it.

In power ever since, the BC Liberals have beaten all previous no-show records, with an average of 50-odd legislative sittings a year.

The media, meanwhile, keep attacking them, because of it. The people of BC, meanwhile, keep voting for them, despite it. How so?

Because voters mostly prefer that their politicians are neither heard from nor seen, that’s why. Go do your job, and don’t bother me, etc.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is keenly aware of this dynamic. He recalls what happened in 2011, right after he was found to be in contempt of Parliament. Knowing that the people hold Parliament itself in contempt, he engineered his own defeat, and thereafter won a majority government.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is aware of the anti-legislature dynamic, too. That is why he doesn’t care about having a very poor attendance record in the House. Neither Brian Mulroney nor Jean Chretien spent much time in Question Period, either, back when they were Opposition leaders. And both did rather well as a result, in 1984 and 1993.

Have pity, then, on Tom Mulcair. He is the best performer in a show that no one likes to watch.

Sometime soon, his show will almost certainly be cancelled for poor ratings.

31 Comments

  1. Al in Cranbrook says:

    I have on numerous occasions now heard Preston Manning recall the effort he and his party made to change the way Question Period worked, trying to bring some dignity and respectfulness to the arena.

    His and the RP’s reward for this was to be ignored outright by the Ottawa Press Gallery. Indeed, he even got complaints from the press about how ineffectual (meaning boring) they’d become.

    They gave up on that futile strategy inside of a year. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, eh? And, predictably, by the same usual suspects.

    • Al in Cranbrook says:

      W. Virginia… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Virginia_Legislature

      Quote: “Regular sessions of the Legislature commence on the second Wednesday of January of each year. However, following the election of a new governor, the session starts in January with the governor’s address but then adjourns until February. On the first day of the session, members of both the House and the Senate sit in joint session in the House Chamber where the governor presents his or her legislative program. The length of the general session may not go beyond 60 calendar days unless extended by a concurrent resolution adopted by a two-thirds vote of each house. The governor may convene the Legislature for extraordinary sessions. Given the part-time nature of the legislature of West Virginia, multiple extraordinary sessions are not uncommon.”

      And… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Virginia_House_of_Delegates

      Quote: “salary = $20,000/year + per diem”

      But the best part? Check out their state income and sales tax rates… http://www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/state-taxes-west-virginia.aspx

      I think they’re onto something.

      • doconnor says:

        So, if you create a legislaute where only rich people can afford to get elected, you get tax policy that favors the rich.

        • Derek Pearce says:

          Bingo. Sometimes I think Al is a parody of what a conservative spouts but I think he means it…

      • Domencio says:

        West Virginia is the poorest and least educated state in the union.

      • Al in Cranbrook says:

        The topic is about how long is it really necessary for legislatures to sit. I’d heard that W. Virginia has a quite different approach, and brought it forward as an example. Clearly, whatever it is state legislatures need to get done, they have been doing so for many, many years in W. V.

        Assuming legislatures that sit for shorter/limited sessions somehow equates to a lower standard of living is at best specious, if not just downright silliness. As is the assumption that only wealthy people could afford to participate.

        One thing that occurs to me is, did broadcasting Question Period elevate behavior as intended? Or did it merely reduce everything to managed/scripted theatrics for the cameras?

        • doconnor says:

          “Assuming legislatures that sit for shorter/limited sessions somehow equates to a lower standard of living is at best specious, if not just downright silliness.”

          It would be just as silly to equate it with lower income taxes. It would be an interesting study to see if there is a correlation between how much legislatures sit and different quality of life factors and tax rates. I sure you’ll agree that one data point isn’t enough to go on.

          “As is the assumption that only wealthy people could afford to participate.”

          I don’t see how a middle class person with a 9 to 5 job could afford to give up that job for so little money for what should be a full time job. From what I’ve seen Ontario MPPs that take the jobs seriously work 12 hours per day 6 or 7 days a week, plus employ several full time assistants. Even with a legislature that sits less often it would still be at least a full time job.

        • terence Quinn says:

          In W. Virginia all legislators are related so they cut it short to have family reunions. LOL

      • J Holst says:

        Ah Al, you may want to take a look at West Virginia’s place in the following charts (I used wikipedia as the easier reference, there are many more available):

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_income

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_life_expectancy

        Finally, do you recall this story from a few months ago:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Elk_River_chemical_spill

        West Virginia may be a beautiful place and the people there are wonderful, but I’ll pass on imitating their style of governance.

        • Al in Cranbrook says:

          So, your point is, if they spent more time sitting in session, they’d be better off? And/or if they sucked more wealth out of an economy that you point out is already struggling, to pay for more bureaucrats hanging around (and their pension plans), they’d be even better off?

          Hmmm…reading Warren’s post, I see that BC’s legislature apparently sits in session the least of any government in Canada. I might add that we also have one of lowest tax regimes in the country, too. And for all of that, in case you hadn’t noticed, we’re so well off that we’re getting tapped to help pick up the tab for governance in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, PEI, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to boot (…as has been the case since the late ’50s, save for a period of NDP reign over our economy during the ’90s, you know, when taxes couldn’t be high enough, nor government large enough).

          So, help me out here. What are you trying to tell me?

          • J Holst says:

            Even though I know where this is going, I’ll respond:

            As others have pointed out, you took a discussion about how much a legislature should sit and you then inserted the typical right-wing talking points that less government is great, especially when it leads to lower taxes. I and other commentators then pointed out the many problems West Virginia unfortunately has and that we see a direct connection there – less government means less services and protections, thus, lower income, lower standard of living and hundreds of thousands of people without drinking water while the company responsible gets off with a paltry fine. You believe that lower taxes automatically equals better governance and a better life for people; I and many others disagree.

            I personally don’t care how many days a legislature sits, I care about what they do. And when I look at what West Virginia and many other state governments in the US do – and the results of their actions – and compare them to governments here in Canada, I’ll take the Canadian provincial governments (or state governments like New York & Oregon, to name two examples) any day.

            Lastly, I live in BC as well and was just wondering if you realize that our MLAs are still getting paid their full salaries even when they sit in the Legislature less – I don’t see how much we’re really saving here. I’m also curious exactly how this formula works:

            1. Politicians sit less in legislature.
            2. ?????
            3. Society prospers

        • domenico says:

          I’m afraid Al doesn’t like facts, science, or cause and effect. He just likes to bloviate.

          Disclaimer:
          I fully realize that by writing this we all risk another lengthy missive that mentions Preston Manning, the many sins imparted by Ontario and Quebec on long suffering Alberta, how 97% of climate scientists are wrong while he is right, how MSN is corrupting the youth of today, Obama is the worst President in the history of the world, and George Soros has been stealing pies that were left cooling on his kitchen window sill.
          For this I apologize.

          • debs says:

            hah, nice! if there is one thing that Al does, is he offers avenues for many comedians to have a stage:D

  2. Bruce A says:

    That’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of Canadian politics. Officialdom will become even less accountable.

  3. terence Quinn says:

    Tom Mulcair has no other choice than to be what he is in QP. he has been totally overwhelmed by the JT juggernaut and even Harper is feeling that heat if his diatribe on the weekend is any indication. It has become very obvious that the cons and harper in particular are fearful of JT because they have not been able to dent his armour. Both the Harper cons and NDP feel he will wilt in a long election campaign. That won’t happen, not even close. Mulcair will be gone after this next election as the die hard lefties in the NDP will take over the party once again.

    Also not looking good right now for WK’s horse in the TO mayoral race based on the latest poll.

  4. Geoffrey L. says:

    Canadians tend to get the government they deserve…

  5. Curtis in Calgary says:

    Minor edit suggested. No need to post this.

    But, as noted, it doesn’t matter. In fact, it probably hurts Mulcair than it helps.

    Probably should be:
    But, as noted, it doesn’t matter. In fact, it probably hurts Mulcair more than it helps.

  6. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    Well, yes, perhaps, or no. Depends who’s pitching. Jack, as reported by The Star: “Why do you have the worst attendance record in the House of Commons?” Layton challenged Michael Ignatieff, adding the Liberal leader missed 70 per cent of the votes. Layton threw in that Canadians who don’t show up for work don’t expect to get promoted.

    • domenico says:

      This happened during the leadership debate. However, it was illuminating as I think Warren pointed out Ignatieff obviously thought he was going into an academic debate and had not prepared for this obvious question.

  7. iKnow says:

    Here’s the skinny on a Lib-Dip secret coalition agreement between Mulcair and Trudeau. Mulcair will deliver Quebec and assorted NDP veterans and Trudeau must deliver urban Ontario and the Maritimes with BC a toss-up between the two.

    This will reduce Harper to a minority position and be forced to give up governing to the Mulcair-Trudeau majority coalition government. The GG will not give Harper a chance to govern, lose a confidence vote, and then claim another general election. No second kick at the can for Harper and that’s why Mulcair is so silent now.

    Mulcair will be PM and Justin minister of something (not Finance) and Deputy PM. Canadians will willingly welcome the coalition with open arms. You heard it here first.

    • doconnor says:

      “The GG will not give Harper a chance to govern”

      That’s now how it works. As the incumbent he has the first chance to govern no matter how badly his party does in the election. After the election he may choose to resign or wait until he losses a confidence vote and then resign. (Having a GG fire a prime minister would require a Rob Fordian level of stubbornness and stupidity).

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      iKnow,

      Politicans are like generals — almost always fighting the last war. To wit: remember how caucus was practically falling over themselves as they served as a backdrop along the Ottawa river. Impressive sight with Parliament Hill in the background. And what came out of Jack’s mouth (amazingly without him breaking up) his intention of forming a majority NDP government. Please give me a break I thought at the time.

      Mulcair and Trudeau will never entertain the idea of a coalition until we know how the seats shook out. Both leaders expect to govern alone. We’re not talking Cameron and Clegg here. Far from it. Expect ZERO coalition talk in the next campaign from its proponents and supporters. Harper will try the coalition bogeyman again but results will be less than satisfactory in the next campaign.

      • TrueNorthist says:

        I think the NDP and Liberals would be daft not to mention the possibility of a coalition, as most Canadians would likely favour one now that the Bloc is no longer involved. In fact, I see the federal Liberals running a close variation of the Ontario Lib campaign with an “anyone but Harper” theme and possibly winning a minority themselves. I know, that theme has been tried and failed before, but this time will be different.

        I am starting to think this is a possibility because the CPC is finally doing what everybody feared they would do all these years; tacking to the right and appealing to “base” so-cons. Jim Flaherty was a huge voice of moderation in PM Harper’s ear and without him we will see a slow and steady drift towards a cold and increasingly insensitive CPC. That spells sure defeat.

  8. iKnow says:

    Here’s the scoop on the Lib-Dip secret coalition agreement between Mulcair and Trudeau. Mulcair will deliver Quebec and assorted NDP veterans and Trudeau must deliver urban Ontario and the Maritimes with BC a toss-up between the two.

    This will reduce Harper to a minority position and be forced to give up governing to the Mulcair-Trudeau majority coalition government. The GG will not give Harper a chance to govern, lose a confidence vote, and then claim another general election. No second kick at the can for Harper.

    Mulcair will be PM and Justin minister of something (not Finance) and Deputy PM. Canadians will willingly welcome the coalition with open arms. You heard it here first.

  9. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    TrueNorthist,

    I disagree. Previous campaigns have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that if brought up by the opposition parties that a coalition is a big boost for Harper and the Conservatives. That’s why neither party should campaign on that.

    This Prime Minister fears a no-talk coalition strategy. He has good reason to be bothered by it. Though it seems unlikely that the Bloc may be ressurected, it still remains a distinct possibility. Another reason for the Liberals and NDP to give the idea of a coalition a wide berth.

    I agree that clearly Harper has a choice. He can be a Cruz or Santorum versus being a Jeb Bush. IMHO, Harper will choose the latter since he is so in love with being in power.

    • TrueNorthist says:

      All fair points that I can’t really argue with, so I guess we will have to wait and see what happens on the whole coalition front. And how the PM decides to pursue the coming campaign is, as always, anyone’s guess, but you may be right. However, Harper will be without some very key advisers in the next election and I think we would agree that that changes things rather significantly. Again and in particular, I don’t think folks give Mr Flaherty enough credit as to how much power he wielded in the PMO. His pragmatic influence will be sorely missed this time around.

      Until recently I have been convinced that the CPC decided it’s own fate in 2015, but the steady rightward drift of late has given away much of that control. The CPC “base” will not accept a watered down approach any longer which is likely why the shift is happening at all, but every inch right drives ever more middle-of-the-road Liberals away. I am no longer entirely sure the downward momentum can be reversed with about a year to go. At this point it looks like the CPC will chase it’s base right into opposition.

  10. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    TrueNorthist,

    I was a Flaherty admirer, liked him while quibbling quite a lot about his budgetary approach. In my book, he cut off stimulus far too early. But I digress. Sure, Flaherty’s influence will be missed as often vital — but then so will Doug Finley’s views. I would argue that the ultimate pragmatist in this government is Harper himself. For a man with rather dogmatic personal views, he seems to know when and how to moderate. I think his first two governments have illustrated that rather well.
    I would put it to you that the base, or even the party, will never be a major factor in Harper’s decision making. I would say we only have to look to the issue of abortion as proof of that. However, I do agree with you as regards the terms on which the government is prepared to fight the next election. Tilting right in this mandate has already inflicted considerable damage to Harper’s personal brand.

    Remembet the Ne Nixon as opposed to Let Reagan Be Reagan.

    • doconnor says:

      His first two governments where minorities, so moderation was mandatory. Now that he has a majority you are seeing what he really wanted to do.

      He may not have touched abortion, but he has passed a lot of tough on crime legislation that only appeals to the base.

      He may not have gone as far as the base wants to go, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t go too far for Canadians and the constitution.

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:

        doconnor,

        Agreed. I don’t know about you but some of us thought he had already gone too far in the first mandate. That’s why I only stuck it out until 2009…

        It’s incredibly ironic that Harper called it right in 2006. He viewed the courts and the Senate as natural dampeners on his government. Some call it interference by judicial fiat. Others, the principles of natural law being used to check the Executive.

        Incredible to see a Senate chock full of Conservatives giving him so much grief. Call it a little balance courtesy of forces already known.

        l

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