Musings —10.04.2016 09:35 AM—
A year ago, the Conservative Party had become pretty lousy at government.
A year later, the Conservative Party has become pretty good – really good, actually – at opposition.
That’s not to say they’ve redeemed themselves for running a ridiculous election campaign entirely about a hijab worn by all of two women in all of Canada, of course. Nor have they been forgiven for their leadership race, which is a presently a contest between political pygmies, the prize apparently going to the one who can sound most like Donald Trump on refugees and immigrants. No, they have much to atone for, still.
But when it comes to being Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, in the House of Commons? There, at least, they are really, really effective. There, and in a very short time too, they have transformed into the most effective opposition Ottawa has seen in quite a while. And they have done so usually employing that most old-fashioned of Opposition tactics: dropping smart written questions to the government.
Consider the evidence:
· It was the Conservatives, not anyone else, who submitted order paper questions asking Health Minister Jane Philpott about the use of limousines – and getting taxpayers to pay for it – while on official business. Philpott initially denied that she had, but it turned out that she had in fact been employing a limousine-type service operated by a supporter. She apologized and paid back thousands.
· It was the Tories, not the NDP, who discovered that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna spent several thousand dollars for a photographer – to take pictures of McKenna and her staff at a conference in Paris. The Conservatives did some Access to Information requests, and gave the results to the media. McKenna at first defended the photographer decision – and then ordered a review into the matter, saying that there was a need to “reduce costs.”
· It was the CPC, not the media, who uncovered Freight Gate – the $200,000 of taxpayer monies spent to move Justin Trudeau’s Principal Secretary (Gerald Butts) and Chief of Staff (Katie Telford) from Toronto to Ottawa. At first, the Liberals defended the expenditure as within the rules, which it was. But, when they saw the issue metastasizing into a flown-blown scandal, Butts and Telford hurriedly apologized, profusely, and promised to pay back many thousands. Another review was ordered, this time by the Prime Minister.
· It was the Cons, and not any other party, who revealed that the cost of meals and booze on the Prime Minister’s first two international trips was a whopping $1,300 a person. Some of the beneficiaries of the airborne largesse were journalists, and some real work was assuredly done at a G20 summit and an APEC leaders’ summit. But again, it had been the Conservatives that had placed the Trudeau government on the defensive.
And so on, and so on. There are other such revelations, this Fall, for a few thousand here and a few hundred there. Whether you think these demi-scandals are the biggest controversies since Watergate (as the Conservatives do), or that they are the sort of Ottawa navel-gazing that regular folks don’t really care about (as the Liberals hope), one thing is indisputable: the Conservative Party has clearly adjusted to the rigours of Opposition rather well. They look like they’re enjoying themselves, too.
This is not always the case. When the Liberal Party was reduced to a rump in 1984, just a few seats ahead of the NDP, those who had been cabinet stars speedily lost their enthusiasm for serving on Opposition benches. It was only the so-called “Rat Pack” – relative rookies like Sheila Copps, Brian Tobin, David Dingwall, Don Boudria – who literally kept the Liberal Party of Canada alive. And kept Brian Mulroney’s majority government on the defensive, uncovering scandal after scandal.
In the next big change year, 1993, it was the Reform Party’s gaggle of MPs – plus those in the Bloc Quebecois, like Lucien Bouchard and Jean Lapierre – who left us Jean Chretien Liberals occasionally on the defensive. The Conservatives had been reduced to just two seats, and were not a factor. But the Bloc and the Reformers – often working in tag-team fashion – delighted in tormenting us Chretien Liberals, and drew their share of blood.
But adjusting to the indignities of Opposition – after having grown used to the luxuries of Government – is not always easy. Only a few are able to successfully make the transition.
The 2016-era Conservatives have done so with astonishing ease. While may not have ended the protracted Team Trudeau stay in the posh honeymoon suite, the Tories have almost certainly signaled that an eviction notice is in the mail. With their Order Paper questions, and their ATIPs, the CPC has done what every good Opposition should always seek to do: they have raised the ire of Joe and Jane Fontporch. They have dented Justin Trudeau’s gleaming armour.
Many, many Canadians had believed this new crop of Liberals, a year ago, when they had solemnly promised to never again become entitled to their entitlements. Many, many Canadians are now wondering if that promise has been broken. And, for that, the Conservative caucus can give themselves a pat on the collective back.
They haven’t toppled the government yet. But they are busily chipping away at the foundations.