10.04.2016 09:35 AM

This week’s column: the Conservative opposition

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.


  1. Bill Templeman says:

    Yes, agreed on the feather-bedding and catching greedy snouts borrowing deep in the public trough. Power to them and shame on the Liberal Guilty. Good on them. One might ask “Why is Tom Mulcair” in all of this? But I am less bullish on the Conservatives’ dog-with-a-bone approach to the Monsef birthplace “scandal”. Tony Gazebo Clement just looked silly calling for Monsef’s resignation, no?

  2. dave constable says:

    I also thought a number of the Conservatives have been doing a good job. Raitt and Lebel get after Morneau and finance with wit and substance. Ambrose is doing well, and I look forward to Vecchio’s turns in question period. Bezan and Kent have spotted the villains of the world (these guys would go to war as fast than the Americans McCain and Graham would), but are a tad off their analyses of history and the contemporary world.

    It could be the Conservatives are doing the job they can bearing in mind that they have an interim leader, and are still working out their long term direction.

  3. P. Brenn says:

    Agree Warren ..all this is good , although some gets petty which many tune out , but whether Cons , NDP , Lib , Green . Rhino the govt of day needs checks and balances … the preventative controls of being asked pointed questions should keep folks in check…

  4. BlueGritr says:

    Deltell, Rempel, Raitt, Sheer, Vecchio, Chong: all have the stuff to be strong cabinet ministers in a Conservative Government. The problem: Liberals are far more savvy at running election campaigns; plus Justin is a master at retail politics, and Canadians are more comfortable with the Liberal brand. End result: possible Conservative government in 2023 or 2027. Sorry Tories: you’re going to be in opposition for a long, long time.

    • Vancouverois says:

      Please. Attempting to predict the outcome in 2019 when we haven’t even finished the first year of the current Liberal mandate is absurd. A year and a half ago, some people were confidently predicting that the Liberals would come in third.

      • BlueGritr says:

        It’s not absurd. Do you really think the Conservatives can come up with a ground game and can find savvy election strategists to match Butts & Telford? I don’t. Hello political wilderness.

      • Charlie says:

        Basic political awareness could tell you what BlueGritr is suggesting, so you can ease up with with condescension.

        Yes, 2019 is a long way from now and especially in politics, but unless Trudeau shoots Sidney Crosby in the leg, he will most certainly attain another mandate — majority or otherwise. Following that, its possible we may see a change back to Conservatives but it will largely depend on where Canadians stand on Trudeau and/or who succeeds him as leader of the Liberal party. If the Liberals are really looking to stay in power, Judy Wilson-Raybould should start learning how to speak French now.

        All in all, the Conservatives would be better served by trying to refresh their party with new faces and new attitudes and new relationships with immigrant groups before they start thinking they’ve got a shot at government again. Because with Kellie Leitch as a leadership frontrunner, the CPC is going to be in opposition for another generation.

        • The Doctor says:

          I’d take issue with the assertion that Kellie Leitch is somehow the “frontrunner.”. That said, the Tories do have an unfortunate history of electing stiffs and political incompetent as leaders. Mulroney was a notable exception. Trudeau 1.0 had the luxury of facing off against Bob Stanfield (who had the charisma of a brown sock) and Joe Clark (most awkward man to ever helm a political party). And even with those gifts from God, Trudeay 1.0 actually lost one election to Clark.

          Tony Clement is one example of a perfectly uncharismatic stiff who would lose to Trudeau. He would be a horrible choice, which is exactly why I would not be shocked if he won the leadership. Rank-and-file party members often prove to be that stupid.

          I agree Canadians will probably keep the Conservatives in the penalty box for one more election cycle. And the Liberals will trot Harper’s name out at every opportunity — he did a lot of damage to the Conservative brand. But on the other hand, the fact that the Tories have a pretty solid floor of support at 30 percent tells us that the Tory brand is fairly resilient.

          • Charlie says:

            I believe a recent poll put Kellie Leitch right behind Peter Mackay following the “Canadian values” issue. Which is why I would propose Kellie Leitch to be a plausible frontrunner in a Conservative party that will try and identify itself along the more extreme characteristics of conservatism. Its a hunker down mentality that will cause the CPC membership to (self-destructively) elect someone like Leitch.

          • The Doctor says:

            Based on your post, you seem to be convinced that the desire of a majority of CPC members is to “try to identify itself among the more extreme characteristics of conservatism” etc. I guess we’ll see. But there’s also some evidence out there that a lot of CPC members were put off by Harper’s approach would prefer a milder brand of conservatism going forward. Witness those CPC supporters who were confronting door-knocking CPC candidates during the election and berating them about Harper’s leadership, approach and campaign tactics etc.

            The Conservatives may well shoot themselves in the foot and do a Corbyn. But they may not — this leadership race still has a while to run. I’m not thrilled with the field though, and I wish Rona wouldn’t have disqualified herself.

    • Maps Onburt says:

      Save those words Blue… everyone was saying when the Liberals fell into third place during the last election that they were nearly down and out too. A year is a long time in politics… let alone 8 or 12. The Liberals have already started:
      1) to show a lot of entitlement and wasteful spending of taxpayer money
      2) started throwing money around like crazy and it hasn’t moved the economy one bit, the stimulus has grown the bureaucracy but hasn’t shown ANY signs of actually adding to the economy.
      3) started NEP 2.0 with their green tax… by the time the election rolls around people will see the true cost to their pocket book of going green and they won’t be able to show any appreciable carbon reduction let alone temperature reduction or even stabilization
      4) started to break down the provincial pals they had made by promising the world to them – in three years they’ll have a bunch of whiny premiers (and aboriginal chiefs) complaining that the Liberals broke all their promises
      5) No way in hell will they be able to implement electoral change – Maynard’s closing remarks more or less sealed that. What ever they do will go to the Supremes – the last opposition has already set that precedent.
      6) screwing up the major defense procurements. They will be damned if they buy the right fighter (the F-35) and damned if they buy the Super Hornet.

      It’s easy to be all things to all people when you can speak platitudes and not have to be specific. Governing isn’t like that. There comes a time when the sentiment is “throw the bums out” and it will happen sooner than you think. Trudeau senior came withing 2 seats four years after Trudeaumania… you think Junior is anywhere near as popular as the old man?

  5. Merrill Smith says:

    Perhaps they have adapted so well to opposition because they never stopped opposing and attacking even when they were the government.

  6. Tired of it All says:

    Frankly, it’s good to see. Yes, they’ve much to atone for, and that requirement will dog them through this mandate into next. Then this bloody, hard work will pay off, and we’ll see a hopefully truly balanced CPC at the helm. Not some mutant, neo-con empire with Harpo at the helm. Then they’ll screw up, and Dom Leblanc will get his turn. Can he wait 15 years?

    • billg says:

      Let’s see.
      The sale of Canadian arms to Saudi Arabia agreed to and ok’d by the Liberal Government.
      The Site C damn that will flood Native Land in BC agreed to and ok’d by the Liberal Government.
      The largest LNG pipeline ever built in Canada that runs right through the Great Bear Rainforest agreed to and ok’d by the Liberal Government.
      A Nation wide Carbon Tax forced on to each province regardless of what they think is best, agreed to and ok’d by the Liberal Government.
      A Greenhouse gas emission target that is the exact same as the previous government.
      The scaling back of Health Care funds to each province exactly the same as the previous government.
      You say Neo-con empire like its a bad thing, it cant be because this new Liberal government sure looks like the old Conservative one, just happier.

    • billg says:

      Here’s a little nugget comparing the new Liberal Government to the long gone Harperites, or, Neo-Cons.
      Guess NeoCon-ism is spreading.

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