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.