Going beyond rhetoric

At a time when Canada is headed for the political trenches for a take-no-prisoners fall election, the final sitting of the current Parliament would normally have been reduced to a venue for self-serving partisan rhetoric.

At a time when Canada is headed for the political trenches for a take-no-prisoners fall election, the final sitting of the current Parliament would normally have been reduced to a venue for self-serving partisan rhetoric.

But fate has decreed otherwise, with more adult policy conversation on the agenda of the House of Commons between now and Canada Day than voters or their politicians are accustomed to.

In the charged aftermath of last week’s terrorist episode in Paris, MPs are about to resume two defining security-related debates.

The government is expected to put forward its legislative followup to last fall’s Parliament Hill shooting soon after the House reopens at the end of the month.

The future of Canada’s six-month combat mission against Islamic State extremists in Iraq is also on the agenda.

Both debates cannot but be informed by the murderous attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo and the shored-up sense that the security issue — both internationally and domestically — will be a top of mind concern for the next federal government.

The upcoming discussion will offer Canadians some useful insights into the character of the leaders who will be vying for their support next fall.

Stephen Harper’s government did not choose to place global terrorism on its pre-election radar. But the issue does provide a potentially propitious focus for the last chapter of the prime minister’s third mandate.

When it comes to crises of international magnitude, even the most unloved government leader is, by virtue of his or her function, invested with more gravitas than his opposition rivals.

To wit, the unpopular François Hollande, whose dismal approval rating is widely expected to go up as France rallies behind its president.

Closer to home, one can only speculate as to how Jean Chrétien’s decade in office would have ended if the events of 9/11 and the international developments they set in motion had not intervened.

In the end, the whimper that could otherwise have attended the departure of a leader whose party would no longer unite behind him was lost to the bang of Chrétien’s decision to keep Canada out of the Iraq war.

For the Harper government and the opposition parties, the final pre-election sitting of Parliament will feature opportunities to raise their game or, alternatively, succumb once and for all to their partisan instincts.

With an election so imminent, it may be a challenge for the Liberals and the NDP to resist the temptation to demonize their Conservative rivals long enough to assess Harper’s policies on merit.

A significant segment of the electorate is more than willing to assume the worst of the ruling Conservatives. For the NDP and the Liberals, stoking the anti-Harper sentiment would be the path of least resistance.

That is not to say that the opposition parties should docilely fall in line with proposed government policies.

But the onus will be on both Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair to go beyond offering a critique of the government and put forward an alternative vision of the way forward. Voters deserve no less.

Harper will also have to make a strategic choice.

Time and time again, the instinct of his government has been to practise wedge politics.

Painting his rivals as weaklings in what he is portraying as a global war on terrorism may come more easily to the prime minister than attempting to co-opt the opposition into supporting a balanced approach to the security issue.

Still, opting for the latter should be a no-brainer.

Conservative electoral fortunes improved over the fall sitting of Parliament, a period that provided Harper with opportunities to break out of his partisan shell, especially in the hours and days after the Parliament Hill shooting.

If the past is any indication, there are more votes out there for Prime Minister Harper than for Conservative Leader Harper.

Four years ago, it was his handling of the global economic crisis that earned Harper his first majority mandate. With provincial governments of all stripes on side with his plan, it was also one of this prime minister’s more consensual moments.

Chantal Hébert is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The union representing workers at the Olymel meat processing plant in Red Deer confirmed the death of a worker on Wednesday. (Advocate file photo)
Union confirms death of worker from Olymel plant

An investigation by the UFCW 401 local has confirmed a fourth death… Continue reading

Sunterra Market is preparing to open at Bower Place. (Photo from Facebook)
Sunterra Market to open in Red Deer in March

Bower Place to welcome grocery shoppers

Weather brief (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Red Deer experiences driest winter in 99 years

The city only had 9.6 millimeters of precipitation between December and February

The number of positive cases of COVID-19 has been climbing up since Jan. 20 at Red Deer's Olymel meat processing plant. (File photo by Advocate Staff)
Some Olymel workers return for training, plant reopening date not set

Union calls for delay of opening as workers fear for safety

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative MP David Sweet joins chorus calling for end to COVID-19 restrictions

OTTAWA — A Conservative MP has joined the chorus of voices calling… Continue reading

The Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade is seen in Lower Onslow, N.S., Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The RCMP says two officers who fired towards a civilian and another RCMP officer during last year’s mass shooting will remain on administrative duties until internal inquiries are completed .THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
N.S. RCMP who shot at firehall on administrative duty during internal reviews of case

HALIFAX — The RCMP says two officers who fired towards a civilian… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Efforts to increase Canada's ability to produce vaccines is among over 100 projects receiving new federal money. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Over 100 new projects to get $518 million in federal research funding

OTTAWA — Efforts to boost Canada’s ability to produce vaccines are among… Continue reading

Hassan Diab, whose allegations of involvement in a 1980 synagogue bombing were dismissed by French judges for lack of evidence, listens during a press release on the release of an external review on his extradition by the Justice Department on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Friday, July 26, 2019. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is signalling that Canada will stand up for Diab, an Ottawa sociology professor facing trial in France, following calls from human-rights advocates to intervene. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Trudeau signals support for Hassan Diab as Ottawa professor appeals case in France

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is signalling Canada will stand up… Continue reading

NDP MP Niki Ashton stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Two prominent Jewish advocacy groups are voicing anti-Semitism concerns ahead of a public conversation between NDP MP Niki Ashton and former U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Jewish groups raise anti-Semitism concerns ahead of NDP MP’s chat with Corbyn

OTTAWA — Two prominent Jewish advocacy groups are voicing concerns about anti-Semitism… Continue reading

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Public Health Agency of Canada budgets $5B for COVID-19 vaccines, treatments

OTTAWA — The Public Health Agency of Canada expects to spend up… Continue reading

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed optimism Wednesday that his government’s timeline for… Continue reading

UCP MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka Ron Orr. (File photo)
MLA Ron Orr: Benchmarks were achieved but goalposts were moved

Orr responds to concerns, calls on province to fully open Step 2

Most Read