Hébert:Trudeau is at his worst in the House

Justin Trudeau does not much like the House of Commons and the feeling is mutual.

This is not a statement on the people who sit alongside or across from the prime minister, or the latter’s feelings toward them.

A majority of MPs owe their seats to Trudeau’s campaign skills and they are grateful to him for that. Most opposition members do not wake up at night to hate the current prime minister. On both sides of the Commons, some save their most negative feelings for colleagues of their own party.

No, this is really about the venue itself – a stage for which Trudeau’s affection seems inversely proportional to his love of rallies, parades of all kinds and even the most contrarian of town halls.

In opposition as in government, Trudeau has never quite managed to command the attention of the House in the way that he often does in an unscripted format. It may be that he never bothered to try.

Even in his early days as opposition leader, he did not have a lot of time for the mini-dramas that tend to grip the attention of Parliament Hill insiders.

While Thomas Mulcair systematically dominated question period, and earned kudos for his performance, Trudeau was content to achieve the required minimum to stay on the radar.

Today it is Mulcair who is on the way out and Trudeau who is half way into a majority mandate. His House performance in his new role as prime minister has been consistent with his daily performances as opposition leader.

What agitates the Commons is often unrelated to what drives the mood of the country. That’s a disconnect that political leaders lose sight of at their own peril. But Trudeau is at risk of going to the other extreme.

Possibly because he earned poor marks for his spotty attendance in the House over his first year in office the prime minister has been more assiduous in question period since the new year. He is often there in body only.

Trudeau rarely engages with the opposition in a meaningful way. For the most part he speaks past his critics’ arguments.

The attentive hearing he affords those who challenge him in town halls does not extend to opposition parliamentarians. When not on his feet, Trudeau can be the picture of adolescent boredom.

Trudeau leads by example. His attitude has filtered down the Liberal benches.

They are filled with rookies who won seats for the first time in 2015. One of them – Bardish Chagger – serves as the government’s house leader. Another is Finance Minister Bill Morneau. If cardboard cut-outs could speak he might have one take his place in question period. On budget day he told me he feels that what happens in the Commons is for the most part destined to never make it out of the bubble. Like his leader he does not see the point of putting a lot of energy on his parliamentary game.

All of which brings one to the wide-ranging House reforms the Liberals have recently brought forward under the guise of what they call a discussion paper.

For the four opposition parties the proposals add up to a heavy-handed bid to erode their already limited capacity to hold a majority government to account.

There is a bit of verbal inflation at play here. But overall the spirit that seems to have presided over the drafting of the Liberal wish list is a desire to make the House function in a more convenient manner for the government.

In opposition, Trudeau would have fought many of the proposals tooth and nail.

The Liberals already enjoy the powers of a majority on the basis of a minority of the votes cast in the last election. It does not help that they apparently feel no obligation to seek if not unanimity at least a multi-party consensus before changing the way the House operates.

Only a governing party that is tone-deaf to the mood of the House would have initiated such a sensitive discussion in this way so soon after having led the opposition down the garden path on electoral reform. In this instance the tone-deafness is deliberate.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer.

Just Posted

Relatives of murdered family critical of killers’ sentences

Open letter to sentencing judge criticizes ruling allowing killers to apply for parole in 25 years

City rolling out Green Carts

Green Carts used for organics, such as yard waste, food scraps and pet waste

New teaching standards applauded

New code of standards affecting teachers, principals and superintendents to kick in Sept. 1, 2019

UPDATED: Agriculture minister speaks to cattle producers

2018 Alberta Beef Industry Conference underway in Red Deer

Updated: Red Deer gets WHL Bantam Draft and Awards Banquet

WHL will holds its draft and awards ceremony in Red Deer for next three years

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Twenty years later, figure skating’s most famous backflip remains amazing (and illegal)

Figure skating involves spins, jumps, twizzles and a whole host of other… Continue reading

You don’t need to chop like a TV chef to get the job done

Standing in line at the emergency room, makeshift bandage around my finger,… Continue reading

Seychelles swaps debt for groundbreaking marine protection

CURIEUSE ISLAND, Seychelles — With deep blue waters, white sand beaches and… Continue reading

Trump endorses raising minimum age to 21 for more weapons

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump endorsed stricter gun-control measures Thursday, including raising… Continue reading

Red Deer blood clinic in need of 600 donors

Aunt encourages Central Albertans to donate blood after losing nephew

Court considers banning diesel cars in German cities

BERLIN — A German court began considering Thursday whether authorities should ban… Continue reading

US women beat Canada in Olympic hockey; Gisin tops Shiffrin

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — A tense shootout, a dazzling deke and… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month