What should we make of the tear-stained apology given by the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary for his bizarre behaviour last week in the House during question period?
Was Paul Calandra’s apology sincere or an attempt to downgrade his circus performance into mere soap opera?
However his little two-act play was scripted, we simply can’t believe the performance was genuine. And the very real public suspicion that we are being played for fools with our money and our very lives infects not only the current zoo in Parliament, but every aspect of our lives.
When you can’t trust the government — chiefly because they won’t tell you the truth, or anything at all — the authority of government is badly compromised.
That affects more than you think.
Bottom line: government needs our permission to operate. They need our support on everything from a mandate to go to war, to trust that oilsands and pipeline megaprojects are safe, to whether we should allow a high-voltage power line near our homes, to whether anyone really cares about aging and severely handicapped people at Michener Centre.
Canada is about to commit hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment and Canadian service people’s lives in a conflict against an enemy Canadians don’t even know. We’ll be sending personnel into a mission that has not been defined and therefore has no goals.
We’ve been promised a public debate this week on a U.S. request that free nations unite against a terrorist group seeking to set up a medieval caliphate in the Middle East.
Canadians definitely support stopping them. But it would be nice to know what the expectations are of us in helping that effort.
Two weeks ago, we were training Kurdish troops and giving humanitarian aid to refugees displaced by the fighting in Iraq. Now, it seems we’re dropping bombs.
Next, will we be invading Syria, in the same way our troops went to Afghanistan? How’s that worked out?
The problem is, our own government won’t tell us what they’re planning. Prime Minister Stephen Harper surprised everyone during an interview in New York with the Wall Street Journal by saying that he is considering Canada’s taking on an active fighting role in Iraq.
Previously, Canadian troops were to be advisors and humanitarian assistants. They were to be there for 30 days and then we’d decide what comes next.
We don’t even know that for sure, because no such announcement was ever made in Parliament.
That set up the circus with Calandra last week. Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair was simply doing his job when he asked in the House if Canada’s commitment to sending troops to Iraq ended on Oct. 5, 30 days after they were sent in.
With Harper absent, Calandra went off on a rant about a tweet sent by an NDP MP about Israel a whole month earlier.
Nonplussed, Mulcair pressed on, with both Calandra and other government MPs, for an answer about our role in Iraq, only to hear the same rant repeated over and over again.
An appeal to Speaker Andrew Scheer ended with a rebuke to Mulcair and no more questions from him would be allowed.
Despite the hooting from the backbenches, even Conservative MPs were later reported to be infuriated by this blatant contempt for Parliament. On national TV later, Calandra was unrepentant, and when asked by a reporter if he had an obligation to answer a question in the House, Calandra went off on the same rant again.
Since then, CBC News learned that Calandra was ordered by the “kids in short pants” in the PMO to answer every question about Iraq in this way.
So what to make of Calandra’s weeping apology days later? He absolved the PMO of interference and said he took complete responsibility to for his clownish behaviour.
Sorry? Really? If you’re sorry, then answer the damn question.
Canadians appear to support the mission against terrorism, but they are beginning to doubt whether they are being told the truth about what the mission is supposed to entail. We don’t even know, after years of budget cutbacks for military maintenance, if our equipment is up to the task.
Harper got his mandate by promising open, transparent government. Since being elected, he has given us anything but.
It’s one thing to believe politicians lie. That’s just a standing joke.
It’s a whole new order of things when we begin to believe we’re being played for fools. That’s when local organizers, from pipeline protesters, to power line critics and the Occupy movement decide the authority to act lies with them at home.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.