A day or two ago, I decided to do something I haven’t done in years — watch Question Period live from the House of Commons. Here are some observations from that theatrical circus.
First off, Tory leader Pierre Poilievre stood up to lambaste the government for adding $60 billion to the country’s debt in the current budget. He thundered about how that means $4200 for every Canadian family— how were the families to pay for it?
Chrystia Freeland, the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, was standing in for the Prime Minister. She shot back that Canada has the best debt to GDP ratio of any of the G7, and that the government was making life more affordable.
Poilievre yelled about how Canadians don’t have enough money to pay their mortgages and their rent and food especially in Trudeau’s home city of Montreal. One in four Montrealers couldn’t afford to live in the PM’s riding–but this was all theatre as we’ll see.
Then Tory MP Jasran Hallan, who wears a turban and represents the riding of Calgary Forest Lawn, charged that if Freeland couldn’t change the economic conditions of the country, she should move out of the way and make room for the Conservatives to run the government. The Tories, like trained seals, jumped up and applauded.
Then Tory Rob Moore (Fundy Royal) spoke about how the Liberal government had been misleading Canadians about the economic situation – and should leave office immediately. Again, up jumped the Tories and applauded.
The Speaker of the House, Anthony Rota, rose at least three time to ask for quiet, that he couldn’t hear himself think and chastised MPs for cross talk. But the chatter and cross talk did not abate.
Then it was leader of the Bloc Québecois, Yves-François Blanchet’s turn. In French, he spoke about the government’s plan to welcome 500,000 new immigrants each year for the next years – he said that soon no one in Canada would be speaking French! The French language wouldn’t even be a “thing” anymore! That elicited laughter from his own caucus.
The speaker once again asked for quiet – but no one piped down. The cross talk, and the Tories’ name-calling of Trudeau and Freeland continued.
Below: empty House of Commons (Encyclopedia Britannica); Yves-François Blanchet (House of Commons photo); Chrystia Freeland in blue outfit with pearls (Globe&Mail); Pierre Poilievre and Jagmeet Singh (Narcity); Anthony Rota (CTV News)
Rent: $3200 a month for a single mother of two
Then it was NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s turn. He asked Freeland how much a single mother of two would have left to spend after she paid the average rent in Toronto ($3200 a month) if she earned the average Canadian wage of $62,000 a year?
Freeland talked about how inflation was coming down from 8% last month to 4% now. And she noted the fact Canada has a AAA rating which means a stable economy.
In a supplementary question Singh asked how much a single mother of two would have left every month after spending $3700 — the average rent in Vancouver?
Freeland talked about the Child Tax Credit which could mean an extra $12,000 a year, for the family, depending on the age of the children. And she noted the Liberals have cut in half the cost of daycare across the country – which is huge.
Back to the Tory benches. Melissa Lantsman (Thornhill Ontario) first said she hated Freeland treating the Opposition as kindergarteners. Then Lantsman noted that the government was giving bail instead of jail to people with long criminal records – the government’s new Bill C-48 was going to promote criminal activity. Lantsman said that since Trudeau was elected eight years ago, crime had gone up 32%. I wonder where Lantsman got her “facts”. I don’t think it’s true. In fact, Statistics Canada reports that between 2019-2020 crime was down by 9%, and between 2020 and 2021 it was up by 1%. Property crime rates in the last couple of years have been the lowest since 1965. Homicides in 2020 were 2.0 per 100,000, and in 2021 they were 2.06 per 100,000. By comparison, the US homicide rate is 7.8 per 100,000.
MPs: Why bother to button and unbutton jackets?
Frankly, I can’t remember what Freeland said in response. Her speaking notes never jibed with the accusations or the questions. Her answers were deflections. The opposition politicians also kept to their same scripts and relished jumping up then down, the men buttoning their jackets on standing then unbuttoning their jackets when sitting. What would happen if a man allowed his jacket to remain unbuttoned when he stood? Perish the thought!
As I watched, the chatter, the noise, the lack of paying attention, the loud guffaws – showed me this was theatre, there was no actual listening or answering going on.
Freeland had some cue cards that she kept shuffling in her hands. They must have had her speaking points about debt to GDP, justice and daycare spending. I noticed how the MPs dressed. On the front Liberal benches, it was all women. Patty Haydu (Minister of Indigenous Services) wore a white chiffon blouse with red flowers. Anita Anand (Minister of National Defence) wore a wild looking scarf and cream coloured skirt and top. Karina Gould (Minister of Families, Children and Social Development) wore a nondescript top and skirt. Freeland wore a two strand pearl necklace and a royal blue dress and matching jacket. All the ministers, except Freeland, looked tired or bored. The Liberal women on the front bench kept busy reading briefing notes; they paid little attention to the hecklers.
On the Tory side, leader Pierre Poilievre was dressed as an undertaker in a black suit, a white shirt and red tie. Rob Moore (Fundy Royal) dressed similarly. The Tory women wore “business attire” — white shirts and and dark jackets. Something about them was reminiscent of the Stepford Wives . The camera then panned the BQ benches where most of the MPS were middle-aged, smartly dressed with nice haircuts. NDP leader Singh was wearing a maroon turban and three-piece suit, but no one else in his caucus was visible during that part of Question Period.
I wish I could say someone told a good joke or two. That didn’t happen. Or that someone was knitting a long scarf as did Sue Montgomery when she was mayor of Côte-Des-Neiges, a borough in Montreal. Montgomery knitted red when men talked and green when women talked at council meetings. Her scarf was overwhelmingly red. In the case of Question Period, someone would have had to knit red when the Liberals spoke, blue when the Tories spoke, light blue for the time the leader of the Bloc spoke and orange for when the NDP leader spoke.
But likely it was the House Speaker, Anthony Rota, who spoke more than anyone else – his voice could be heard above the fray in an effort to calm things down in the House. I’m not sure what colour someone could have knit for him. Maybe white — for truce.
Featured image: Mayor Sue Montgomery’s knitting at council meeting, 2019 (Credit: Sue Montgomery).
Red when men spoke and green when women spoke. Says something heh?