In our democracy, we have certain institutions that are constant and that look out for all of us. We have different watchdog organizations set up all over government whose role is to keep an eye on the government, check on their work and most importantly, report to the public what they find, good, bad or indifferent. In Canada we are blessed to have amazing civil servants who take on these difficult roles and we owe them a great deal for cutting through the spin from the government of the day and giving us the real facts, unadulterated and clearly.
It was with that respect and admiration for these institutions in mind that we’ve seen recent news stories coming out from Ottawa about the Office of the Auditor General being so short of budget needed to complete their basic functions, being short over $10 million dollars they need to operate. Without that funding, the Auditor General informed the public they would actually have to stop doing certain important audits, something that has never happened in the history of Canada. Even in the Stephen Harper years and his antipathy for the watchdogs of Parliament, even he never cut their funds to the point where they actually had to cancel work.
Just like we have good public servants who act as watchdogs, we have Parliamentarians who do the same, who care deeply about these important institutions. One such MP is David Christopherson, the NDP MP from Hamilton-Centre. If you know Dave at all, he is a veteran MP who works hard, does his homework and cares deeply about the institutions of Parliament. So it made a lot of sense that he would rise in the House of Commons to ask an important question on the plight of the Auditor General. But what came back was something that was not befitting an important question on such an important topic:
Wow, could that response be much more partisan and condescending, especially launched at an MP like Christopherson, who is known for being extremely collegial and respectful? Not to mention the fact that the Minister in question completely skirted the question before launching an factually lacking attack on the questioner. If you know Dave at all, you know that in those years of the Harper Government, he was one of their biggest critics when such things would happen and was constantly bringing them to account, despite what the Minister said. But that disrespectful response lit a fuse, and lead to a display in the House of Commons Public Accounts committee that I believe spoke to how Mr. Christopherson felt about that Question Period and the disrespect he was shown:
“Damn it, when a minister of a crown stands up in question period and attacks my integrity, this is what you’re going to get”. I couldn’t have said that any better myself. And he was right in his filibuster on Tuesday to point out how shocking and hurtful this all was to come from this Liberal government, the one that ran on “Sunny Ways” and being better than the last guys. That response from the Minister was precisely the kind of thing the former Harper Ministers did all the time, throwing personal barbs around when the questions got too hot or they couldn’t come up with a plausible answer for what had happened under their watch. He was right to point out the disappointment and personal hurt he felt from that attack, and I can’t blame him it.
We’ll see if this government finally backtracks on this shortchanging of the Auditor General before it is too late, but this whole episode does give me another reminder about how we need more MPs like Mr. Christopherson. We need more MPs who do the hard work, master their portfolios, work with colleagues in a respectful way but when attacked stand their ground firmly on their principles. In the next few weeks we are seeing the last days of a few such MPs, people who we are going to miss when they are gone. I just hope that the next generation of MPs who will stand up for the watchdogs of Parliament are taking note of the example set by the likes of David Christopherson. I also hope that they follow that example and keep that proud tradition of MPs who fill that important role going strong for the future.