I’ve had the good fortune in my live of getting to learn many great lessons about politics and how to go about it. My near decade on Parliament Hill taught me many of those lessons, as has my 15 years or so doing political campaigns on all levels. But there are some lessons about politics that you just don’t need to all that experience to know right away. There are some that are pure common sense that anyone looking in from the outside can look at and get without any background or experience. Yesterday we got a great example of that, with two separate events playing out in two different House of Commons committees:
Watching yesterdays “activities” was quite something but I think that something from it needs to be made clear. The filibuster is an important tool for opposition parties to use to hold a government to account. It’s so important and effective a tool that over the past couple of decades Liberal and Conservative governments, when in power, have watered down the ability to make it effective. As someone who spent his entire time on the Hill in the Opposition, I have great respect for this tool.
But when a government uses the filibuster, it’s a very different situation. Firstly, you only see governments in minority situations who might use it because in a majority you simply don’t need to. If you want to shut something down, you’ve got the numbers, so you do it, end of story. But in a minority government like this one and you don’t have the numbers on your side, you can see situations like these play out and in that case, governments use the filibuster for only one reason: to keep light from shining on matters of importance.
If you’re a government, you don’t use a filibuster at all if you’re trying to be transparent or open; you use it to do quite the opposite. And that’s precisely what the Liberals have been doing at both the House of Commons Finance and Ethics committees for days now. But if all the Liberals were doing was using this tool to further stop an investigation that they clearly prorogued the House back in August to do, that would be one thing. But they have gone a few steps further and if I had to pull one example of this, it would be the following exchange below:
We heard some desperate and disingenuous stuff from the Liberals in both committees yesterday. At Ethics, we heard the Liberals try to argue that one’s brother and mother is not “immediate family”, as a defense for their filibuster. At Finance, we heard the Liberals argue on one hand that personal contact information of civil servants should be redacted. But later, when it suited their purposes, they actually moved and debated a motion to call all the civil servants who redacted those documents to testify before the committee and explain their redactions. That was the thrust of a lot of the Liberals circular filibuster strategy, throwing everything up under the sun to try to obfuscate and put off the fact that they don’t have the votes to actually stop this all from happening.
But that clip above was one of the worst things I’ve seen in a House committee in a very long time and is a prime example of the Liberal “strategy” on the day if you could call it that. In the clip, Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen launched a cheap attack at Pierre Poilievre, accusing him of falsifying and creating false documents to further a political goal. Gerretsen accused Poilievre of an illegal act, using his Parliamentary privilege to protect him from the consequences of making such an allegation in the process. And while he withdrew the comment shortly thereafter, that doesn’t change the fact that he said it. I was on the Hill during most of the Harper government and for all the bad things they did, I never saw they make a odious accusation like that against a member of the Opposition.
And that was an example of what we saw from Gerretsen and Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos through out the entire meeting yesterday at Finance. They played the role of the most egregious Liberal stereotypes that are out there; smarmy, rude, hoity toity, glaring down on others from on high and casting condescending judgement upon those mere mortals who dare to question their ethics. Gerretsen in particular was bad, acting like the worst stereotype of an entitled politician. He acted like the stereotype of a second-generation politician who rode the coattails and name of his parents to get elected, which in his case is a fair statement. Gerretsen became Mayor of Kingston strongly based on riding the attachment to his better-known dad, who was an Ontario Cabinet Minister. He then rode that position to become MP later. He’s shown himself to be thin-skinned, which also explains this Tweet from the other day:
You have to try real, real hard to achieve the goal of managing to give Pierre Poilievre a run for the title of the most unliked and rude MP in all of Parliament, but both of those Liberals MPs pulled it off yesterday. They got themselves in the conversation with their “efforts”, which I’m sure won’t do anything to help their cause. If their whole effort was to try to make the WE Scandal go away, they are failing miserably in the attempt.
What makes this whole sordid story worse to me is that the Liberals are trying to wrap themselves in the pandemic as an excuse to not investigate their alleged acts in this case. The WE Scandal smells, so badly that the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament to try to get away from it. What’s even worse is seeing the Liberals trying to cloak themselves in this global crisis to try to impugn those who are trying to get to the bottom of this. The fact is that of course Canadians care about pandemic response, but they also care about their government acting ethically. You can do both at the same time and you can investigate both at the same time.
In fact, the NDP has proposed taking all of these investigations into WE and the questions about pandemic spending in general and put it all in a special committee to deal with it. That makes all the sense in the world because that would allow this work to continue while other committees can go about their work. Yet instead of working within that reasonable frame as walking and chewing gum at the same time, the Liberals are suggesting that if we attempt that people will suffer greater from the pandemic. This is about as far from the “open and transparent” government that Justin Trudeau promised. It’s certainly not the “sunlight” that he promised would disinfect our body politic.
And what’s worst of all, it’s bad strategy. People know that you don’t fight so hard to stop someone from looking into something that you say is nothing. You don’t need a decade in politics to get that. People know that if you’re trying to stop someone to look into something, that means you likely have something to hide. At one point during yesterdays Finance meeting Gerretsen actually accused the Opposition parities of acting like Donald Trump, yet I would argue that the Liberals are acting much more Trumpy in this moment. Attacking opponents, questioning their decency while trying to stop someone from looking into your stuff and spreading conspiracy theories and lies about what you say your opponents might have done. Donald Trump has done all of those things, and the Liberals did all of those things yesterday. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that if you’re parroting Trump crisis management strategy, you’re failing and you’re going to lose. It also leaves you nowhere to go but further down as you double-down, which the Liberals appear to be determined to do. Again, you don’t need to be an experienced political operative to get that. And the people do get it. The longer they do this, the more it smells and as much as they’d like to blame the opposition for that bad smell, it’s all really of their own creation. And that’s something that they can’t escape, no matter how long they keep this filibuster going.