This week, our very own Parliament attracted a little more attention than usual, for being a little bit more ridiculous than usual. In what must be one of the most viewed CPAC clips this year, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair repeatedly posed the same question to Conservative MP Paul Calandra concerning Canada’s military presence in Iraq. Calandra repeatedly responded with an off-topic answer about Canada’s political ties with Israel. Both men are applauded and cheered on by their respective sides and obviously very little is achieved. As noted by Mulcair at the clip’s close, it’s also somewhat troubling that the Speaker of the House, Andrew Scheer — who is tasked with mediating exchanges like this during Question Period — failed to even attempt to hold Calandra to the topic of the question. The result is a truly bizarre moment on Parliament Hill akin to that of a Laurel and Hardy sketch. It’s absurd to the point of hilarity.
A more significant result is perhaps the increased attention this has garnered from Canadians who would otherwise be uninterested in regular CPAC (Cable Public Affairs Channel) programming. Only 24 hours after the exchange, it became one of CBC’s top stories and gained so much negative attention that those involved couldn’t hope for it to be simply forgotten. Two days after, Calandra appeared on CBC’s Power & Politics panel, and held so strongly to his answer, and in such a similarly confounding fashion that it caused the other members of the panel to laugh and even “face-palm” at the absurdity of it all. On the same day, House Speaker Scheer reiterated his role to the House as to why he couldn’t rule on the legitimacy of Calandra’s answers during Question Period. A day after that, Calandra gave up and apologized, tearfully, to the House of Commons for his failure to answer the questions posed to the government he represented.
Though nowhere close to the kind of media circus Rob Ford has erected around his role in Toronto politics, the amount of attention this four and a half minute exchange has gotten is truly significant. It begs the question: what does it take to get more Canadians involved in their country’s politics? Although Mulcair hasn’t let up about Canada’s role in Iraq, the questions he posed were greatly overshadowed by the way they were answered. The sensational attraction that brought Canadians to pay this close attention to Parliament was the conduct of our government when it comes to accountability, but not the issues to which Mulcair is trying to hold them accountable.
I’m not excluding myself from this by the way, as this is the first footage of the House of Commons I’ve watched in years, perhaps since I learned about them in civics class. That’s the point, though; Canadians should definitely be concerned with how our government is allowed to conduct itself. Additionally, they should note that this is what it seems to take to get more people engaged. That it has to be this ridiculous for anyone to even notice. What’s more, apparently, this isn’t a new problem. Rick Mercer spoke on the topic of non-answers during the Question Period in one of his famed “rants” on the Rick Mercer Report almost a year ago.
That can surely apply here at Brock University as well. Although there may not be a exciting scandal awaiting you in a easily digested video clip concerning our Student Union, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote, run for BUSAC or attend the AGM (see page 4 for more info). Get involved now, if for nothing else than to have a better seat when something absurd does happen. Who’s to say? Maybe there’s an issue just waiting to make you angry.