Official Opposition is unofficially missing in action

Thursday, July 27, 2006

This year, the House of Commons adjourned for its summer recess on June 22. But, for the Liberal Party – the so-called Official Opposition – the vacation seemed to begin as soon as they lost their grip on government.

The Liberals’ sense of entitlement is so great that they think that their loss of power wasn’t due to anything that they did or did not do during thirteen years in office. No, power was unjustly snatched away from them in January because of a conspiracy between the Conservatives, the NDP, the Gomery Commission and the RCMP (but mostly the NDP, whose very existence the Liberals presume to be predicated upon keeping them in power).

Now, you’d think that a party that wanted to get back into power would be trying to do the very best job that they could in opposing the new Conservative government. Instead, the Liberals have been so thoroughly ineffective in this role that the Harper has managed to maintain its election day level of support through a series of policy debacles and ethical lapses.

Meanwhile, the Liberals just can’t seem to get over the fact that they are no longer the government. Typical of their sustained pouting was a June 14 press release from the party that quoted MP John Godfrey as follows: “The NDP needs to atone for putting political expediency ahead of Canadians’ priorities. The election of Prime Minister Harper’s government may have resulted in ten more seats for their party, but it also paved the way for the Conservatives’ abandonment of Canada’s environment, Aboriginal people and families.”

Ruby Dhalla struck a similar theme in remarks in the House of Commons. “Mr. Speaker, let me just tell the Prime Minister that, unlike the NDP, we, as Liberals, will never compromise our principles for 10 more seats.” Noting that Dhalla was appointed as her party’s candidate against the wishes of her riding association after the previous incumbent was appointed by Paul Martin to be his “Special Advisor for Near East and South Caucasus Affairs” (an invented position that never existed before, had no duties attached to it, and has never been filled since), Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells had a good comeback for Dhalla: “It's true the Liberals would never compromise their values for 10 more seats. The Liberals compromised their values for 60 fewer seats.”

The blame-the-NDP focus of the Liberals became so pronounced towards the end of the parliamentary sitting that, on June 20, they actually used every single one of their oral questions to attack the NDP. The comedy became so Pythonesque that even Stephen Harper noticed. “Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but notice a pattern today. The Liberals seem to think that the NDP is the government. I do not know if we can allow the member for Toronto-Danforth to answer any of these questions, but what I can say is this. The Liberals seem worried that Canadians who want a left-wing party with principles are obviously not opting for the Liberal Party.” Now, I have no illusions that Stephen Harper sees the NDP as anything other than an opponent, but he has a point.

So, other than pouting and pointing fingers, what have the Liberals been doing with their time? Well, one thing they haven’t been doing is showing up for work. Windsor West MP Brian Masse issued a report card on the Liberals’ attendance record. According to him, NDP, the Liberals were absent from eighteen per cent of the twenty-four votes held in the session, “the worst record of attendance of any caucus. You can't stand up to a full-time Conservative government, with a part-time Liberal Official Opposition… We are in a minority Parliament and every single vote counts in the House of Commons and affects people's lives on a daily basis.”

The MP with the worst attendance record is Jim Karygiannis who, until last week, was running Joe Volpe’s leadership campaign. In fact, Karygiannis was so busy signing up members to support Volpe (as “a volunteer”, working in “his spare time”) that he managed to miss every single parliamentary vote. He’s one of eight Liberal MPs who missed over half of the votes.

And, what about when they do show up? The motion to extend our mission in Afghanistan until 2009 (a vote from which eleven Liberals were absent) would not have passed if it had not been for the Liberals who voted with the Conservatives. In fact, Harper was so grateful for the work of leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff in rallying his supporters to vote in favour of the war that, immediately after the vote, he strode across the aisle to shake Ignatieff’s hand. When the NORAD agreement was hastily extended and expanded to include marine defense, all but two Liberals sided with the Conservatives.

And, most embarrassingly, when the NDP moved that the Environment Committee declare non-confidence in the performance of Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, the Liberals refused to support them. According to Godfrey, “We would rather leave Ms. Ambrose in place because she represents the total incompetence of the government. We would rather let that fruit ripen, if I may put it that way.” As blogger Rob Cottingham noted at the time “Had Canadians only applied the same standard, the Liberals would still be in power today. But turning incompetence into a job qualification? That’s not a platform I’d want to take to the voters when the next election rolls around.”
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