Globe and Mail

The circus and the stonewalling

The Globe and Mail
Saturday, March 31, 2001

After a week of ferocious mudslinging, name-calling and backbiting, the House of Commons sank to new depths Thursday. It shut down entirely.

So dramatically had the level of debate deteriorated, so petty had the personal attacks become, so little was the House accomplishing, that the four opposition parties decided to stage a snap vote to adjourn. The Liberals, many of whom were heading home with visions of a three-day weekend dancing in their heads, were caught with too few MPs in their chairs to block the move, adding a humiliating exclamation point to an embarrassing run for the government.

To the casual observer, the sneak-attack shutdown of the Commons by the opposition might look like just another example of sophomoric high jinks by the spoiled brats who call themselves our elected representatives. It's bad enough that they squabble all day while failing to deal with more pressing policy issues, but now they're giving up the pretense of working and declaring a snow day, gleefully running out of the House to go play.

However, the opposition move could deliver exactly the kick in the pants the Liberal government needs to break out of its miserable rut.

Behind all the recent Jerry-Springer-esque shenanigans lie some legitimate, serious issues. It is undeniably important to know whether the Prime Minister influenced a decision by a Crown corporation for his own financial gain, then lied about it. It undeniably matters that the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism is inventing hate crimes that never happened.

By shutting down the House of Commons, the opposition parties sent a loud and unmistakable signal that they're fed up with Liberal foot-dragging and game-playing in dealing with the problems that have bogged down the House. Maybe this ultimate political embarrassment will finally force the Liberals to take some responsibility for these problems, and do something about them.

If Jean Chrétien would throw open the files on the Grand-Mère affair for public scrutiny, if he would acknowledge and apologize for exposing his office to questions of impropriety through ill-advised business dealings, he would take major steps toward putting the controversy behind him. If his government would stop defending the antics of Hedy Fry and demand the minister's resignation (see below), it could move on to bigger things. If Sheila Copps would apologize for her unwarranted potshot at Deborah Grey's religious beliefs, maybe the House could find time to deal with weightier issues.

There's certainly no dearth of other topics to deal with. Our economy is slowing and a recession still isn't out of the question. Major international trade issues are coming to a head, among them the softwood lumber dispute with the United States and the next round of World Trade Organization talks. There are pressing concerns about our agricultural policies, our energy policies, funding for health and education, transfer payments to the provinces.

We elect political representatives because we believe that a country needs leadership and guidance, that it can't just run itself. It's time for the Liberals, fresh from a strong mandate from voters to provide that leadership, to show the courage to make the tough moves that will get the government back on track.

Copyright © 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.