Friday, November 29, 2013

CyberSmokeBlog: "P..s off Mr. Calandra you too should be abolished along with the Senate and House of Commons!"

CyberSmokeBlog: "Mr. Calandra, when did Stephen Harper first learn Nigel Wright had written Mike Duffy a cheque for $90,000?

Paul Calandra: "CyberSmokeBlog, you know how fond I am of a story. Let me tell you another story about my father.

My father owned a pizza store. He worked 16 to 18 hours a day. I can tell you what my father would not have done if he saw somebody stealing from his cash register. He would not have said, 'You are suspended, but make sure you come back every two weeks and collect a paycheque.' What he would have said, 'You're fired, leave' and he would have called the police.

That is the standard my father expected, this is the standard we expect on this side of the House and that is the standard that Canadians expect. It is only the Liberals who expect a different standard."

CyberSmokeBlog: "P..s off Mr. Calandra you too should be abolished along with the Senate and House of Commons!"

If we abolish Senate, why not the Commons: Delacourt

Much-mocked antics of Tory MP Paul Calandra show the real scandal is not in the Senate, but in the Hours of Commons.

Susan Delacourt, Parliament Hill
Friday, November 29, 2013
MP Paul Calandra, Parliamentary Secretary for the Prime Minister, is the target of a website devoted to mocking his responses in question period. They have involved his daughter's lemonade stand, a pizza-delivering immigrant, and rarely any direct answers. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

It’s a website designed to give us a laugh, but askpaulcalandra.com is accidentally revealing the broken state of things on Parliament Hill as this scandal-filled year in politics draws to a close.

In case you haven’t seen it, the website is pretty simple comedy. You merely have to type in a question, click a button, and you receive a recording of Paul Calandra, the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary, talking about something totally off-topic.

This is what Calandra, also the MP for Oak Ridges-Markham, has been doing almost every day since Parliament resumed this fall. He’s regaled us with tales of his daughters’ lemonade stand, for instance, and, memorably, Eugene, the Filipino immigrant who delivered pizzas at the Calandra family restaurant.

So, over at the website, if you type in a question inquiring what Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew about the Senate scandal, you might get a reply something like this: “My father owned a pizza store. He worked 16-18 hours a day.”

Click again and you may get a story about his daughters’ allowances or the mysterious: “I do like flowers.”

Hilarious, yes, but like the best humour, it’s based on a truth: Calandra, and answers such as this, are making a mockery of democratic debate in Parliament.

Moreover, it shows that the real scandal in Ottawa does not lie in the Senate, but in the House of Commons.

In fact, before we get all riled about the institutional problems of the Red Chamber, perhaps we might want to tackle the more urgent democratic issues in that big room with 308 seats and the green carpet.

As more provinces are hopping aboard the Senate-abolition bandwagon — Manitoba, for instance, with a resolution passed in its legislature this week — we’ve been treated to a diagnosis of Senate ills that could just as easily apply to the Commons.

Consider, for instance, the way the Senate was described this fall by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who’s developed an uncanny knack for saying what the federal Conservative government wants to hear when it’s in the midst of trouble.

Wall, the Premier who kicked off the abolish-the-Senate crusade among the provinces earlier this year, said the chamber was “unelected and unaccountable.”

Well, the same could be said about political staffers who now seem to have more power in the Harper government than elected MPs — the infamous “boys in short pants” who tell the MPs what to say. (Though I’m having trouble imagining them writing up Calandra’s fanciful musings for question period.)

“It’s difficult as a lawyer and as a member of Parliament to find my role to be subservient to masters half my age at the Prime Minister’s Office, who tell me how to vote on matters, who tell me what questions to ask of witnesses in committee, who vet my … one-minute member statements,” MP Brent Rathgeber said in June when he quit the Conservative caucus.

“I think legislators like myself have to take a stand … that we’re not going to read these talking points that are written by PMO staffers, that we’re not going to vote like trained seals.”

A little more than a week ago, the RCMP released explosive documents in its ongoing investigation into the scandal over Senator Mike Duffy’s housing expenses and the cheque written by former PMO Chief of Staff Nigel Wright.

Beyond their damning criminal potential, these 80 pages also give us a glimpse into the sketchy workplace culture of this government and especially the lengths to which the PMO was meddling and script-writing for the supposedly independent Senate.

Do we not think that this is going on in the Commons too? And, while it occurs to me, has anyone noticed that abolishing the Senate sounds a lot like proroguing Parliament? An instinct to shut institutions down when they prove troublesome to govern?

When Manitoba moved this week to abolish the Senate, its legislature voted in favour of a declaration describing the chamber as “unrepresentative.”

We’ve seen this problem too in the Commons in recent years. Opposition MPs are not treated by the government as representatives for their ridings — they are often deliberately excluded, for instance, from announcements of government spending on their home turf.

Conservatives have also set up “shadow MPs” in opposition-held ridings, urging residents to send their complaints to a friendly partisan in the area, rather than the local MP. Now there’s a total lack of respect for democratic representation.

Somehow, through all these months of controversy on Parliament Hill, we’ve been lulled into believing that the “undemocratic” Senate is our biggest problem.

It’s not. The offences to democracy are arguably more severe in the elected part of Parliament.

What can be done about it? With all due deference to the MP for Oak Ridges-Markham, we probably don’t need to bother asking Paul Calandra.

sdelacourt@thestar.ca

Ottawa bureau member Susan Delacourt’s column appears in Saturday Insight. Her new book is Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them (Douglas & McIntyre). It is available for purchase at StarStore.ca/delacourt .

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