Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Back to work aftermath

So how did it go yesterday? The first day on Parliament Hill post weekend prorogation rallies saw the opposition parties arrive to carry on with regular business on matters like youth unemployment, while the government treated us to a pretty coordinated effort to distract from prorogation.

The word "coalition" has made a very sudden re-entry into the dialogue, courtesy of Conservative MP Rick Dykstra, raising it again Monday, as he did Sunday, on a political show. The Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary also got in on the act as did a columnist in the Globe.

This means that the Conservatives have apparently learned nothing from the weekend, which was really quite remarkable, to see energized Canadians in the streets across the country, motivated solely by an action taken by the Prime Minister. Yet there was no effort to address the elephant in the room, no courage to make a substantive statement on the issue. Just reckless, theatrical rhetoric. Some Conservative MPs get it, however, as they have apparently been whispering about discontent from their constituents to Bob Fife, as he related on the national news last night.

Meanwhile, the issues began to inevitably present themselves yesterday as a reminder of why Parliament should be in session.

First there was the news that the government is letting Richard Colvin, the respected diplomat who recently testified before the Afghan Special Commons Committee and who made damning allegations of government neglect in the face of torture allegations in Afghanistan, twist in the wind by turning his legal fees, to which he is entitled, into a huge question mark. The Foreign Affairs department, in an effort at damage control no doubt, expressed that they are looking at his latest invoice but it's not too tough to read between the lines. So here we have the government acting in a manner toward a distinguished public servant that requires accountability. Yet Parliament is shut down.

Then we received news that the Supreme Court of Canada will deliver the Omar Khadr judgment on Friday: "Supreme Court set to rule in Khadr case." How interesting that on the very first day that Parliament was supposed to sit, the Supreme Court reminds us that it has been doing its work, most likely with the original January 25th date for the return to Parliament in mind. What an unfortunate contrast for the Harper government. Indeed, it would make sense that they would return their judgment the first week Parliament would have normally been back. Parliament could weigh in on the judgment via debate. The sensitivity of the issue politically was likely on the Court's mind. And furthermore, the matter is urgent, it's been unresolved for years and Khadr continues to sit at Guantanamo Bay. You have to wonder whether any thought at all was given by the government to the prospect of this ruling coming in during this prorogation period.

So we'll get the judgment on Friday and depending on its holding, it could become a very important matter for the government to be pressed on. If the judgment ordered the Harper government to seek Khadr's repatriation and the government refused, with Parliament not sitting, can you imagine the optics? The perception of a government removed from accountability would be heavily compounded. We'll have to await the court's judgment, but it's a scenario to be considered. If, on the other hand, the judgment doesn't order the government to seek Khadr's repatriation, the need to pursue the government on the question in Parliament will still become all the more pressing as political action, outside of the courts, will once again become the focus.

Colour me skeptical but I don't think snarling, inflammatory talking points are going to cut it for very long for the Conservatives.