Once upon a time I attended a three-day conference that was held in the legislative chamber of the State of Indiana: a classic, midwest red brick structure that had decency and rectitude practically stamped into the woodwork. A perfect home for stolid democracy at work.
When, I casually asked one of the state gatekeepers, will the legislature be back in session?
“Not for several months,” he replied, “it only sits 22 days a year. The rest of the year the space is rented out to groups like this.”
That was some time ago, but twenty-two days! And despite benign political neglect for the other 343 days of the year, as far as I know the State of Indiana went humming along quite nicely.
So why are our guys hanging around after 75 days so far this year and still counting?
Go home, MPs, please, go home!
And if you all go home, the pundits who make their living sucking your blood will find something else to do, like crawl into a tree hole or snarl at their spouses. They will be off our television screens, something devoutly to be wished. Then the rest of us can all settle into a normal life for a while, musing on tennis and baseball and cottage life and leisurely barbecue dinners, and drinking beer.
Last year the House of Commons sat for 129 days and so far in 2013 for 75 days. The truth is that the government accomplished quite a lot, although if your only source is the all-knowing pundits this fact might have escaped your notice. Another truth is that by this time of year parliamentarians are in a zone of their own, not unlike teachers whose eyes start to roll around in their heads as their little charges contemplate summer freedom. It is the silly season, this year for whatever reason worse than usual, perhaps because of the advancing Supermoon that will take over our skies this weekend.
MPs’ responsibilities are centred around public policy, debate and legislation, so they have to be in Ottawa, but they also go to their ridings to solve problems for constituents, attend local events, consult with local governments and organizations and hear about life in the real world. That means a lot of travel and hard work. Some would say local obligations are MPs’ primary responsibility: that debate has been going on for a long time and will continue to. In any event, more time away from the National Capital Region tends to clear MPs’ heads, although this summer they will likely find a lot of fire and smoke when they finally get home. In fact I would guess none of them is going to have a lot of fun, nor do they deserve it.
No one in Ottawa, no party, has distinguished itself this session. One shoe after another was dropped, starting with the House (an MP resignation, wrangling with Elections Canada, driving through a police barricade, taking money from charities.) None of these taken individually add up to very much more than usual, maybe, but there is an overall aura of self-serving “he said, she said” rhetoric and very little nation serving. About the Senate: enough said, already, although without question there will be plenty more.
The Prime Minister no doubt needs a time-out more than anyone. He is disciplined and focused, but his office has no internal leader, and it shows. If there is a vision for moving forward, it’s invisible. If there is a national message, it’s inaudible. The opposition parties are no better, but despite his government’s good record on the economy and on slowly but steadily fulfilling its agenda, there is a sense of a cranky government constantly swatting at flies.
As to the pundits, they have been salivating with joy. Every commentator has been in “gotcha” mode. There has been virtually no attempt at serious evaluation of policies, achievements or capabilities. Easy journalism is “oh, look what her orange juice cost!” (That was in 2011 and they are still talking about it?) Harder journalism is “what are Canada’s options for helping solve the tragedy in Syria?” With some exceptions there are few commentators looking beyond the latest expense-account details, and the country is the worse for it.
In my lifetime I have been both a politician and a journalist. I used to say I was more proud to have been a politician. The next time someone asked me what I used to do I’m going to tell them I was a window washer on the outside of the Toronto-Dominion Centre; that’s something to take pride in.
Barbara McDougall was a reporter with the Vancouver Sun before serving as a Member of Parliament and holding several cabinet positions between 1984 and 1993.
Editor's note: Barbara McDougall’s biographic details have been updated.