The Afghan detainee controversy no longer dominates Question Period. After days and days of endless queries around the transfers of prisoners by Canadian soldiers, opposition interest is dwindling.
The detainee issue was pushed down the line-up today, with the Liberals asking only a couple of questions on the topic. Instead, there was sparring between Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper over reopening the abortion debate.
The Prime Minister wound up accusing his rival of acting in "an opportunistic way" and "dealing in petty partisan politics." Mr. Ignatieff had charged that if the Prime Minister weakens "family planning outside of Canada he will weaken family planning within Canada."
The diminished interest in Question Period about torture allegations coincided with the release of a new Angus Reid poll on the topic. Headlined "Canadians are tuning out of Afghan detainee controversy," it found that only 22 per cent of Canadians have followed the story "very closely" or "moderately closely" over the past couple of weeks.
(Even Liberal MPs had been grumbling that too much focus was being placed on the detainee story to the detriment of other issues, such as the economy.)
Forty per cent of the poll respondents support the government's move to ask retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to review the documents related to the Afghan detainee issue "so that information that could compromise national security is not made public." And 33 per cent believe there should be a full public inquiry, which is what the Liberals and other opposition parties have long demanded.
The online poll of 1,008 Canadians was conducted between March 18 and 19. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
So why the lack of interest?
"I think it's a combination of factors," Angus Reid's Mario Canseco says. "We've become distracted by many things lately. Prorogation certainly helped the government ride this out, and there's nothing tangible that would re-engage people when it comes to Afghan detainees."
He doesn't think the issue will become prominent again until Judge Iacobucci reports. There is no deadline set for that process.
Instead, what was prominent in the House today was what MPs have been debating since early this morning - a Liberal opposition-day motion on the Harper government's maternal health initiative for the G8 summit.
The broad intent of the Liberal motion is to call for more clarity around the initiative. Confusion about the government's plan reigned last week after two senior cabinet ministers said contraception would not be part of it, but the government later backed down on that assertion.
There is also a view by the Tories that the Liberals - although they never state it explicitly in their motion - are trying to trick them into reopening a debate over abortion rights. The issue is one the Conservatives want to avoid at all costs as it has hurt them in previous elections, and Tory MPs have already said they will not support the Liberal motion.
In Question Period, Mr. Ignatieff asked Mr. Harper why he signed on to the communiqué at last year's G8 summit in Italy, calling for improvements to maternal health that specifically included contraception and reproductive health services, if he "had no intention of keeping his word."
Mr. Harper dismissed his opponent's suggestion. Rather, he accused Mr. Ignatieff of "trying to be too clever by half" as he has division in his own party over this issue.
The Prime Minister was referring to Mississauga Liberal MP Paul Szabo, who is staunchly pro-life. Mr. Szabo said last month - when the issue first came to the fore - that he had never heard abortion rights discussed in the Liberal caucus. Mr. Harper, meanwhile, argues Canadians have no interest in "reopening abortion" or in "playing petty politics in the United States."
As several of his MPs had done throughout the day, the Prime Minister was trying to paint the Liberals as anti-American because they mention the anti-abortion policies of former U.S. president George W. Bush. The motion rails specifically against Mr. Bush's "failed right-wing ideologies" that made humanitarian assistance conditional upon a "global gag rule" against abortion programs.
The Tory strategy was to focus on that portion of the debate to try to avoid falling into a trap involving reproductive health.
Said a senior Ignatieff official: "Perhaps somebody should tell them there was an election in the U.S. a little while ago. Since Mr. Harper watches American news, he must know that President Obama revoked the global gag rule in his first week as President."