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Defence Minister Peter MacKay speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Monday, November 30, 2009. (BLAIR GABLE)
Defence Minister Peter MacKay speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Monday, November 30, 2009. (BLAIR GABLE)

Question Period

Partisan sound and patriotic fury Add to ...

Stephen Harper's Tories wrapped themselves in the Canadian flag in Question Period today, aggressively accusing the Liberals of being anti-soldier, anti-athlete and by default, anti-Canadian.

"When will they stop attacking these men and women who are heroes," demanded Transport Minister John Baird, dodging a question from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

Mr. Ignatieff, who led off the session, asked three questions related to the Afghan detainee issue and each time Mr. Baird suggested - in many different and creative ways - that he and his Liberal team were anti-troops.

At one point Mr. Baird wrapped the flag even tighter around himself, saying it was despicable of Mr. Ignatieff and his team to attack retired lieutenant-general Michel Gauthier who "has worn the uniform of our great country for 36 years."

The general testified at the parliamentary committee into the Afghan detainee issue last week; his testimony supported the government's contention that Canadian officials acted when necessary.

Mr. Baird's performance and answers were a bit rich and did not feel entirely sincere.

This is the latest strategy, however, adopted by the Tories to take the focus off allegations that for 18 months they ignored reports that Afghan detainees were being tortured.

The party's initial tactic was to shoot the messenger by trying to assassinate the character of senior diplomat Richard Colvin, who testified that prisoners were being routinely tortured and his reports were ignored, had backfired.

At one point today, Mr. Ignatieff had enough: "At no time has this party attacked the troops." He then wondered when the government would apologize for "using a Canadian destroyer as a backdrop for party political propaganda."

He was referring to the visit yesterday of the Prime Minister to the HMCS Ville de Quebec. In Trinidad for a Commonwealth summit, Mr. Harper went to meet with sailors who were also there providing security. In addressing the crew, the Prime Minister took a swipe at the opposition, suggesting they were criticizing the military for their treatment of Afghan detainees.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay also adopted the strategy today, accusing Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae "of casting aspersions on the job they are doing in this mission."

Mr. Rae had asked about how allegations of torture were dealt with.

Mr. MacKay even offered a piece of advice for Mr. Ignatieff. He told him to be "very wary about taking his foreign affairs advice from former NDP premiers."

He was referring to Mr. Rae, the former Ontario NDP premier, and Ujjal Dosanjh, the Liberal defence critic and former NDP premier of British Columbia.

The Defence Minister he also wanted Mr. Dosanjh to apologize for saying on CTV's Question Period yesterday that some people had felt the testimony of the three generals at the Afghanistan committee last week was "morally weak and legally flimsy." Mr. Dosanjh noted instead that he was in fact quoting an analysis of the generals performance that appeared in the Toronto Star.

At no time during the raucous Monday Question Period, meanwhile, did Mr. MacKay or Mr. Baird actually answer a question.

And then there was Sports Minister Gary Lunn, who used the same strategy to accuse B.C. Liberal MP Joyce Murray of being anti-Olympics and anti-athlete for her temerity in asking whether a U.S. firm was hired to build the Canadian Olympic pavilion.

"This is complete nonsense," the junior minister said. "The Liberals complain all the time about the Olympics. The last time they were complaining about the Olympic torch relay which Canadians are excited about, before that it was the Olympic clothing, now they are complaining about the Canadian pavilion. Why do they not try cheering on our athletes who are going for gold and making us all so proud?"

A footnote: Rona Ambrose spoke today. The former environment minister, who was sidelined by Mr. Harper in 2007 after bumbling the file, has said little since. Now she is the Minister of Labour and was up on her feet Monday saying the government was bringing in back-to-work legislation for striking CN workers.

"We cannot allow a major disruption in our transportation system," she said, explaining it is "incredibly important that we protect our economy."

(Photo: Blair Gable/Reuters)

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