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Packages of Oreo cookies snake along a producution line at a Kraft Canada plant in Montreal on Feb. 29, 2012, (Ryan Remiorz/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
Packages of Oreo cookies snake along a producution line at a Kraft Canada plant in Montreal on Feb. 29, 2012, (Ryan Remiorz/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

There's no place for MPs in the cookie jars of the nation Add to ...

It wasn’t surprising that a Tory MP rose in the House Commons Tuesday to talk about abortion.

Leon Benoit, who represents the Alberta riding of Vegreville–Wainwright, is one of several backbenchers expressing their views on the subject more freely now that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives govern with a majority.

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The surprising thing was the substance of Mr. Benoit’s statement – specifically, the fact it had any substance at all.

MPs often use the time they’re allotted before Question Period to blindly read from their party’s talking points. New Democrats will decry the Conservative government’s alleged degradation of democracy. Tories will accuse the NDP of attempting to undermine the entire Canadian economy. Liberals will complain the surpluses they left behind have been turned into record deficits.

But not Mr. Benoit. He brought a significant issue to the attention of Parliament and, by extension, to the attention of Canadians.

“When students at Ottawa's Carleton University put up a pro-life display, some students found the photos offensive and complained,” he said. “I expect that most Canadians would find such photos offensive, but that was the point the group was making – that abortion, and particularly late-stage abortion, is offensive.”

The university, he said, reacted by demanding the display be removed. When the students refused, they were punished. Similar events, he added, have occurred on campuses in Toronto, Calgary, Fredericton and Victoria.

Whether you agree with his stand on abortion or not, it’s hard to fault Mr. Benoit’s conclusion: “I call on all universities to truly become places where students and society can count on free speech and free expression being allowed and, in fact, encouraged.”

A short while later an opposition MP rose to speak on a related topic.

Chris Charlton, who represents Hamilton Mountain for the NDP, praised the work of her constituents in the lead-up to International Women's Day. “Each year we get together to celebrate the successes of women and girls in challenging stereotypes and in breaking down barriers to their full equality,” she said. “But we also remind ourselves of the battles yet to be won.”

The continued violation of basic rights for women and girls in various countries around the world topped her list, as did crimes of sexual violence and restricted access to education. “In too many parts of the world,” she added, “women die because they cannot access safe and legal abortions or even information on family planning.”

In a nod to tradition Ms. Charlton reverted back to talking points at one point, saying that even here in Canada “the Conservatives continue to attack women’s equality rights.” But on the whole, she brought a significant issue to the attention of Parliament and, by extension, to the attention of Canadians.

Which brings us to Tory backbencher Joe Daniel. He too avoided a PMO-issued script – but instead of an issue of substance he opted to use his allotted time for promotional purposes.

“I rise today to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of the world's most recognizable cookies,” he began.

Noting that food giant Kraft Canada is headquartered in his Toronto riding of Don Valley East, Mr. Daniel praised the global popularity of the Oreo. Sold in more than 100 countries, dozens of which were celebrating along with him; a humble cookie with 25 million Facebook friends, 900,000 of whom are Canadian; global sales of $2-billion, with a billion of the sugary delights made in this very country.

“I congratulate Dino Bianco, president of Kraft Canada, the management and employees for their hard work and dedication to the Oreo,” Mr. Daniel said. “I hope all honourable members will join me in wishing the Oreo a happy 100th birthday.”

And with a salesman’s flourish, he added: “Mr. Christie, you make good cookies.”

Not party sloganeering, at least – but empty words of questionable value to the governance of this country nonetheless.

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