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Illustration by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Illustration by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

Ibbitson's Points of Order

While the Tories wage war, <br/>the opposition picks nit Add to ...

Because it's a good idea to limit the number of times you're found in contempt of Parliament, the Harper government has tabled documents purporting to answer opposition questions about corporate taxes and the cost of anti-crime legislation.

Those documents technically answer those questions without providing much substance. It doesn't matter. The Conservatives know that voters - at least, the voters they need - understand and agree with the Tories' message, and don't understand or care about opposition contempt-of-Parliament complaints.

And by obsessing on questions of parliamentary privilege, the Liberals and the NDP are probably helping Stephen Harper's Conservatives win the next election.

The opposition wants Speaker Peter Milliken to determine whether International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda was in contempt of Parliament for her testimony to a committee about a document that was altered to terminate funding for a charity.

Liberal finance critic Scott Brison also wants the government found in contempt for refusing to reveal corporate profit projections so the opposition can see the effect of tax cuts, and for failing to provide estimated costs for expanding prisons.

The government's response on Thursday to Mr. Brison's motion was adequate, but failed to acknowledge that on the prisons question, the real costs of putting more people behind bars under new federal crime laws will fall to provincial governments.

Mr. Brison probably no longer has a case, at least as far as Mr. Milliken is concerned. The case against Ms. Oda, however, is damning.

While the opposition howled in Parliament on Thursday, the Prime Minister was in Toronto announcing yet another crime bill, this time to make it easier to make a citizen's arrest. Mr. Harper knows that even if Mr. Milliken rules in the opposition's favour, a final Parliamentary vote of censure is unlikely to come before a spring election.

The Liberals are making the government's authoritarian and abusive approach to the rights of Parliament and the people a key element of their election message. How could they not, given this government's behaviour?

But the number of people who care about parliamentary privilege is minuscule. That does not mean most people don't have political values. We know from endless polling and from conversations in bars - sorry, at Tim Hortons - that a lot of us were spooked by the last recession, a lot of us are still leery about where the economy is headed, and a lot of us think the streets are becoming more dangerous. And don't wave a StatsCan data set showing it's not true. People know what they know.

So while the opposition spent an entire week devoted to the Conservatives' contempt for Parliament, the Conservatives, not even bothering to notice, carried on pounding their themes of fiscal responsibility and getting tough on crime. Who do you think had the better strategy?

The Conservatives have crafted a plan, it appears, to obtain a majority while winning only about 37 per cent of the vote. They are targeting key swing ridings, and hoping to out-campaign and outspend the Liberals and NDP.

The opposition is fighting back by invoking the ghosts of Runnymede. No wonder they're looking so grim.

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Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

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