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opinion

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis speaks in the House of Commons, in Ottawa, on April 16, 2021.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

As much as the Conservatives like to poke fun at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s past life as a drama teacher, there sure seemed to be an awful lot of theatre coming from the Tory benches this past week.

Members of the Conservative Party – which purports to be against cancel culture and ostentatious displays of wokeism – were utterly scandalized by a tweet that, by their telling, made them feel unsafe walking the halls of the House of Commons.

The tweet in question was penned by freelance journalist and Parliamentary Press Gallery member Dale Smith, in reference to a question from Conservative MP Garnett Genuis in the Commons last Wednesday. Mr. Genuis’s question was nominally about inflation, but he posed it by quoting the lyrics of the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody – ostensibly to mock Mr. Trudeau’s hotel-lobby sing-along ahead of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.

Mr. Smith was not impressed. “I cannot adequately tell you how lame it is,” he tweeted, in reference to Mr. Genuis’s performance. “When horses are this lame, you shoot them.”

Those who are literate understand that Mr. Smith was not actually suggesting Mr. Genuis be hauled out of Parliament and executed for his corny attempt to make teenage members of the campus Conservative club giggle. It was a silly tweet about a silly question, and it probably should have been forgotten moments after it was posted. But Conservatives took offence and Mr. Smith stood his ground, leaving everyone looking small and petty over an excruciatingly trivial manner. Mr. Smith would probably have been wise to simply delete the tweet, recognizing that the increasingly tense climate on Parliament Hill means journalists especially should refrain from posting quips that could be taken the wrong way. And Conservatives should have moved on, recognizing that they’re supposed to leave the victimhood Olympics to the other guys.

But they didn’t. Mr. Genuis rose in the House the following day and asked that Mr. Smith’s privileges be revoked for his tweet. “Some would say, ‘Oh, surely he was joking,’ ” Mr. Genius said. “However, the problem with so-called jokes implying threats toward public officials is that as the target of these comments, I am somehow supposed to understand and be okay with a threat on the basis of someone’s presumed intentions. I am just not okay with this.”

On Twitter the next day, Opposition House Leader Andrew Scheer said that the Conservatives did not want to see Mr. Smith fully cancelled – that is, kicked out of the Parliamentary Press Gallery entirely – but that they wanted his security credentials rescinded because it was too dangerous to allow him to “bypass metal detectors and sit in a gallery just a few feet from MPs.” House Speaker Anthony Rota declined to weigh in on the matter, saying he didn’t believe Mr. Genuis’s ability to perform his duties was affected by the tweet.

That should have been the end of it, but Mr. Scheer decided to try one more time. On Wednesday, he sought unanimous consent for a motion that “the House condemn the threatening remarks of Dale Smith.” It was a good try – an admirable performance – but it failed.

This is the part where Conservatives usually huff that if the shoe was on the other foot – that is, if someone made a violent allusion in a tweet about a Liberal or NDP MP – the press and Parliament would be united in their condemnation, and no one would think twice about whether the targeted MP was genuine in saying he or she felt threatened. And perhaps that’s true. But that’s also kind of the point: Conservatives are typically the ones to say that we have lost all sense of nuance – that in our haste to claim victimhood, we sometimes conflate words with actual threats of violence.

The Conservatives are supposed to be a party of sobriety, one that understands the difference between a genuine incitement to violence and a figure of speech – not one that melts into a puddle when they hear the latter. So what if a Liberal MP might interpret the same tweet as a bona fide threat on his life and lap up support and sympathy from colleagues and the public? Let him. The Conservatives are, by their own telling, better than that: focusing on real issues like the cost of living and the fact that some people still can’t get passports. Instead, they’ve spent the last week-and-a-half painting exaggerated frowns on their faces and lumbering around like sad clowns.

To paraphrase my colleague Andrew Coyne, these are desperately serious times that require desperately serious politics to match. Yet, on Parliament Hill, there’s not much to be found.