Parliament,” Sir John A. Macdonald said in 1861, “is a grand inquest which has the right to inquire into anything and everything.” Macdonald, then, would be disappointed by much of the debate in the 133 years following that assertion—but not by the session of Parliament that recessed last week for the summer. Perhaps the best thing that may be said is that seldom has a House of Commons appeared more in touch with the real sentiments and interests of Canadians. In a debate on immigration, for example, it was possible to hear that Canada accepts far too many immigrants (the view of many Reform MPs); that it accepts not nearly enough (the view of some New Democrats); that Quebec is not given its fair share of newcomers (the Bloc Québécois); or—surprise!—that the present system is almost ideal (the government’s view). Perhaps the worst element of the new Parliament is exactly the same: never in recent memory have the divisive effects of regionalism and deep philosophical differences been as evident. Canadians now can see their views accurately reflected, for better and for worse.
Inevitably, that fractious atmosphere creates winners and losers. A winner is someone who not only does what is expected, but does so better than expected. A loser is someone doing either less than expected—or performing contrary to expectations. By those criteria, two of the major party leaders are winners: Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Bloc leader Lucien Bouchard. Both are in complete control of their parties. Both have not only retained popularity with the people who voted for them, but appear to have expanded on that. But Reform’s Preston Manning is a surprising loser. Before the election, he appeared to be the leader most firmly in control of his party and policies. Since then, he has performed a staggering about-face on
constitutional issues—from never
to talk about the topic, to never wanting to talk about anything else. His previously sound political instincts have gone awry: his suggestion last week that Chrétien is the proverbial “emperor who has no clothes” provokes the snide response that Chrétien, unlike Manning, can’t afford them because he has no party-paid clothing allowance.
Leaders are not the only winners and losers. After Chrétien, count Justice Minister Allan Rock as the biggest winner among the Liberals, and Environment Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps as the biggest loser. Before the election, few Canadians —, knew who Rock was.
Now he is one of the government’s smoothest and most effective ministers, already talked about as an eventual successor to Chrétien. Copps’s situation is the reverse. Once one of the most visible Liberals, she lacks any entrée into high decision-making circles despite her title, and has not yet demonstrated a vision—or particular interest—in environment. Two Liber ministers who were equally aggressive in opposition—Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin and Immigration Minister Sergio Marchi—have been far more effective in making the transition to power.
To a lesser degree, there are others exceeding expectations. One is the entire Senate, of which the only expectations were that it would do nothing—or, perhaps worse, something. But the Tory majority has acted responsibly, particularly in rewriting a badly flawed Liberal riding redistribution bill and in debating legislation on Toronto’s Pearson airport. Tory leader Jean Charest has maintained a surprisingly high profile despite his party’s nearelimination. If it is true that absolute power corrupts absolutely, then in the Tories’ case, it can be said that the absolute lack of power may be having an opposite, more
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