2004 IN REVIEW

MY NEW YEAR’S WISH

That yps stop taking cheap shots and start behaving responsibly for all Canadians

MaryJanigan December 27 2004
2004 IN REVIEW

MY NEW YEAR’S WISH

That yps stop taking cheap shots and start behaving responsibly for all Canadians

MaryJanigan December 27 2004

MY NEW YEAR’S WISH

That yps stop taking cheap shots and start behaving responsibly for all Canadians

MaryJanigan

ON THE ISSUES

ADRIENNE CLARKSON was in London in April 2002, representing our nation at a Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebration, when she learned that six Canadian soldiers, wounded by U.S. “friendly fire” in Afghanistan, were being shuttled in a U.S. plane to a U.S. hospital in Germany. The Governor General decided a prominent Canadian simply had to be there to greet them. Her British hosts, scrambling to meet her last-minute request, got her to that German tarmac just as the soldiers were landing. She followed them to hospital, consoling them, getting their names and the names of their next of kin. Then she phoned each man’s relatives. “Isn’t that something,” marvels writer June Callwood, who still chokes as she recounts her friend’s deed. It is.

Minority governments are strange creatures: they bring out the best and the worst in politicians. The Governor General is most decidedly not perfect: she does live lavishly on our tab. But she has performed her timeconsuming job with grace and diligence, and MPs should not have delivered a very public rebuke by clipping more than $400,000 from her current budget. Since the Department of Foreign Affairs pays most of her controversial travel costs, the cuts to her budget are simply political grandstanding that will disrupt her duties to us.

Perhaps the opposition parties and the handful of Liberal MPs who chastised her are too accustomed to the meaningless theatre of majority government. MPs huff and puff but, when the final vote is called, discipline prevails within the governing party.

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Second thoughts for MPs are especially crucial these days because some Martin advisers are itching for an election pretext

“In a minority, the words that are spoken do count for something; they do have meaning,” argues University of Guelph political scientist Patrick Boyer, a former Tory MP. “Many representatives are not acting responsibly. Words are our own signatures.”

The penmanship is decidedly mixed. Some MPs understand their duties. Treasury Board President Reg Alcock and Tory MP John Williams are working together to handle problems in the estimates. As Alcock says, “the magic of minorities” means every MP must act responsibly—or the government could accidentally fall. Other MPs don’t get it. Liberal Roger Galloway, for one, tried to cut the last slice of this year’s funding for the firearms registry—which could have crippled it. Yes, this long guns registry was an inane waste of money, if only because, since the mid-1990s, the RCMP was already recording sales of new long guns. But the registry now holds useful records for all guns, including automatic weapons. Galloway eventually backed down in mid-month— and the funding remains.

Second thoughts for MPs are especially crucial these days because some close Martin advisers are itching to find a pretext to call another election. And, despite the sobering lesson of the last vote, those advisers don’t take kindly to warnings that voters would punish any irresponsible deed. Liberal MPs should look for wisdom to former Liberal cabinet minister Barney Danson, who always behaved with partisan grace. “It’s a balancing act,” he says. “Some MPs are unhappy with the leader, or they have been passed over for promotion. Others are patient. But MPs have a responsibility to support a party-and a Parliament.” Exactly. So here’s a wish for 2005 : that MPs will reflect before they bluster—because their opinions now matter. The voters are listening. [?]

Mary Janigan is a political and policy writer. mary.janigan@macleans.rogers.com