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Making the grade

[PoliticsWatch posted 6:45 p.m. June 23, 2006]

School's out for summer for Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe, Stephen Harper and Bill Graham. 

OTTAWA  — School's out for MPs for summer.  
Five months after the election of a new government, PoliticsWatch grades the parties on their early performance.  



The new government was not perfect, but accomplished a lot so far in its first six months. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper not only supports the mission in Afghanistan, he saw it as such a priority that he symbolically made his first foreign visit a three-day stopover in Afghanistan, including over-nighting on a military base. 

The PM also accomplished the political play of the year so far when he exposed divisions within the Liberal caucus by having a vote on extending the Afghan mission. 

The government was able to get its Accountability Act through the House as well as its budget that cut the GST and created a $100 monthly child care cheque for parents with children under six. 

Although the softwood deal has not been finalized, the Tories were able to obtain a framework agreement with the Americans within months of taking power, something the Liberals were unable to do in over three years. 

The Conservatives also get points for providing more transparency to the appointment of Supreme Court justices and launching an inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing. 

The Conservatives lose points, but more on process than policy. 

The appointment of floor crossing David Emerson and unelected Senator Michael Fortier to cabinet in the name of increasing representation from cities seems rather cynical given Harper's past comments on floor crossers being opportunists and his position on an elected Senate. 

The decision to ban cameras from repatriation ceremonies for fallen soldiers and the decision not to lower the flag on the Peace Tower does not sit well with many Canadians. 

Also take points off for Harper's battle with the Press Gallery, secret cabinet meetings and his decision to spin it as a Constitutional issue. 

Tory MP Colin Mayes' comments about jailing journalists is the kind of slip up the Tories successfully avoided during the election. Mayes quickly apologized. Tory MP Pierre Poilievre's unparliamentary behaviour is making him the Tory the opposition parties love to hate. And Industry Minister Maxime Bernier spent two hours before the industry committee without ever really answering a question directly and used most of the time to talk about Tory corporate tax cuts in the budget. 

Honour Roll: 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Treasury Board President John Baird, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Trade Minister David Emerson, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose

Summer School: 

Pierre Poilievre, Industry Minister Maxime Bernier



Oh, where to begin?

For much of the sitting the Liberals appeared to be dosing off on the job or playing hookie.

This would explain how the budget, which the Liberals were vehemently opposed to, was allowed to pass in the House of Commons without a vote when the Liberals failed to rise to oppose it.  

Or what about the party's 18 per cent rate of absenteeism on votes?

The Liberals are largely preoccupied with a leadership race, that includes nearly 10 per cent of its caucus. 

Even candidates admit the leadership debate is a snoozefest with 11 candidates on stage. 

Then there is the $5,000 donations from 11-year-old twins of a pharmaceutical executive to Liberal candidate Joe Volpe. 

For days Volpe and party officials defended the donations on the grounds that it wasn't illegal. 

The silence from other Liberal MPs on the matter was deafening. 

Not only has the Volpe affair raised bad memories about Liberal scandals and ethical standards being what is within the law, it has also effectively neutralized the Liberals on the child-care issue in question period. Questions about child care are now met with responses from the governing party that include jokes about Volpe shaking down children for money. 

Then there is the Liberals' position on the Afghanistan mission extension which is about as clear as mud. 

The majority of the Liberal caucus voted against extending the mission. However, the Liberals deny they are opposed to the mission or not supportive of the troops, but rather voted against the extension on procedural reasons, saying there wasn't enough time for debate. 

Even though their government sent troops to Afghanistan in the first place, the Liberals are now for the mission even though they voted against the mission. 

The Liberals would have received an F were it not for a few young MPs and leadership candidates who were never in cabinet but are now taking advantage the spotlight. In comparison, most of the veteran former Liberal cabinet ministers -- the nucleus of the Martin government -- now look shell-shocked and lost without their large staffs and limos in opposition.

The good news is the only way for the Liberals to go from here would be up.

Honour Roll: 

Ruby Dhalla, Michael Ignatieff, Dominic LeBlanc, Bob Rae, Martha Hall Findlay

Summer School: 

Joe Volpe, John McCallum, Carolyn Bennett,  Bill Graham, Ralph Goodale



The NDP remains a well-oiled and disciplined caucus under the stewardship of NDP Leader Jack Layton.  

They have embarked on a politically savvy strategy of attacking the Liberals equally as much as the governing party, knowing that expanding their base will require Liberal voters. 

The party has also staked out clear positions on the major issues of the day, including Afghanistan. The party is now opposed to the mission because of the Canadian role in the counterinsurgency effort, so voters will know where they stand. 

NDP MP Pat Martin has been a busy man in this sitting as the party's ethics critic and has picked up where former NDP MP Ed Broadbent left off. Martin has gone after Emerson, Volpe and was the swing vote on the legislative committee examining the Accountability Act. He is also one of the stronger performers in question period and a quote machine for reporters. 

Honour Roll: 

Pat Martin



With the Liberals out of power, the Bloc at times looks like Wile E. Coyote without the Road Runner. 

It was just over two years ago that the party appeared down in the dumps until the sponsorship scandal exploded and revitalized the Bloc. But now Adscam is old news and the Liberals are not in power.

In recent weeks, the Bloc has adjusted its strategy and is now trying to draw attention to what they believe are Conservative party policy positions that won't go down well in Quebec -- primarily the Tory ambivalence to Kyoto. 

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe continues to be a steadying force for the party and a realist. 

The Bloc decided to support the Conservative budget, but did not try to sugar coat or spin its support. 

"I will support it because it's a transition budget with a firm commitment to settle the fiscal imbalance," said  Duceppe at the time.. 

Duceppe accused the other opposition party leaders of playing games and said the truth was none of the federal parties really wanted to defeat the government and force an election campaign so soon after January's election campaign. 

"It's not my style. I don't want to bluff," Duceppe said. 

Honour Roll:

Gilles Duceppe

: Related Links

> Crowded field runs for Liberal leadership 

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