THE BLOG

A Parliamentary Report Card Before Summer Break

06/19/2013 05:49 EDT | Updated 08/19/2013 05:12 EDT

Finally our MPs are taking a break and they have departed from the Hill for the summer break. That must be a great relief for the taxpayers and voters of this country who through the media had front row seats every day to the acrimony in the House.

This session wrapped up with plenty of mudslinging over the Senate scandal, Mulcair running the RCMP checkpoint and Trudeau contritely offering to return his speaking fees. We even had an MP defect from the Conservatives to add a little drama to the proceedings. No one can claim that this was a high water mark in Canadian parliamentary history.

Yet, even with the daily dismal display of House behaviour, there are some positives to come out of this session.

The NDP's Thomas Mulcair has finally come into his own in Question Period. His recent performance was excellent and long overdue. Thank goodness, he did what I have been suggesting for months and he tossed that silly little lectern aside and asked sharp questions without the aid of notes. Along with Mulcair's improvements, in general the NDP performance in Question Period saw a marked change in their strategy and Question Period line up. It only took Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition two years to figure this out, but now at least they are becoming effective questioners. Putting partisanship aside, an effective opposition is a vital component of our democracy and while it will make things harder for the government, Canadians need an opposition that can hold the government to account.

The Liberals are an interesting contrast. Courtesy of the Conservatives self-inflicted Senate scandal, Justin Trudeau has had a chance to grow into his party's leadership role in Question Period. Upon assuming the party leadership his Question Period performance was dismal. Long winded questions that allowed the Prime Minister to pick and choose what he answered didn't help, nor did Trudeau's nervousness. However, using the Senate scandal as his training ground, his performance has gradually improved. Today he is much more comfortable in his role.

For those who jumped on the Trudeau bandwagon with visions of a Trudeau-led majority government being "a mere matter of marching" to quote Thomas Jefferson on how easy it would have been for the Americans to win the war of 1812, this session was a rude awakening. When on script, Trudeau is effective, but he is unable to stick to his talk points and his comments continually get him into trouble. Trudeau's comments on Quebec and Senate reform are but one example of how he takes what should be a good issue for him and he turns it into a controversial one. Add in an efficient Conservative attack machine and while still a very marketable political commodity, he is vulnerable and some of the shine has come off of the Liberal golden boy.

The Conservatives have not had a good session. Self-inflicted wounds hurt the most, are the most difficult to contain and always leave your side dazed and disgruntled. Conservative MPs may be on a summer break, but they will be hearing about their scandals for the next two and half months. The BBQ circuit will not be a happy place for them this summer.

This is one more reason for Harper to do a cabinet shuffle sooner, as opposed to later. His MPs need to be able to change the channel over the summer and have something positive to talk about with their constituents. If done before the Conservative convention it would also create a buzz and give a boost to Conservative Party stalwarts who are as depressed as their MPs over the scandals.

The summer break is also an opportunity for staff changes. Traditionally staff in both PMO and minister's offices, make career changes once parliament is on a break. Ask any Conservative MP and they can give you a long list of the changes needed in PMO, changes that are needed to restore MPs confidence in that office and to deal with the MPs discontent. This won't be an easy task for the new Chief of Staff, but replacing some of the "short pants" with a few "long pants" is definitely long overdue. The recent exposure that PMO was directly sending out anti-Trudeau releases and information is but the most recent example of how not to do things. Clearly that type of attack information should never be sent through the Prime Minister's Office. There are lots of other options they could have used.

The Prime Minister had a tough session. His image has been battered by the scandals and Canadians still aren't satisfied with his answers. He can use the break to refresh his mind and refocus his attention on the task at hand. This break will give the PM an opportunity to change the channel, refresh his cabinet, identify new priorities and position his government for the run up to the next election. The Conservatives may be battered and bruised, but they are far from being defeated and as the Liberals and NDP know, they are a dangerous political opponent.

Hopefully the summer break will allow all the parties to reflect on the good and the bad of this past session. When they return let's hope they can tone down the hyper-partisanship a bit and work in the best interests of all Canadians. After all that is why we sent them there.

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