Wednesday’s parliamentary hearing with Rahim Jaffer and his partner was inept and embarrassing compared to a Canadian royal commission or a U.S. congressional committee. That’s what made it edifying. You could see things happen precisely because the players were so unpractised.

Mr. Jaffer and Patrick Glémaud didn’t even bring lawyers. Maybe they thought it made them look like they had nothing to hide; or they wouldn’t need any legal help with these backbench drips. It sure started that way. Mr. Jaffer refused to say if he’d been to Belize because he didn’t see the relevance; Mr. Glémaud said the MPs lacked a “perfect understanding” of lobbying law so they should leave it to others. No one challenged them. The chair, Yasmin Ratansi, was mousy and deferential. Imagine how elected reps in the U.S. would have jumped them: Mr. Jaffer, I ask the questions here and you answer! Etc. But our MPs are used to being trained seals. It takes a while for them to get detrained, though eventually they did.

NDPer Pat Martin, the group’s most overtly obnoxious member, in the sense that he doesn’t seem to care if anyone likes him, told the chair that witnesses can’t decide what to answer. Maybe he watches more American TV than the others. The chair seemed to take heart from being egged on by the local bully, and said she might find them in contempt. “Mme. chair, I am not in contempt!” shouted Mr. Glémaud. But by then the worms had turned.

Newfoundland MP Siobhan Coady said offhandedly that she’d started many businesses herself — sounding as if she really had — and didn’t understand their model. By the time she was done with them, I’d have gladly invested money with her if I had any to spare, but not with the two slippery witnesses.

It shouldn’t have come as a shock. Back in 2001, Mr. Jaffer had an aide impersonate him on a radio interview he couldn’t do — a cheap dodge for no good reason.

By hearing’s end, MP Tom Lukiwski was telling the former Conservative caucus head that Mr. Jaffer had sullied them all. I wanted to know which party this particular unknown represented but you couldn’t tell since the news channels block party IDs out with the weather or other tidbits. I had to Google him, and he’s a Conservative – making it even spicier: not just Mr. Jaffer’s party but the one Mr. Glémaud ran for in the last election. There’s a learning curve for all of us in this new kind of minority politics, including TV directors.

Then it got even better. The pair went out to meet the cameras. “We are hard-working new Canadians,” said Patrick Glémaud. “We try to abide by the rules …” Which is surely true. The question is: By which rules? Evidently those of the past 30 years, Reagan-Thatcher-Mulroney: I’m number one, grab what you can, if you make a mess get the public to bail you out and reward yourselves further.

After they played their New Canadian card, I wonder if both men went out and talked about it: how they run guys like us if they need a fresh face or in an unwinnable riding, but their loyalty to us goes only skin deep. I wonder if they use that term.

There are clearly some idiots and some gems on the backbenches. But they all seem more appealing than their packaged, controlled leaders. They’re klutzy and real, compared to Stephen Ignatieff Layton, the three-headed party-leadership monster – not in a scary but in a not-having-anything-very-human-about-them sense. Maybe that’s why none can break above the low 30s in recent polls. Time to move over, perhaps. All together now.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.