Hill Dispatches: From the Most Dignified to the Most Outrageous

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The Press Gallery Dinner took place this past Saturday and, apparently, the new practice at this event is to give out tongue-in-cheek awards.

In the bad old days the Governor General and political party leaders made speeches that were intended to be funny although they didn't always succeed.

At a Dinner in the 1980s, Ed Schreyer, then Governor General, was working his way through a plodding effort at comic rhetoric when someone started a call of "en français," which was followed by a round of bun throwing. The GG was not amused.

Michaëlle Jean, as GG, pulled off a speech that was actually credibly funny in parts and got good reviews from those in attendance.

Weeks late, however, a joke Jean had made about then Parti Québecois leader André Boisclair got circulated in Quebec. Of Boisclair, Jean had said: "il suit toujours la ligne du Parti ... " It was a double entendre with "ligne" referring to a "line" of cocaine, as well as the "party line." When the Quebec press got hold of this, belatedly, it became a mini cause célèbre. Michaëlle Jean never again took part in the Gallery Dinner.

Jack Layton, on the other hand, entirely distinguished himself when he sang his short, funny and pithy speech.

To the melody and chords of Roger Miller's "King of the Road" Layton sang "Party for sale or rent ... " And the party he meant was his own. Jack knew that mockery works best when it is aimed at oneself. The greatest comics have always been the butts of their own jokes.

Our own awards

In any case, there are no more such set-piece speeches at the Gallery Dinner, only some sort of awards ceremony that generates neither scandal, controversy -- nor even buzz.

But since it is the season for handing out awards, Hill Dispatches has a few of its own. Here goes:

Rookie MP with the Confidence and Flair of a Veteran: Alexandre Boulerice (NDP), whose performance in Question Period has been incisive, polished and effective.

Minister with the Most Regained Confidence: Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, who took an obscure, minor portfolio (a previous Conservative Government had abolished it) and turned it into an upward mobility opportunity. She is this government's smiling attack dog against the union movement. Her next move might be to declare something called "the economy" an essential service. Could there be plans to abolish collective bargaining altogether?

Most Insulting and Ridiculous Questions in Committee: Toronto MP Mark Adler, who asked CUPE's Paul Moist what means of conveyance the latter had used to get to a Commons Transport Committee meeting on public transit. Moist answered that he walked. Adler's questions make him sound like a newly converted Ayn Rand acolyte who keeps Atlas Shrugged under his pillow! This is the guy who defeated Ken Dryden.

Most Confident and Polished Performer in House: Bob Rae

Most Effective and Moving Rookie Speech in House: Newly elected Quebec NDP member Anne Minh-Thu Quach, who intervened in the "human smuggling" debate with a story about her own experience as the child of boat people.

Minister Who Might Actually Believe He has a Role Apart from Partisanship: Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan, who has promised new clean water legislation for First Nations communities, and spoke in favour of a Liberal opposition day motion on that subject. It is too early to say for sure, but Duncan seems to take seriously the fact that he has a good measure of responsibility for the well-being of hundreds of thousands of Canadians. Does he recognize that his job, as a cabinet minister, involves more than shilling for the partisan interests of his own party? We'll see. So far, there is some hope.

Minister Who Has Learned to Get with the Program: Heritage Minister James Moore, who has stopped arguing that it was the Liberals, not his party, that cut the CBC, and has now joined the Tory gang-up (together with Sun News) on the Corporation.

New Member Who Looks and Acts with the Confidence of One Who Has Been There for Decades: The NDP's Guy Caron, who shows great mastery of his dossiers and handles them with professionalism and intelligence.

Most Outrageous Witness at a Commons Committee: Media magnate Pierre-Karl Péladeau, who complained that the CBC would not divulge how many cars and trucks it owns, but would not say how many his own Québecor owns. He also complained that CBC/Radio-Canada does not advertise in his newspapers (even though he openly professes a loathing for the public broadcaster).

Brave Effort to Nail Down a Slippery, Outrageous Witness: NDP MP Charlie Angus, who referred to Péladeau as "our own Citizen Kane." What are the odds that Péladeau got the reference?

Most Dignified MP: Olivia Chow, who not only responded to tributes to her late husband with grace and courage, but who persists in trying to be a productive MP striving "to get things done" -- in the face of an aggressive and rabidly partisan government bench.

MP Most Eloquent in Denouncing Injustice and Inaction: Ontario Conservative Daryl Kramp, who expressed extreme frustration, at the Public Accounts Committee, at the utter lack of progress in advancing the living conditions in First Nations communities.

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