Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney

Why did Stephen Harper’s Conservatives refuse to allow Members of Parliament from the Bloc Quebecois and Green Party to pay tribute to Canada’s war dead in the House of Commons?

On Nov. 2, Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney rose in the House of Commons to mark the start of Veterans Week, leading up to Remembrance Day. The Conservative MP for Lévis-Bellechasse gave a good speech in French and English that remarked on how Canada’s two founding nations were once enemies on the Plains of Abraham and later “united to fight for the common cause of peace and freedom.”

The francophone minister closed by asking his colleagues how they would remember Canada’s war dead, and thanking them for doing so.

Blaney’s generous remarks were followed in order of Parliamentary precedence by short speeches by Peter Stoffer, the NDP MP for Sackville-Eastern Shore, and Sean Casey, the Liberal MP for Charlottetown.

At this point, Interim Bloc Leader Louis Plamondon, MP for Bas Richelieu-Nicolet-Becancour, rose and told the Speaker, “on behalf of the Bloc Québécois and all of its members, I would also like to pay tribute to our veterans. …”

Alas, this was the moment that the members of our majority government demonstrated the disgraceful pettiness and inexcusable divisiveness that characterizes Harper’s so-called Conservative Party.

Unfortunately in this particular circumstance, the Standing Orders of the House do not permit MPs who are not a member of an official party to speak on such occasions without the unanimous consent of all the MPs present. With four seats and just one seat in the House respectively, both the Bloc and Green caucuses are too small to be officially designated parties.

So went the debate, according to Hansard:

The Speaker: Does the House give unanimous consent?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Speaker: There is no consent.

I commend the rest of this short passage from Hansard to you, dear readers, because it illustrates so clearly how our great country is slipping off the tracks now that this small-minded Conservative majority has their hands on the throttle of the locomotive in Ottawa. Have we really come to a place where any Member of Parliament can’t give a heartfelt tribute to the Canadians who gave their lives in the service of their country? With Harper in charge, the answer is clearly yes.

Reading between the lines, one can hear the genuine shock at this pointless slight in Plamondon’s subsequent remarks. Yet, given the opportunity to grow up and act with a little decency, the Conservatives refused again.

This is another drip in what is starting to seem like a torrent of petty and not so petty slaps at Quebeckers and their representatives by this government, which loudly asserts a very American style of fake patriotism yet is incapable of putting genuine patriotism ahead of partisan gamesmanship even on the most non-partisan of occasions.

Naturally, our tame and cowardly English Canadian media didn’t bother to report this insult at all.

A couple of days ago, I asked my Conservative MP in writing if he could explain this. I also asked Edmonton-Centre MP Laurie Hawn, who seems to be the party’s main spokesman in the Edmonton area nowadays. To me, it would have been useful to know even that these elected Alberta representatives disapproved of the calls of their caucus colleagues — after all, there is not much you can do to silence someone in a house of debate, and no one knows who shouted “No” beyond the fact they were “some hon. members.” Alas, neither Conservative MP has responded.

As long as his colleagues hold a majority in the House of Commons, I see little reason to hope that the openness of spirit Blaney showed in his speech can prevail. If it doesn’t, we should all fear for the future of our country.

I suggested in this space the other day that these Conservatives apparently see Quebec versus the rest of Canada as the biggest and most glorious wedge issue they’ve ever stumbled upon.

It almost seems, as other patriotic Canadians are coming to fear too, that these Tories would be happy to split Canada any which way to gain a partisan advantage.

This is no way to honour the men and women who sacrificed their lives for Canada, whether they spoke to one another in French or English.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...