The political party in Canada is dead – and we killed it

Let’s accept that all those former members of Parliament Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan spoke to are telling the truth – or, at least, being mostly truthful – and the real work in Parliament gets done in committees, rather than the House of Commons. It sounds about right, anyway. But then, how do we explain Thursday?

Ostensibly, New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair was scheduled to appear at the procedure and House affairs to testify and discuss the fact that members of the party’s parliamentary staff had been working at political offices in Montreal and Quebec City – ones paid for by the party. That, technically, would be a no-no under the current rules. Before Mulcair even showed up, the NDP contested that the office’s employees were under two different unions and, therefore, the political employees did only party work, and the parliamentary employees did only non-partisan work. It was a splicing of fine hairs, probably, for most Canadians, but such things do matter, and this particular case ought to matter even more now that we’ve seen what happened.

In short, it was ridiculous, and summarized perhaps best of all by the few key quotes that emerged in the reports that followed. “Mr. Mulcair, I understand that you want to play by your own rules and I’m only asking you to acknowledge what the existing rules have to say,” Conservative Stephen Woodworth stated for the record. He then marveled of Mulcair that “in five years of sitting on a committee I have never seen a witness as evasive as this witness.” Moments later, Mulcair returned fire. “In my 36 years in government,” he told Woodworth, “I’ve never seen the governing party get together with its handmaiden in the third party to convene the Leader of the Opposition.” And so it went, back and forth. The Conservatives – and Liberals – grandstanding and badgering Mulcair with questions, and he in turn either dismissing them quickly or droning on about paperwork to lead the farce ever deeper into the weeds.

The rest of the time, when the NDP committee members had the floor, it was even worse.

“We hear the rhetoric. The rhetoric is that House of Commons’ money is being used to support partisan activities. The fact of the matter is that no House of Commons—my question to you, Mr. Mulcair—is it accurate that no House of Commons’ money was spent to pay the rent for the Montreal office?” NDP MP David Christopherson, the faux prosecution, wondered.

“It’s so clear from the documents that I have, Mr. Christopherson. I guess that’s the reason why the Conservatives don’t want to look at them because it disproves their thesis,” Mulcair replied.

And on and on and on and on and on. For two hours.

But if this committee was not a forum for semi-useful discussion on legislation, then what was it?

This was Permanent Campaign #Nofilter. It was a vision through the microscope at the raw virus infecting one of the last places in Ottawa where somewhat substantive discussion and consideration of policy and legislation can (and did, usually) take place.

Consider everyone’s motivation for being there. For the Liberals and Conservatives, it was obvious: Take this sanctimonious Opposition leader to task on a trumped-up charge of fiscal mismanagement with the simultaneous goal being to squeeze out some probably bogus evidence of a non-existent cover-up, all the while trying to paint themselves as relatively clean. As for the NDP? Mulcair used the appearance as free air time, filling the room for the first few minutes with the standard boring fairy tale of Righteousness And Justice Against All Odds that is the story of the modern New Democratic Party, as they see it. For all those concerned on all sides of the political divide, Mulcair’s visit to committee Thursday was, at its core, simply a way to generate attack ad material on the taxpayer’s dime. Everyone who watched it effectively witnessed a robbery.

There are no more political parties in Canada; there are cash-generating operations. Parties are no longer concerned primarily with forming and discussing or, certainly, defending policy. Instead they care about fundraising, contributions, and quarterly bottom lines. It was once done under the guise of election readiness. Now it's just done. And it is done because they have to. We make sure of it. Every political ad we allow to influence our vote enables political parties to produce more of them. Every time a campaign slogan or pithy attack phrase is allowed to worm its way into our internal or external dialogue on politics, we’re helping foster more of them. And we have shown we do all of the above very well. Maybe we deserve to be robbed.