During the last Parliament, the Conservatives adopted a rather noxious strategy of trying to derail then Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff in Question Period by putting up one of their MPs to deliver a variety of personal or harsh partisan attacks just before Ignatieff’s first question. They did this using what is known on the Hill as an “S.O. 31″, short for Standing Order 31 or “Members Statement”, a 15-minute period just before daily Question Period during which MPs are free to stand up and say just about anything they want on any subject so long as they don’t speak for longer than 1 minute. Very often, MPs use an S.O. 31 Members Statement to acknowledge important events or people in their riding; point out anniversaries, celebrations, memorials or simply make a point about policy. They can be quite touching. Conservative MP Harold Albrecht used an S.O. 31 to pay tribute to his wife who collapsed as they were to head out to an election celebration party on May 2 and would die days later. Liberal MP Bob Rae was teary-eyed himself in this tribute to Toronto Star columnist Jim Travers, who passed away earlier this year.
But the Conservatives, alone among the parties in Parliament, often used the 15-minutes of Members Statements to systematically attack their opponents. More specifically, they would use the final Members Statement prior to the beginning of the Question Period — and the first speaker in Question Period is always the Leader of the Official Opposition — to attack the Leader of the Official Opposition and/or the Official Opposition with over-the-top verbiage. And remember: SO 31s are not debates. You cannot respond to one if you or your party is attacked. That’s one of the reasons I find this tactic to be particularly un-Parliamentary.
Here’s a good example delivered on March 24, the second to last day of the last Parliament by Conservative MP Terence Young; here’s a hit by Conservative backbencher Robert Sopuk on March 21; Dean Del Mastro did the honours on March 9; Randy Hoback on March 8; James Lunney here … I could go on. The themes were monotonously similar: The Liberals lie; they have a secret plan; Ignatieff is just visiting, it’s all part of a Liberal culture of deceit. Etc. Etc.
Now, though, with the Liberals largely vanquished, the Tories need new enemies apparently. We, the media, continue to be a chief target. And so now is the “NDP radical left”. So, despite a commitment to a new spirit of civility in the House of Commons, the Conservatives lined up a backbench hitter to rail away at Jack Layton and the NDP just before Layton’s first question in the Question Period. The hit — the first S.O. 31 of its kind in this Parliament I’m aware of — was delivered by Kootenay-Columbia rookie MP David Wilks who, as it turns out, is one of a handful of Conservative MPs that, because the majority Conservative government overflows with members, has had to find a seat next to the NDP. And so as Wilks railed away (See below), we could see the NDP caucus and Layton turn and look at Wilks with a great deal of amusement. Here’s the hit as recorded by Hansard:
Mr. David Wilks (Kootenay—Columbia, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the NDP of the radical hard left do not know the first thing about governing. Ask a British Columbian or Ontarian who had to put up with its members in power. While Canadians remain concerned about jobs and the economy, the NDP is having a gut-wrenching debate about whether or not it should remain committed to its reckless, hard left, high tax, socialist principles. The NDP radical left remains committed to pro-drug policies and anti-trade policies. The NDP opposes Canada’s leadership as a clean energy superpower. It even questions its commitment to federalism, with calls to repeal the Clarity Act. The NDP proposed child care from birth to age 12, a 45-day work year and a 50% hike in the pension plan, policies that would cost billions. The radical hard left NDPers should stop and think about the real priorities of Canadians: jobs and the economy.