Last week, Tom Mulcair, Andrew Scheer, and Paul Calandra grabbed the nation’s attention when they locked horns in a fight that all but the most enthusiastic political junkies would call “The Grumble in the Jungle.” That’s right, if you aren’t Kady O’Malley, you probably didn’t really care. Alternatively, you dismissed the whole thing as stupid. Don’t worry—either one is a defendable position. Lucky for you, the NDP cared, and therefore decided to keep this story in the news for a few more days. On Monday, the NDP introduced a motion to give Andrew Scheer the power to enforce the rules of relevancy for answers during Question Period.
Junkies took their hit. This was the motion they’d been waiting for: an opportunity for the Speaker to flex his undoubtedly atrophied muscles (feel free to interpret muscle literally or figuratively—in this case, it works both ways). Would Scheer use this newfound power to force trained seals to jump through a new set of hoops? Would he demonstrate neutrality or partisan bias? Did he even want these powers in the first place? Last week, he made it clear that he is happy being a useless figurehead. The good news is that, by virtue of him being Speaker, Scheer isn’t allowed to voice his opinion on these matters. Let’s move on.
Amazingly, Scheer’s own Conservative Party resisted the NDP motion. Peter Van Loan summed up the opposition motion by saying that the Conservatives “believe in two-way debates, and also believe that question period should be a two-way street.” He added, “the government shouldn’t be left with its hands tied while the opposition has a free hand to go after them.” That makes sense. After all, the NDP motion would allow the Speaker to name or report any member who “persists in irrelevance, or repetition, including during oral questions.” There’s no way around it—the motion exclusively targets the Conservative Party, so long as it is the only party asking the questions, answering the questions, and doing all the talking in the House. Is this Van Loan’s fantasy? Complete domination of all parliamentary proceedings? If so, he has reason to worry. If not, he’d do well to sit down.
Forgetting what exactly Van Loan implies about his own power ambitions, the bigger and more interesting question here is why the Conservative Party would oppose this motion in the first place. So what if the Speaker has more power? He’s a Harper lapdog. Or is he? Taken one way, this could be proof that Scheer is not as biased as Tom Mulcair suggested. He might even have a soft spot for the perennial losers in orange. Van Loan and the Blue Man Group might not want to empower Scheer because they know he will not hesitate to use his new powers against them. This is purely speculative, of course, but it is also inescapably delicious.
Perhaps Canadians should view this motion and its Conservative opposition not as a challenge to the Question Period status quo, but more as a challenge to what we thought we knew about Andrew Scheer. We’ve seen Tom Mulcair dance through PROC meetings with a nose as long as Pinnochio’s. We’ve seen Stephen Harper simultaneously pretend to be the most and least powerful person in his own office. These men and their personalities are tried and tested. They are facts. What we don’t know is what would happen if we took Andrew Scheer to an off-leash park. He’s still in his 30s, still growing up. Based on the fearful Conservative response to this NDP motion, I’m willing to bet that we don’t know the real Andrew Scheer. At least, I’m willing to hope we don’t.