A few weeks ago, someone created a website called Ask Paul Calandra (askpaulcalandra.
The point is simple. You type in a question, and a crudely animated photograph of Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary “answers” it by going off on some unrelated tangent.
It’s an homage to a surreal stretch of question periods in the House of Commons recently in which Calandra fended off Senate-related
questions with an infuriating stream of unrelated remarks, spurious counter-questions and even a bit of song.
It was so outrageous that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May stood on a point of order, asking Speaker Andrew Scheer to ponder the protocol on answering questions with questions. Scheer said there was no precedent for the Speaker to rule on the quality of answers.
There ought to be.
At the very least, politicians should be required to give what can be roughly construed as an answer, no matter how evasive or coloured. Because things are clearly getting out of hand.
This week, Telegram legislative reporter James McLeod tried to nail down whether the prime minister and premiers have talked about fixed election dates. The problem? The next federal election and a number of provincial elections are scheduled to occur almost simultaneously.
The ideal situation would be for the federal government to move its election date just enough to stagger it with the provinces.
The prime minister has brought the issue up before in the House of Commons. McLeod merely wanted to know if any negotiations had taken place. Has there been any movement?
There is not a whiff of bad press in this query. No financial mismanagement. No environmental concerns. No Senate shenanigans or weaselly backroom politics.
Nonetheless, after contacting the Prime Minister’s Office by phone and being told to submit his question by email, McLeod received this response from spokeswoman Gabrielle Renaud-Mattey:
“The fixed election dates law enhances the transparency and predictability of Canada’s electoral system during stable majority governments. The current general election date, on the third Monday of October 2015, has been known since the conclusion of the May 2011 election.”
And that was it. The official reply to a perfectly reasonable question.
When contacted, Newfoundland MP Jack Harris told McLeod he was surprised at the answer.
“That statement doesn’t say much,” Harris said.
He’s wrong, of course. Given the original question, that statement doesn’t say anything.
We’re all used to hazy answers from elected officials, but the Harper administration has brought it to a whole new level.
This woman was hired to communicate to the media — and, by extension, the public. If she
didn’t understand the question, she’s in the wrong job. If she did, she should be reprimanded.
On the other hand, if this is what Harper told her to say, well, that fixed election date can’t arrive soon enough.