Half an answer

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Well, the House of Commons is back and it’s time for that Canadian parliamentary tradition, fun with weasel-words.

So, here’s a written question from a Liberal member of Parliament, followed by a carefully crafted written answer from a Conservative representing the federal government — a Conservative who has had, at the bare minimum, a month and a half (because Parliament closed in early December) to put together a full and complete answer to the question. (And, keep in mind, this isn’t a Question Period question, where someone has to think on their feet and might mishear part of a complex question.)

Question No. 112

Hon. Ralph Goodale: With respect to Senate motions No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeking to suspend senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin without pay: (a) was the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) or the Privy Council Office (PCO) consulted or involved in the drafting of the motions, and, if so, who was involved; (b) what are the details of the emails, briefing notes, reports or other documents that were prepared by, or provided to, the PMO or the PCO for the purpose, in whole or in part, of drafting the motions, specifically the titles or files or reference numbers of those documents; (c) what meetings have the PMO or the PCO had, or been involved in, regarding, in whole or in part, the motions; (d) who attended the meetings in (c); (e) what are the details of the emails, briefing notes, reports or other documents that were prepared for or provided, in whole or in part, at these meetings, specifically the titles or files or reference numbers of those documents?

Mr. Paul Calandra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Privy Council Office was not consulted or involved in the drafting of Senate motions No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4.

Now, leave aside that the whole answer reads like a simple nose-thumbing by the ever-combative Calandra, let’s parse the response and see what you can read in his one-line answer.

The question’s pretty detailed, and it’s double-barrelled: it asks if the Prime Minister’s Office or the Privy Council Office was involved in a series of Senate actions. Calandra’s answer says that the PCO was not involved.

On the one hand, you could suggest that Calandra simply left 50 per cent of the question unanswered.

But that’s a bit simple: clearly, if he could have answered that the PMO was not involved, he would have — why leave it hanging?

The only real explanation is that the PMO was involved, and not only that it was involved.

What the answer really raises is a different question entirely: what is it about the PMO’s involvement that Mr. Calandra or his political bosses are unwilling to reveal?

Half an answer that, all on its own, tells you everything you need to know about not only Calandra, but about our current federal government. Welcome back, Parliament, to the über-partisan business as usual.

Organizations: Privy Council Office, Intergovernmental Affairs

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