QP: A smarmier version of Matlock

The first proto-Prime Minister’s Questions of the New Year, with Justin Trudeau finally in town on a Wednesday, and Andrew Scheer was once again no longer present. That left Lisa Raitt to leave off, who was worried that offshore investment into marijuana companies was not the front companies for organised crime. Trudeau stumbled off the block, and gave his worn points about why they are legalising marijuana. Raitt called out the talking points, but along the way, equated former Liberal fundraisers with organised crime, but Trudeau didn’t vary his response. Alain Rayes was up next, and in French, accused Liberal fundraisers of trying to line their pockets though cannabis and accused the government of interfering with debate in the Senate,  it Trudeau stuck to his points in French. Rayes tried again, and this time, Trudeau said that they could assure people that they were not letting organised crime into the system. Rayes went one last round, asserting that legalised marijuana was somehow the new Sponsorship Scandal, but Trudeau reminded him that the previous prohibition model failed. Guy Caron was up next, and kept on the same line of attack, highlighting tax havens, and this time, Trudeau picked up some notes to say that they have been coming to agreements with provinces to provide transparency on corporations and that they were doing background checks on any significant investment in cannabis companies. Caron went again in French, railing about Liberals and tax havens, but Trudeau repeated the assurances in French. Pierre-Luc Dusseault asked the same question again, to which Trudeau assured him that they had an information network to combat tax avoidance and evasion, and when Peter Julian asked one more time, Trudeau picked up his notes again to assure him that there would be mandatory security checks with companies.

Round two, and Pierre Poilievre asked about comments a Liberal MP made about returning improper gifts and made a bunch of pointed “hypotheticals” (Trudeau: I took responsibility when the Commissioner’s report came out; You don’t have anything more to do than sling mud). Pierre Nantel and Tracey Ramsey demanded “emergency measures” for local media (Trudeau: We have invested in CBC—Radio-Canada for local journalism and we are reviewing the Canadian Periodical Fund). Poilievre returned to his line of inquiry (Trudeau: The Ethics Commissioner did her job). Karine Trudel and Sheila Malcolmson asked about Canada Post’s gender and pay disparities between rural and urban postal workers (Trudeau: A pay gap is unacceptable, and we are taking action to eliminate it).

Round three saw questions on the Trans Mountain pipeline (Trudeau: This tone and approach failed to get pipelines built for ten years), seasonal workers (Trudeau: We are aware of the challenge, and we are working to solve it), Gatineau Park protection (Trudeau: We are doing everything we can to protect this wilderness area), silence around Iran including a recent Canadian death (Trudeau: I bring up human rights whenever I meet any world leader, and we have demanded an autopsy and investigation with this Iranian death), funding for Oxfam after sexual abuse claims (Trudeau: We take these allegations seriously, and no Canadian funds were connected to the Haiti situation and we are following up on the Philippines), human trafficking legislation (Trudeau: Our approach is to invest in women, empower women, and combat gender-based violence), RCMP handling of Colten Boushie’s death (Trudeau: We will fix our justice system and police systems), Davie Shipyard negotiations (Trudeau: We are in the first stages of those discussions), and tax havens (Trudeau: We invested $1 billion to fight tax evasion and avoidance).

Overall, it was…not an edifying day. But then again, Trudeau’s proto-PMQs never are. While he likes to say that it’s about giving all MPs a chance to ask him a question, it seems more to the point that it gives him an ability to say that he’s taken so many more questions, never mind that his answers are almost all anodyne talking points, with a side of bland pabulum. I also don’t understand why, when Trudeau has an answer, he holds it back until several questions in, like with the whole first round from the Conservatives on the concerns around investments in marijuana companies coming from offshore tax havens. Trudeau could have come out of the gate and responded that they have been working with provinces on transparency for corporate owners and that they require security checks for major donors, but he didn’t. He waited until the NDP’s turn to deliver those points, even though he could have flat-footed Lisa Raitt and Alain Rayes with their scripted questions from the start. I do not understand why he didn’t do that immediately. And then there was Pierre Poilievre, who spent ten questions playing a smarmier version of Matlock, trying to trap the PM into some kind of admission around his vacation with the Aga Khan. Poilievre kept positing hypotheticals that were too cute by half, and moving onto sections of the Criminal Code, and insisting that “I never mentioned the Prime Minister, why does he assume I’m talking about him?” It was the kind of performance that I’m sure the Conservative supporters lapped up, especially when chopped up into media clips, but it was a bit eye-rolling in its delivery. About the only time the day was at all useful were a few of the questions from backbenchers toward the end, as this exercise should be, but neither the opposition nor Trudeau seem to have any interest in making this an exercise of substance.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Michelle Rempel for a short-sleeved pink dress, and to Raj Grewal for a tailored three-piece black suit with a light blue shirt, red tie and turban, and a white pocket square. Style citations go out to Francis Drouin for a purple and blue plaid shirt with a medium grey suit and no tie, and to Rachael Harder for a black sleeveless dress over a burgundy top with cream florals. Dishonourable mention goes out to Filomena Tassi for her bright lemon yellow jacket with a black dress.

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