The Sunday Edition

What the prime minister did was supremely dumb, but so is the reaction - Michael's essay

"We can agree that the PM committed an almost wilful act of stupidity. Why can’t we agree that his numerous apologies were appropriate and satisfactory?"
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pauses while responding to questions after delivering an apology in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 19, 2016 following a physical altercation the previous day. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
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You can usually weigh the serious or silly elements of a political scandal by the time it takes the media to apply the word "gate" to it.

The shorter the length of time, the sillier the scandal.

It was only a few hours this week after the chaos in the House of Commons that some media outlets were tossing around the term "Elbowgate."
Michael Enright argues that though Prime Minister Trudeau's actions in the House could be seen as threatening, the reaction has been overblown.

It's time, I think, for everybody to take a couple of paces back, perhaps take a few deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

After all the man didn't kill anybody. He accidentally bumped into a female Member of Parliament.

Granted, she was so thoroughly traumatized by the incident she had to leave the Chamber for a time to collect herself.

What the prime minister did this week was supremely dumb. But surely it wasn't as bad as, oh, I don't know, choking a heckler.- Michael Enright

What can't be easily dismissed are the actions of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in crossing the floor of the House and placing a hand on the arm of the Tory whip Gordon Brown. Even though Trudeau can be seen smiling at the time, his move could be taken as threatening. Brown had every reason to be taken aback.

After all, the prime minister has shown the world that he can handle himself in a physical confrontation. But the reaction was more than slightly overblown. Nothing is so invigorating as watching MPs take the high moral ground to fulminate against the actions of a government.

The NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called Trudeau "pathetic." Tory MP Peter Kent, waving around a rule book the size of a Gideon Bible, sounded like a 19th Century country parson. One nitwit went so far as to say that female MPs would no longer feel safe in the House. Trudeau made a series of abject apologies for his actions, but that was not enough. Editorialists and columnists piled on.

We can all agree that the PM committed an almost wilful act of stupidity. Why can't we agree that his numerous apologies were appropriate and satisfactory?

It is ironic that this week's melee occurred exactly 60 years to the month, when violence erupted in the House of Commons in a way that makes what happened Wednesday look like a church picnic.
When Louis St. Laurent was prime minister, "violence erupted in the House in a way that makes what happened Wednesday look like a church picnic," says Michael Enright. (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca)

In May 1956, the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent, like that of Mr. Trudeau, was also facing a deadline.The Liberals wanted to build a pipeline bringing Alberta gas from the west to the east. They had to settle the matter by June or the deal would fall apart.

The minister in charge was an American-born walking volcano named Clarence Decatur Howe. With his abrasive personality, he makes Dick Cheney look like St. Francis of Assisi. 

The government decided to bring in closure. The Speaker of the day,René Beaudoin, ruled that motion out of order but the next day said he had been mistaken. Closure was imposed.

The Chamber exploded. A number of MPs charged the Speaker's chair, screaming and thrusting their fists in his face. The Sergeant-at-Arms was summoned. Things got so bad, so tense, that a Liberal MP named Lorne MacDougall actually had a fatal heart attack in the chamber. The following year, Conservative John Diefenbaker put an end to 21 years of Liberal rule.

What the prime minister did this week was supremely dumb. But surely it wasn't as bad as, oh, I don't know, choking a heckler.

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