Cry us a river, Tories, but who wrote the book on chaos?

If it were elementary school, the teacher would tell the Conservatives to go stand in the corner

Dérives démocratiques - la société confrontée à sa propre impuissance

Oops. Maybe they forgot.
Last year, the governing Conservatives prepared a secret handbook on how to disrupt parliamentary committees and create chaos. No mere pamphlet, the book ran to 200 pages.
It instructed committee chairmen to select blatantly biased witnesses and tutor them in advance. It gave the chairmen pointers on how to obstruct parliamentary business, to storm out of meetings if necessary.
Team Harper never expected its opus to be made public. But the media got hold and the headlines poured forth – “Tories blasted for handbook on paralyzing Parliament” and the like.
Liberal Ralph Goodale noted how it was rather peculiar to see the government getting its knickers in a knot over a dysfunctional, chaotic Parliament when, in fact, “the government's deliberate plan is to cause a dysfunctional, chaotic Parliament.”
We thought the Grits were bad, chimed in the New Democrat, Libby Davies. But these guys, she said, were taking the gutter stuff to a new level. “They've codified it.”
The Prime Minister's Office had all the committee chairmen return their dirty-tricks texts. Given the Conservatives' red-handed embarrassment, it was expected that they might show a touch more temerity in the future.
Not these honchos. As was clear at the House of Commons ethics committee hearings this week on the so-called in-and-out scheme, their parliamentary chaos manual is alive and thriving. It's had yet another printing.
In committee, Conservative campaign director Doug Finley showed his version of contempt for the process, demanding that he, and only he, would dictate when he would testify. He finally had to be forcibly removed from the hearing room. For their part, Conservative MPs ignored summonses to testify.
Then the Prime Minister came forward in Newfoundland to say he might have to force an election because opposition-induced obstructionism was plaguing his governance. The Commons, the aggrieved PM declined to mention, was so full of barricades throughout the spring and early summer that it passed almost every piece of legislation that the Conservatives proffered.
Hypocrisy, of course, abounds in the nation's capital, all parties being guilty. But this week's hypocrisy moment may rank as one for the ages. The Conservatives wrote the handbook on obstructionism, they've followed it to the letter on many occasions, and they now come forward to proclaim that they are somehow the victims and that they may have no recourse but to go the polls.
They probably plotted the committee wrangle the week before. Team Harper wanted to set the timing of an election at its own choosing. A provocation was in order. It's summer. They likely figured that few were paying close attention, that their ploy would be taken seriously.
The opposition parties warrant their share of condemnation for their ethics committee comportment this week. The Liberals have their own history of bullying committees. Check out the Chrétien government's record. This week, however, they weren't quite down to the standards of the governing side.
All along, Team Harper has been quite faithful to its manipulation manual. We recall, among the many examples, the tricks they pulled to avoid being called to account on the censorship of documents regarding the Afghan detainees file. We recall Auditor-General Sheila Fraser saying they were out to gag officers of Parliament.
The in-and-out affair is not a heavyweight matter, but it is not one that looks good on the governing party. The Conservatives may be correct in saying the Liberals have also shifted campaign moneys around to their advantage. But, as Tories have admitted, they did more of it. And their deeds were being done in the middle of the 2006 campaign – a campaign in which they were repeatedly promising to clean up on the Liberal act.
Facing a slumping economy that is threatening to worsen, Stephen Harper appears to want an election badly – so badly that he'll dip into the hypocrisy pool on another count. The government has made a commitment – a good one – to having fixed election dates. It has repeatedly denounced a system under which a prime minister can set the date willy-nilly, at his own choosing. But now Mr. Harper seems set on doing that very thing.
There are good reasons for an election this fall. Everybody's patience has been tried long enough. But this week's show of flim-flam should not be allowed to be the trigger. It was crybaby stuff. If the Harper boys don't get their own way, they stamp their feet and start bawling at bad treatment from others and make big-time threats – forgetting all the while what they had put down in their own playbook.
If it were elementary school, the teacher would tell them to go stand in the corner.

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