A second-term MP recently recounted the best advice he received from a veteran MP when he arrived on Parliament Hill in 2008.
Don’t worry about what happens here on the Hill, his tutor said. Politics is local. Show up where your voters can see you.
It was a basic lesson in politics.
Legendary Boston politician Tip O’Neill, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is credited with saying: “All politics is local.”
And so it is, at least for local politicians.
Leaders and prime ministers and governments are judged on broader issues, but MPs are judged on how much they show up at farmers markets, retirement parties and senior citizen centre crib games on Saturday night.
Also, it is questionable that many Canadians except the politically addicted (I plead guilty) care at all about the daily cut and thrust of question period when Parliament is sitting.
So what can we make of the opposition outrage over last week’s predictable announcement by prime minister Stephen Harper that the current session of Parliament is ending and a new one will begin in mid-October, a month later than Parliament was scheduled to return?
Over history, prime ministers usually take a parliamentary break mid-term to retool the government with a cabinet shuffle (done) and a new throne speech outlining the agenda for the final half of the term.
That is what Harper has done. In the past, he has abused prorogation to avoid parliamentary defeat, but voters forgave him, gave him a majority in 2011 and moved on.
Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair complained Sept. 16 about Parliament being “padlocked” and MPs facing “locked doors” when there are serious issues of ethics, international affairs and domestic tensions to be debated.
He said Harper was showing “disdain” for MPs and the good citizens who elected them by refusing to face his critics.
It likely is true that Harper is not a fan of the political caterwauling that goes on in Parliament, but that was part of the job description when he applied for and got the job of prime minister.
Of course, as opposition leader before 2006, he did his own share of political caterwauling.
But is a month delay in recalling Parliament after the three months away that all parties had agreed to really rubbing democracy’s nose in it?
Would voters in Wetaskiwin or Moose Jaw or Parry Sound really care whether the parliamentary gladiators spar for an extra month over issues that rarely really hit home to them — senator Mike Duffy, Canada’s position on Syria, vote fraud two years ago?
These issues are important in a democracy, and the House of Commons is the forum where they must be debated and the government’s responses tested.
But does missing a month of the political histrionics really matter that much?
Opposition MPs will have two years to hammer Harper on his inadequacies before the October 2015 election.
Missing the next month of “you said, no you said” debate hardly is the end of democracy.
Enjoy a month off from the histrionics. Or maybe you weren’t going to pay attention anyway.