Peter Penashue: Harper’s “strong voice” rarely heard in the House

By: Obert Madondo | The Canadian Progressive

Peter Penahue and Peter MacKay. Photo: Facebook

Peter Penashue and Defence Min. Peter MacKay. Photo: Facebook

A new analysis by democracy advocacy group, Samara, suggests that the Conservatives’ characterization of Peter Penashue as a “strong voice” for Labrador in the House of Commons is a grotesque political exaggeration. In fact, the Conservatives insulted our collective intelligence when they warned that “if Newfoundland and Labrador want to continue to have a strong voice within government they need to re-elect him (Penashue) as the Member of Parliament for Labrador”.

According to Samara’s analysis, titled “Lost in Translation or Just Lost“, Penashue was one of the quietest and most ineffective MPs in the House in 2012. He resigned as MP, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada in March to seek re-election via today’s by-election.

Samara’s analysis says MPs spoke about 8 million words on the floor of the House in 2012. The organisation ranks MPs according to the number of words delivered. New Democrat Peter Julian tops the list of the most vocal MPs with 226 027 words. Penashue is third from the bottom with 977 words.

According to the NDP, the following is a “list of the dates and times Peter Penashue was asked questions in the House of Commons by the NDP where he failed to stand up” in 2012:

  • Thursday, March 15, 2012 – 2:46 PM
  • Thursday, March 15, 2012 – 2:50 PM
  • Wednesday, October 17, 2012 – 2:37 PM
  • Wednesday, October 17, 2012 – 2:39 PM
  • Wednesday, October 17, 2012 – 2:40 PM
  • Wednesday, October 17, 2012 – 2:41 PM
  • Thursday, October 18, 2012 – 2:36 PM
  • Thursday, October 18, 2012 – 2:39 PM
  • Tuesday, October 30, 2012 – 2:47 PM
  • Tuesday, October 30, 2012 – 2:49 PM
  • Monday, October 22, 2012 – 2:43 PM
  • Friday, November 02, 2012 – 11:16 AM
  • Monday, November 05, 2012 – 2:25 PM
  • Monday, November 05, 2012 – 2:26 PM
  • Tuesday, November 06, 2012 – 2:50 PM
  • Tuesday, November 06, 2012 – 2:53 PM
  • Tuesday, November 06, 2012 – 2:54 PM
  • Wednesday, November 07, 2012 – 2:41 PM
  • Wednesday, November 07, 2012 – 2:43 PM
  • Wednesday, November 07, 2012 – 2:44 PM
  • Thursday, November 08, 2012 – 11:34 AM
  • Wednesday, November 21, 2012 – 2:26 PM
  • Wednesday, November 21, 2012 – 2:53 PM

Penashue isn’t returning to the House. A recent poll suggested that he and the Conservatives are headed for a crushing defeat at the hands of the Liberals. Yvonne Jones, the Liberal candidate, had 60 per cent support and Penashue trailed far behind at 29 per cent.

Penashue’s defeat is a small consolation. If Samara’s analysis is to be believed Harper’s cabinet ministers are among the quietest MPs and most ineffective. And Conservatives Alice Wong (Richmond), Tilly O’Neill-Gordon (Miramichi) and Rob Anders are the quietest. Anders, you’ll recall, won the Hill Times’ “least valuable politician” award in 2012.

These the kind of politicians Harper goes out of his way to protect and give unfair advantage during elections. Elizabeth May recently suggested that Harper’s handling of the Penashue affair violated the Conflict of Interest Act.

According to the analysis, Green Party leader Elizabeth May spoke more than all three other federal party leaders combined”, a total of 174, 783 words. The NDP dominate the debate in the House. The party spoke 44% of the words. The Conservatives, who make 53% of the House, spoke only 36% of the words.  The Liberals spoke 16% of the words.

Finally, from Samara:

Toronto, May 13th, 2013 – New research from charitable think tank Samara illustrates the huge diversity in how much MPs speak in the House of Commons.

Recent debates about the role of backbench MPs, including the Speaker’s recent ruling on a question of privilege, have raised questions about who speaks in the House and how often.

To celebrate the upcoming summer reading season, Samara released two infographics that pair Members of Parliament with a notable book by a Canadian author to illustrate—in terms everyone can understand—how much MPs spoke in the House of Commons in 2012.

The first infographic, MPs by the Books,” shows the most talkative, the least talkative, and also allows people to find how their own MP ranked.

The second, House of Words,” reveals how word counts break down by gender, age and party in the Commons and shows that underrepresented groups speak disproportionately more than they represent.

“Though there are many ways MPs can represent the views of their constituents in Ottawa,” notes Alison Loat, Samara’s Executive Director, “one of the most public ways is to speak up in Parliament.”

Almost 8 million words were spoken by MPs in the House of Commons in 2012 alone, but some MPs have more to say than others. Over the course of 129 days of the House sitting, some MPs only speak the equivalent of the children’s book, M is for Maple: A Canadian Alphabet—about 963 words—whereas others speak a tome equivalent to Conrad Black’s A Matter of Principle—222,451 words.

Key takeaways:

  1. Conservative MPs take up less air time: Despite making up 53% of the House, Conservatives spoke only 36% of the words. The NDP dominate the debate, speaking 44% of the words while comprising only 33% of the House. The Liberals are 11% of the House and speak 16% of the words.
  2. The most talkative MPs: Peter Julian, Kevin Lamoureux, Elizabeth May and Kellie Leitch are the most vocal MPs, while Alice Wong, Tilly O’Neill-Gordon, Peter Penashue (currently contesting a by-election) and Rob Anders are the quietest.
  3. Harper lays low, May dominates: Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke the least of all four leaders and Elizabeth May spoke more than all three other leaders combined.
  4. Underrepresented groups speak more than their numbers would suggest:Female MPs make up 25% of MPs (51% of Canadians) and spoke 31% of words; and similarly MPs under age 35 are 9% of the House (while 22% of Canadians are aged 18 to 34) but speak 11% of the words.

These infographics were produced from data gathered for Samara’s latest Democracy Report, “Lost in Translation or Just Lost”, which analyzed the issues discussed in the House of Commons and compared them to the issues Canadians care about.

The report found that while Parliamentary discussion is more aligned with the issues Canadians prioritize than might be expected, there are several areas, including healthcare and the environment, that are less discussed by MPs. This report underscores a real need to look at the problems with our current political institutions and encourage wide-spread discussion on possible solutions.

The following two tabs change content below.

Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based independent journalist and progressive political blogger. He's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Progressive.