With all the ado about the Throne Speech today, another event occurred that was at once more emotional and definitely more stimulating.
I was honoured to file outside with the entire Liberal caucus and join members of all parties as we witnessed the opening ceremonies of the Paralympic Games. A large crowd had gathered to hear various dignitaries and witness the lighting of the torch that will now spend the next ten days on its journey to British Columbia. In a word, it was remarkable. The site of the various athletes carrying the torch through the excited onlookers moved spontaneous applause throughout the entire event. The crowd was nothing like the thousands who witnessed the opening ceremonies in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, but the emotion and patriotism was just as real, if not more-so.
Yet I couldn’t help feeling we had missed something. Stephen Harper had declared part of the justification for the prorogation of Parliament was so that everyone could concentrate on the Olympics themselves. The reaction of many to prorogation then prompted the PM to recalibrate, calling Parliament to sit for 10 of the next 11 weeks. One casualty was the cancellation of the March break week, meaning that Parliament would be sitting right at the time when the Paralympics were scheduled for British Columbia. Parliamentarians who had made travel arrangements to show support for the venues now had to scrap their plans.
The downside of all this means that members of Parliament were permitted to show their support for the initial Games but are now unable to be present to cheer on our remarkable athletes for the Paralympic Games.
Into this unfortunate mix throw in Michelle Simson, a humble Liberal MP from Scarborough Southwest. She was the first to have pointed out the oversight last month and has been attempting to get our leaders to correct the situation. She wondered today why MPs couldn’t “pair” with one another so that a Canadian delegation of Parliamentarians could be present to support our athletes. Pairing has to do with voting. If an important decision is to be voted on and parties are missing some of their members, the outcome could be serious. And so, party whips arrange it so that an equal number of MPs can be gone at the same time so as to make the vote equitable.
So, in light of Michelle’s leadership, here’s my request to the Prime Minister. At the opening ceremony today you stated just how important these upcoming games are and how vital it is that the athletes know we are with them. Vanoc president John Furlong stated that these upcoming games will be different because they will be more “human,” and who would deny it? So Mr. Harper, let’s select two MPs from each party to travel as a delegation to show that we mean what you said.
Unlike the torch festivities from the historic Olympic Games, the paralympic flame is lit initially in Ottawa, right in front of Parliament, and then carried to the venues in British Columbia. We started something special in Ottawa today, sir, right under the shadow of the Peace Tower. Let’s make peace today, Prime Minister, and for the next ten days let’s permit our House leaders to work out a pairing arrangement so that we too in Parliament can show our own humanity. These are very special athletes, as we can imagine. Let’s give them the very best we can by beating our weapons into torches and supporting some remarkable people by an equally impressive showing of non-partisanship. It’s a ten-day solution. Even this session of Parliament ought to be able to accomplish that.