Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The long road to the low road...

So the following is taken directly from the hansard from Question Period on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, June 5.

Mr. Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay—Superior North, Ind.):
    Madam Speaker, there are many Canadians who do not understand the difference between science and technology. There are profound differences. I have no doubt that our government and the minister understand and support technology but I wonder if they really understand and support science.
    I have a broad question for the minister. Does he really believe in science and the implications of scientific inquiry? I have a more specific question that will put a fine point on it. There is a vast bunch of science out there that says that life was created on this planet three to four billion years ago, and there are other theories. Does the minister believe that life was created on this planet through evolution three to four billion years ago or does he subscribe to a different theory?

Hon. Gary Goodyear (Minister of Science and Technology):
    Madam Speaker, what I would recommend to the hon. member is that when he tightens that towel around his neck at nighttime that he not do it for more than 20 seconds. It actually ends up causing cerebral anoxia that leaves permanent brain damage.
    What I can say is that we obviously support basic research all the way through to applied research. In fact, we are looking at particle accelerators that can create the next generation of medical isotopes. We are working on the CERN project, which is the Large Hadron Collider where we are trying to smash together protons. In Canada, we are investing in i basic research for the pipeline of the future and applying it so that we can create jobs today.
    The question is this: Will that member support this budget or reject it like he always has?

Now, for those who haven't spent a lot of time watching Question Period on CPAC or catching up on it occasionally via the hansard (you are definitely excused, although I think it's an important thing for people to do, just to get a glimpse at what kind of people are actually "running" this country on your behalf...), QP is not a forum for debate - at all. It's a rapid-fire exercise in soap-box politics, where opposition MPs/leaders try to score cheap, quick, non sequitur political points by throwing zingers at whatever government minister/MP is in the hot seat (or sometimes, more rarely, actually put an on-topic and relevant question to them) and the government MP/minister in question dodges it (regardless of whether it was on-topic or not) and then uses the opportunity to rehash some piece or other of the party's talking point list.

It's a time-honoured tradition that nobody really knows why we still even need, since it really doesn't do anything, and it certainly doesn't actually contribute to any legislative process whatsoever.

However, normally it remains in the realm of the comic and absurd, yet harmless and benign.

Every now and then, though, a line is crossed. The last time anyone noticed this line-crossing, you may recall, is when Justin Trudeau called federal Environment Minister Peter Kent a piece of shit for chastising opposition MPs for not attending an international climate conference that they were basically barred from attending. Headlines were written, scandal abounded, and formal apologies were issued by Trudeau.

I would love to see if anything even close to that comes out of this one, but I doubt it will. Let's take a look at what's actually going on here, shall we?

First of all, we've got one of the cheap-political-point-non-sequitur kind of questions, but at least it's relevant to the minister to whom it's addressed. Hyer asks Goodyear if he believes in evolution, and gives credence and credit to the science half of his portfolio, as much as he obviously does to the "technology" half. Not a great question, but fairly direct, and decently civil (even if it is obviously pot-stirring...).

Unsurprisingly, Goodyear doesn't answer the question at all.

What is surprising, however, is just how low he goes when not answering it.

Let's actually recap this in his own words:

Madam Speaker, what I would recommend to the hon. member is that when he tightens that towel around his neck at nighttime that he not do it for more than 20 seconds. It actually ends up causing cerebral anoxia that leaves permanent brain damage.

Really, Gary? As cabinet minister in the Government of Canada, you think this is somehow an okay way to respond to a colleague in Parliament, even in QP?

First off, he essentially makes a joke about brain damage, and how Hyer has it. For asking him a question. During Question Period. This, right here, ought to be enough to land him on as many headlines as Trudeau occupied after the Kent incident. Already we're in the territory of childish, petty and insulting.

But then we look a bit closer... "when he tightens the towel around his neck..."


He can't have really said that.

Here's the thing: I've been kicking around the Internet for some time now. It's ruined me in a lot of ways. I've seen things that people ought not to see, and I'm at least vaguely familiar with things that most people ought not to be even vaguely familiar with.  This is why I can't be absolutely sure that I'm write about this (I can, however, be absolutely sure that Goodyear will come up with some completely implausible alternate explanation for it, if need be...), but I can't think of any other possible meaning behind this other than Goodyear actually making some sort of insinuation about autoerotic asphyxiation.

Maybe there's some other explanation, though... maybe Goodyear showers at night and dries his neck off by tightly wrapping a towel around it so hard that it cuts off blood to his brain and air from his lungs. Maybe he's "just" making a joke about Hyer toying with suicide. Maybe... I can't think of anything else he could possibly mean...

This is what political discourse has come to in our country, apparently. A question can actually elicit a response involving AEA and brain damage, and nothing really registers anywhere on the media/political spectrum.

Setting aside for the moment that Goodyear could just as easily have assuaged some people's worries that he only cares about tech and not about science by saying that he does, even if he doesn't believe in evolution, and setting aside the strongly plausible assumption that because he didn't even bother trying to assuage those worries, it's a half-decent bet that the Minister of Science and Technology doesn't actually care too much about science at all, this is just bafflingly, insanely offensive blather from... well, anyone in any workplace, let alone a public official in Parliament, in session, on record.

It really seems at times that not a day goes by when I don't lose another chunk of pride in this country...

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