Our post-partisan cooperation runneth over - Macleans.ca

Our post-partisan cooperation runneth over

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In case you were worried that everything has changed in Ottawa in the wake of last month’s unpleasantness, rest assured absolutely nothing has changed.

Yesterday’s episode of Politics on CBC was Exhibit A in this regard—specifically Susan Bonner’s separate interviews with Liberal Scott Brison and PMO spokesman Kory Teneycke. A few excerpts are below. 

It is perhaps time to wonder whether we might be better off if Ms. Bonner, hereby tagged Our Tim Russert, was named Adult Conversations Commissioner and given the power to personally mediate all Parliamentary business.

Bonner: Will you make specific demands? Will you lay down benchmarks on the stimulus, on EI, on infrastructure spending? Will you be specific for Canadians?

Brison: We actually laid out in broad strokes in November and early December, what we wanted to see. It’s up to the government to propose specifics. But we’re quite interested in having that discussion with the government. We met with Minister Flaherty—myself and John McCallum—back in December. We made some very reasonable requests in terms of making sure that the numbers upon which we base our ideas are sound, the fiscal numbers. We had real concerns on that. We’ve got concerns about their asset sales and some of those issues. He hasn’t really addressed that and, in fact, has not responded to requests for future meetings—

Bonner: Well, I’m confused by that. The budget is going to be delivered in less than three weeks and you’re saying there are no further meetings scheduled?

Brison: No. We actually, myself and John McCallum, left the meeting with Minister Flaherty in December with the impression and the expectation that he would be coming back to us and suggesting future meetings. We spoke to his chief of staff after that and he indicated that there could be some future meetings. There has no been further requests, so we’re actually continuing our dialogue with Canadians and we’re going to build our own ideas. And they will serve us either as a government, or constructively as part of an effective opposition—

Bonner: Are you working with the NDP then on your ideas, in case you do proceed with this coalition, or in preparation for that possibility?

Brison: Well, the coalition was very clear in terms of the broad strokes. And the NDP and ourselves, of course, will have some ideas that can make a real difference, particularly in areas of income support and education, training and infrastructure—

Bonner: But together do you have to develop the bench marks? Do you have to say, ok if they don’t give us this, then we have to take them down?

Brison: Well, we want to see what’s in the budget before we determine whether or not we support it. And clearly we have to actually see the budget. If we’re going to a responsible opposition in a minority Parliament, we actually have to see the budget. We’ve been clear on that, my leader has been clear on that. But my leader has said, “Coalition if necessary, but not necessarily coalition.”

Bonner: So you’re listening and you’re talking. And the government tells us it’s listening and talking to Canadians too, as part of its consultation process. But the people that need to talk to each other are not. So what’s your message to Canadians on that front? They are expecting the politicians to work this out in this economic crisis.

Brison: We, as Liberals, have tried to work with the Harper government. We’ve tried to work with Minister Flaherty, we’re still open to further discussion and dialogue. As I said earlier, we expected further meetings. Minister Flaherty has not followed up to actually confirm those meetings. And, in fact, by the defining silence, he doesn’t seem to be interested in that … We are absolutely committed to trying to make this Parliament work. Stephen Harper poisoned Parliament in November and December. He killed it. And we can’t let that kind of thing happen again. I hope there’s going to be a new spirit of cooperation from Stephen Harper, but he has to regain the trust of Parliament and regain our trust as well.

Bonner: [Brison] tells us that there are no more meetings scheduled between the opposition and the government. Why not?

Teneycke: Well, we’re talking to a range of different people, as you pointed out. The premiers next week, we’ve met with a variety of business leaders and others across the country. We had a caucus meeting yesterday in Ottawa, where our caucus members were able to provide input that they were hearing from their constituents on what they would like to see in the budget. When it comes to the opposition, of course, we’re very interested in what their thoughts are as well. There have been some meetings that have occurred with members of opposition parties, as well as some meetings with Liberals specifically, including a meeting between Mr. Ignatieff and the Prime Minister. I anticipate there will be time before the budget to have further discussions, but of course nothing stops opposition from simply coming out in public as well and putting their suggestions for the budget on the public record also. That would be another effective way of getting their input into the budget also.

Bonner: Well, listening to that comment from you and listening to Scott Brison earler, it seems to me that we sound like we’re where we were last December when the House was prorogued, with the politicians talking at each other, but not to each other. And this is a minority Parliament, there is an economic crisis, and don’t you have to talk to each other and work something out?

Teneycke: Well, I think some conversations have already happened. I think there’s a potential to have additional conversations prior to the budget, as I stated. But I would say that going into details of all those discussions on television programs such as yours is probably not the most productive way of handling those. So what our approach has been is talking about those meetings after they occur, rather than prior.