The Commons: And so Stephen Harper finds himself in agreement with the Toronto Star

The government faces another barrage of $50-billion questions

HarperThe Scene. Relaxing in the moments before Question Period, Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper looked across the aisle and nodded at each other—the Prime Minister no doubt recognizing the man opposite as the guy in all those bootlegged VHS tapes he’s been watching.

A short while later, Chuck Strahl, the Indian Affairs Minister, strolled across the aisle and engaged the leader of the opposition in what seemed a friendly conversation. Though the substance of the discussion was unclear, by all appearances Mr. Strahl understood clearly the words that were coming out of Mr. Ignatieff’s mouth.

As demonstrations of bipartisan collegiality, these were heartening scenes. As demonstrations of human ability, they were important clarifiers. Indeed, if these moments are any example, let there be no question that government and opposition do acknowledge and, at least passably, comprehend each other, whatever misconceptions today’s asking of questions and airing of accusations may have left you with.

“Mr. Speaker, 37 days ago the Minister of Finance said we were on track and now we know we have gone right off the rails,” Mr. Ignatieff began, metaphorically, this afternoon. “Thirty-seven days ago the deficit stood at $34 billion. Now the finance minister says it has ballooned up over $50 billion, but he did not say how much more over $50 billion.”

Here, he lowered his voice a touch. “Canadians are tired of these sorry guesstimates,” he said. “They want to know the truth.”

And so, a question. “When will the Prime Minister tell us the truth?” Mr. Ignatieff asked. “How much more, Prime Minister? How much more?”

The Pee-wee’s Playhouse secret word of the day—hypocrisy!—had been revealed in the 15 minutes before Question Period reserved for the celebration of charitable causes and denigration of political foes. But here the Prime Minister sought to make it official, yelling and pawing at the air as usual.

“Mr. Speaker, at the end of this year the deficit will depend, obviously, on the performance of the economy,” he said, leaving the final tally to your imagination. “But what Canadians are wondering about when it comes to more is the leader of the Liberal Party. He comes here, tries to criticize the deficit, but day after day he is here demanding literally tens of billions of dollars of new spending from this government, new spending, permanent spending, unaffordable spending to be paid for by tax increases. Everyone knows his position on the deficit. It is just hypocrisy.”

Everyone screamed real loud.

Back came Ignatieff, now demonstrating his own ability to yell and point.

“Mr. Speaker, my party has an unimpeachable record in fiscal responsibility,” he snapped. “Liberals left them the record that they squandered.”

There were howls from the government side. Gordon O’Connor, the Conservative whip, motioned for his seat-fillers to quiet themselves.

“The Prime Minister made a second claim yesterday, which was that the deficit will be ‘short term.’ There is not a Canadian who believes that is true,” Ignatieff continued. “He got us into this mess. How does he propose to get us out?”

The Prime Minister stood again, only he seemed entirely to have missed the question.

“Mr. Speaker, the record of the Liberal Party is this,” he cried. “Liberals got this country into deficits when borrowing was at record levels and then when recession came, they were cutting the unemployed and raising taxes right in the middle of a recession, something this party will never do.”

Jay Hill, the government house leader, sprang to his feet to salute the boss, calling out to those around him who were not so quick to express their enthusiasm.

“Way to get them up there, Jay!” laughed Ralph Goodale, the Liberal house leader.

Mr. Ignatieff, switching to French, accused the government of incompetence. Mr. Harper, following suit, quoted from the Toronto Star.

“The editorial in the Toronto Star goes on to say, ‘Let’s have a real conversation. The Liberal leader has said he would be open to the idea of raising taxes. The Prime Minister isn’t,’” he reported to great cheers, Steve Blaney, a backbencher filling Lawrence Cannon’s seat to Stephen Harper’s right, leaping to his feet with a passable imitation of a trained seal.

Alas, despite declines in the industry, newspapers these days remain full of words. And while the Prime Minister had reported the above passage accurately, he’d obviously neglected to read further. “Would he undertake massive spending cuts or continue to run deficits?” the Star editorialists asked of him. “Canadians deserve an answer.”

No such answer was coming this day.

Goodale stood next and dared allege the Conservative deficit was “structural.” Jim Flaherty rose and charged the opposition not simply with hypocrisy, but of actually being hypocrites. This move from the behavioral to the personal was too much for the Speaker. “Order, please,” he said. “Members do enjoy freedom of speech, but calling names of other honourable members, I think the member knows, is out of order. We do have hypocritical things happen in the House from time to time, but there is no hypocrite sitting here.”

Marlene Jennings gave it a try, the Finance Minister referred her to the Toronto Star. The Liberal tried again, the Finance Minister wondered what she had against the sick and elderly.

Bob Rae attempted to gain clarity. “Mr. Speaker, 37 days ago, the Minister of Finance knew that the forestry industry was in trouble. He knew that EI was up. He knew that the auto industry was in the tank,” he reported. “Thirty-seven days ago, the minister said: ‘I’m staying with our budget projection. We’re on track.’ I would like to ask the minister a very simple question, which he has still not answered. How could he have made such a terrible statement a mere 37 days ago with respect to the financial situation in Canada?”

Flaherty demurred. “Mr. Speaker, I pay attention to the questions from one of the leading Canadian experts in deficits, having brought Ontario through that period from 1990-95,” he said.

“Mr. Speaker,” begged Rae, “I am an amateur in this regard.”

The Conservatives cheered, the government side strangely jovial considering yesterday’s news.

“Mr. Speaker, the minister has become the expert,” Rae tried again. “He is going to win the Nobel Prize with respect to the financial situation.”

The Conservatives cheered. “More! More!” they sang.

“Order,” the Speaker called. “There will be more, but we have to have some order so that we can hear it. The honourable member for Toronto Centre has the floor. We will have some order, even if he is addressing a Nobel Prize winner.”

The Conservatives laughed.

After a battle of sports analogies between Flaherty and Ken Dryden, the Liberals sent up John McCallum to cap the day’s assault.

“Mr. Speaker, three years ago, under a Liberal government, Canada was poised to eliminate its net debt. Think of it,” he mused. “Our children and our grandchildren would no longer have to pay our way. Now, we all know that our $50-billion-man cannot count and that Canadians cannot count on him. But can he at least guess in which century his policies will lead to the elimination of Canada’s net debt?”

He was, perhaps, being facetious. Nonetheless, Flaherty ventured a response.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “as the International Monetary Fund noted on Friday, our government paid off about $40 billion in debt in the first three years of our mandate.”

Showing a remarkable ability for simple subtraction, McCallum did the math.

“Mr. Speaker, that $40 billion debt paid down is more than wiped out in a single year by the finance minister’s more than $50 billion deficit,” he noted.

Then, a story.

“That,” McCallum said, “reminds me of a story. I ask members to picture it. Queen’s Park, November 2001, Ontario’s finance minister tables an economic statement that says the books are balanced. Thirteen days later he admits there could actually be a $2 billion, $3 billion, $4 billion, or $5 billion deficit. Who was that man? It was our $50 billion man. Did the Prime Minister really think that theatre of the absurd needed a federal replay?”

Again, the query was perhaps facetious. Still, Flaherty stood to respond.

“Mr. Speaker, the provincial budget in Ontario in 2001-02 was balanced,” he replied. “Yes it was. It was an excellent balanced budget.”

So there. The Finance Minister then referred, one last time, to the hallowed views of the Toronto Star.

Left unacknowledged was that to the right of that editorial was a cartoon. On the one side of that graphic, the Governor General, smiling and stylish, a bit of seal heart in her left hand. On the other side, the Finance Minister, his budget in tatters at his feet, a large black crow stuffed in his mouth.

The Stats. The economy, 15 questions. Nuclear energy, five questions. Canada Pension Plan and fisheries, three questions each. Employment, human rights, government assets and CSIS, two questions each. The Senate, arts funding, bilingualism and agriculture, one question each.

Jim Flaherty, ten answers. Stephen Harper, eight answers. Lisa Raitt, five answers. Jacques Gourde, three answers. Gail Shea and Dave MacKenzie, two answers each. Deepak Obhrai, Chuck Strahl, Ed Komarnicki, Steven Fletcher, James Moore, Peter MacKay, Mark Warawa and Gerry Ritz, one answer each.

The Commons: And so Stephen Harper finds himself in agreement with the Toronto Star

  1. Also left unacknowledged, until Joe Volpe stood to acknowledge it, was the the rest of the article slamming the Harper government six ways from Sunday.

  2. the Fake-Cons are attempting to clean up a massive oil spill of divisive, disruptive tactics with a toothbrush of situational geniality; i'm not looking for a love-in–as i expected more than this temporary cordiality from members of the House which i have not seen for the past 3 years from this govt; i'm looking for answers from the govt that claimed no one else knew what they were talking about.

    so, if they are unable to provide the answers take my advice: get out of the way so others can; Canadians will not throw "good money after bad" or give good ideas or good will to ppl who have the unfortunate skill to turn a surplus into a defecit in record time.

  3. Well blogged! Very funny.

  4. This is a tactic you see on blogs quite frequently: a source that is generally anathema to a certain individual, and routinely accused of bias, idiocy, or worse, is cited as soon as it agrees with said individual. It is beyond frustrating. If the Toronto Star is suddenly a publication of repute and gravity among the Conservative party, why spurn the other 99% of their editorial positions?

  5. Olaf, it's not a tactic relegated to the blogosphere: "Even [your most ardent blind & biased supporter] can see that you're full of it on this one" long predated Al Gore's visit to the patent office.

  6. I hope you're paid well to watch that crap. It's simply not healthy.

  7. The Prime Minister made a second claim yesterday, which was that the deficit will be 'short term.' There is not a Canadian who believes that is true,” Ignatieff continued.

    The 34 years Iggy spent outside of Canada has clearly left him out of touch with how gullible today's conservative supporters are.

  8. Well, he has a handy reference in the bitter rump that is the Republican party's base. Surely he's seen them enthusiastically chow down on a steady diet of sh*t sandwiches served up by their leaders. Seems a pretty straightforward analogy here.

  9. Of course they are civil with each other, QP is nothing but a big show, entertaining it is.

  10. ''Steve Blaney, a backbencher filling Lawrence Cannon's seat to Stephen Harper's right, leaping to his feet with a passable imitation of a trained seal.''

    That line deserves a "laughing out loud'. Noticing more and more backbenchers filling the front benches as some 'top guns' are absent, Prentice, Cannon, etc?? And even more, there are more empty seats in general on the gov side, different from earlier in their 'reign'…

  11. “Mr. Speaker, three years ago, under a Liberal government, Canada was poised to eliminate its net debt. Think of it,”

    Oh, I'm thinking, Mr. McCallum, but it's not fair to get a girl's hope up like that and then whip it away.

  12. I wonder if Harper read Travers today while reading the Star…

    Anyways, no jokes about Peter MacKay's right wing today? too bad.

  13. This is a tactic you see on blogs quite frequently: a source that is generally anathema to a certain individual, and routinely accused of bias, idiocy, or worse, is cited as soon as it agrees with said individual

    True, but how often do you see people cite one sentence in an article or editorial, from a biased/unreliable/evil source, that otherwise completely contradicts the point being made?

  14. Any Peter MacKay broken arm jokes? Surely there was a broken right wing comment to be made somewhere…..

  15. No jokes were made although he did answer a question.

  16. Best part of the day.

  17. Also left unacknowledged, until Joe Volpe stood to acknowledge it, was the the rest of the article slamming the Harper government six ways from Sunday.

  18. the Fake-Cons are attempting to clean up a massive oil spill of divisive, disruptive tactics with a toothbrush of situational geniality; i’m not looking for a love-in–as i expected more than this temporary cordiality from members of the House which i have not seen for the past 3 years from this govt; i’m looking for answers from the govt that claimed no one else knew what they were talking about.

    so, if they are unable to provide the answers take my advice: get out of the way so others can; Canadians will not throw “good money after bad” or give good ideas or good will to ppl who have the unfortunate skill to turn a surplus into a defecit in record time.

  19. Well blogged! Very funny.

    • Agreed. One of his very best.

  20. Agreed. One of his very best.

  21. This is a tactic you see on blogs quite frequently: a source that is generally anathema to a certain individual, and routinely accused of bias, idiocy, or worse, is cited as soon as it agrees with said individual. It is beyond frustrating. If the Toronto Star is suddenly a publication of repute and gravity among the Conservative party, why spurn the other 99% of their editorial positions?

    • Olaf, it’s not a tactic relegated to the blogosphere: “Even [your most ardent blind & biased supporter] can see that you’re full of it on this one” long predated Al Gore’s visit to the patent office.

      • True enough, myl, although as with all forms of fallacious argument, it has reached an apex in the blogosphere, I would submit.

        Although, if they provide the preamble “everyone is saying this, A said this, B said this, C said this, and even your most ardent supporter, D said this… it’s unanimous”, then I guess I can deal. But Harper didn’t. So I refused to deal at this point in time.

    • This is a tactic you see on blogs quite frequently: a source that is generally anathema to a certain individual, and routinely accused of bias, idiocy, or worse, is cited as soon as it agrees with said individual

      True, but how often do you see people cite one sentence in an article or editorial, from a biased/unreliable/evil source, that otherwise completely contradicts the point being made?

  22. I hope you’re paid well to watch that crap. It’s simply not healthy.

  23. The Prime Minister made a second claim yesterday, which was that the deficit will be ’short term.’ There is not a Canadian who believes that is true,” Ignatieff continued.

    The 34 years Iggy spent outside of Canada has clearly left him out of touch with how gullible today’s conservative supporters are.

    • Well, he has a handy reference in the bitter rump that is the Republican party’s base. Surely he’s seen them enthusiastically chow down on a steady diet of sh*t sandwiches served up by their leaders. Seems a pretty straightforward analogy here.

  24. Of course they are civil with each other, QP is nothing but a big show, entertaining it is.

  25. ”Steve Blaney, a backbencher filling Lawrence Cannon’s seat to Stephen Harper’s right, leaping to his feet with a passable imitation of a trained seal.”

    That line deserves a “laughing out loud’. Noticing more and more backbenchers filling the front benches as some ‘top guns’ are absent, Prentice, Cannon, etc?? And even more, there are more empty seats in general on the gov side, different from earlier in their ‘reign’…

    • Best part of the day.

  26. “Mr. Speaker, three years ago, under a Liberal government, Canada was poised to eliminate its net debt. Think of it,”
    Oh, I’m thinking, Mr. McCallum, but it’s not fair to get a girl’s hope up like that and then whip it away.

  27. I wonder if Harper read Travers today while reading the Star…

    Anyways, no jokes about Peter MacKay’s right wing today? too bad.

  28. Any Peter MacKay broken arm jokes? Surely there was a broken right wing comment to be made somewhere…..

    • No jokes were made although he did answer a question.

  29. Mr. Strahl understood clearly the words that were coming out of Mr. Ignatieff's mouth: (((&$"++!!!!~??>(^% off!

  30. True enough, myl, although as with all forms of fallacious argument, it has reached an apex in the blogosphere, I would submit.

    Although, if they provide the preamble "everyone is saying this, A said this, B said this, C said this, and even your most ardent supporter, D said this… it's unanimous", then I guess I can deal. But Harper didn't. So I refused to deal at this point in time.

  31. Mr. Strahl understood clearly the words that were coming out of Mr. Ignatieff’s mouth: (((&$”++!!!!~??>(^% off!

  32. In less than six months, Flaherty has gone from a "balanced budget" to a deficit that is second only to the record holder – one Brian Mulroney. For a party that harps on reducing government spending (on social programs at any rate), they have certainly blown it badly. Time to bring back the Liberals.

  33. In less than six months, Flaherty has gone from a “balanced budget” to a deficit that is second only to the record holder – one Brian Mulroney. For a party that harps on reducing government spending (on social programs at any rate), they have certainly blown it badly. Time to bring back the Liberals.

  34. It’s a good thing we’re having ANOTHER FEDERAL ELECTION in a few months, then, eh?

    Let’s hope that we can get an honest vote count this tie around, and get rid of ALL of the established parties, and go with someone new for a change.

    How’s this for a crazy idea: Why don’t we just stop arguing over which of the “top three parties” is best/worst, and vote in an independent that we can actually believe in? Personally, with the sheer destruction and waste that have occurred with all three of the “top three” (i.e: established) parties, I’d rather take a chance on the Marijuana party this go around! At least then we’d be sure to have a legal cure for cancer! (see http://PhoenixTears.ca &/or http://PhoenixTearsMovie.com)

    Last time around, I voted Green, and this fall, or winter, or spring–whenever the “opposition” decides it’s time to attempt another ouster of the Crimin…err…Conservatives…barring another appeal to the Queen to keep the people’s wishes subserviant to Governmental Will, I sincerely hope that Elizabeth May wins.

    She’s the closest thing to a Ron Paul we’ve got in Canada, and it’s time we started to listen to those who actually seem to understand both how we got into the mess we’re in today, and who have genuine thoughts on how to fix those problems.

  35. It’s a good thing we’re having ANOTHER FEDERAL ELECTION in a few months, then, eh?

    Let’s hope that we can get an honest vote count this tie around, and get rid of ALL of the established parties, and go with someone new for a change.

    How’s this for a crazy idea: Why don’t we just stop arguing over which of the “top three parties” is best/worst, and vote in an independent that we can actually believe in? Personally, with the sheer destruction and waste that have occurred with all three of the “top three” (i.e: established) parties, I’d rather take a chance on the Marijuana party this go around! At least then we’d be sure to have a legal cure for cancer! (see http://PhoenixTears.ca &/or http://PhoenixTearsMovie.com)

    Last time around, I voted Green, and this fall, or winter, or spring–whenever the “opposition” decides it’s time to attempt another ouster of the Crimin…err…Conservatives…barring another appeal to the Queen to keep the people’s wishes subserviant to Governmental Will, I sincerely hope that Elizabeth May wins.

    She’s the closest thing to a Ron Paul we’ve got in Canada, and it’s time we started to listen to those who actually seem to understand both how we got into the mess we’re in today, and who have genuine thoughts on how to fix those problems.

  36. The whole thing would be hilarious, if it wasn’t our money and the money of our future generations that were being squandered, and no one seems to know where this 50 + billions is being or will be spent. Still compared to other “western democracies”, such as the U.S. with its ongoing wars, Great Britain with its corrupt MPs, France with its economy in shambles, and Italy, Spain, Greece and other countries with their debt almost surpassing the GDP, Canada is not doing so badly.

  37. The whole thing would be hilarious, if it wasn’t our money and the money of our future generations that were being squandered, and no one seems to know where this 50 + billions is being or will be spent. Still compared to other “western democracies”, such as the U.S. with its ongoing wars, Great Britain with its corrupt MPs, France with its economy in shambles, and Italy, Spain, Greece and other countries with their debt almost surpassing the GDP, Canada is not doing so badly.

  38. I have been reading a few hundred blog comments over the past few days. I have come to the conclusion that the most level headed comments are the ones that call on the Liberals to wait until the fall because the Harper led Conservatives are imploding. It also appears that the N.D.P. may also fall. Canadians deserve a majority govt. and the Libs have a shot. We will suffer with every new day of the Harper govt. but three more months of pain may be necessary if it helps bring about a cure.

  39. I have been reading a few hundred blog comments over the past few days. I have come to the conclusion that the most level headed comments are the ones that call on the Liberals to wait until the fall because the Harper led Conservatives are imploding. It also appears that the N.D.P. may also fall. Canadians deserve a majority govt. and the Libs have a shot. We will suffer with every new day of the Harper govt. but three more months of pain may be necessary if it helps bring about a cure.

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