The Commons: Be serious

The government wanted questions about the economy, and Ignatieff delivered

The Scene. Michael Ignatieff rose and shone—which is to say smiled somewhat—then remembered the subject at hand and his face became serious.

The government side has lately been lamenting that Mr. Ignatieff hasn’t been asking its ministers enough questions about the economy. This is apparently evidence of him not being a leader or just being in it for himself or having not consumed in the past year the necessary amount of Tim Hortons coffee to be considered a Canadian citizen in good standing with this government. Apparently if Mr. Ignatieff would only ask them about a serious matter—nothing to do with Rahim Jaffer or Helena Guergis or Afghan detainees or abortion or Nancy Ruth or the firearms registry—they’d be only too happy to provide a serious answer. (And, for that matter, the public and the press gallery would finally have what both are apparently desperate to hear.)

So here stood the opposition leader to recount the Liberal party’s economic management in the 1990s, to dissuade the Prime Minister from taking any credit and to wonder if Mr. Harper might take heed of the troubles in Europe, accept some Liberal advice now and refrain from cutting corporate taxes any further.

The Prime Minister, alas, was absent, so it was John Baird who stood to take this one. And the Transport Minister, being deathly afraid of heights, steered clear of the high road.

“Mr. Speaker, if the leader of the Liberal Party wants to talk where the Minister of Finance was during the nineties, we could have that conversation as to where the leader of the Liberal Party was in the 1990s,” Mr. Baird retorted. “The leader of the official opposition was not in the country, but in the 1990s, we also saw Shawinigate and the sponsorship scandal and Canadians are still looking for the $39 million that is still missing. Maybe the leader of the Liberal Party could help us with that.”

It is on such stuff that Mr. Baird is apparently considered the best this government has in this forum. And it is on such consideration that one should understand just how seriously this forum is presently taken—or at least what qualities are taken as serious.

The Liberal leader would not go away easily. Or perhaps he merely felt obligated to go through with all three of his turns.

“Mr. Speaker, let us try again. When the Liberals regulated the banks, the Prime Minister opposed it. When we introduced fiscal prudence into the budget, he opposed it. When we paid down debt, he opposed it. The Prime Minister and the Conservative Party opposed every step the Liberal Party took to get our house in order in the 1990s,” he said, getting a bit growly now. “Will they now learn the lesson of the sovereign debt crisis, freeze corporate tax rates and put fiscal prudence back in the picture?”

Over again to Mr. Baird, who had thought up something new in the interim.

“Mr. Speaker, I know where I was in the 1990s,” he mused. “I was at Queen’s Park listening to speeches by the member for Toronto Centre talking about the devastating effect that the Liberals’ $25-billion cuts to health care made.”

The Liberal side responded with a torrent of heckles, some seeming to have something to do with Mr. Baird’s time in provincial government.

Mr. Baird followed with a quote attributed to Liberal finance critic John McCallum, which seemed to indicate Mr. McCallum was not entirely in agreement with the Liberal government’s fiscal management in the 1990s—there being nothing more crushing than the revelation that a political party’s members are not of one unified mind on every possible question of public policy.

With his final try, perhaps sensing futility, Mr. Ignatieff became metaphorical. “Mr. Speaker, the issue here is the government is surfing on a reputation it did not earn and opposed at the time,” he ventured, now chopping his hand in the government’s direction. “The Prime Minister praises the bank regulations that have kept the banking system safe, but opposed them every step of the way and in 2002, wanted to open our banking system to exactly the factors that destroyed banks everywhere. Thank goodness he was not prime minister. Why is he making the same ideological mistake now, rushing into corporate tax cuts the country cannot afford?”

Mr. Baird turned platitudinous, waxing enthusiastic about recent job reports and government stewardship. “We are going to be committed to job creation,” he sang, “committed to economic growth, committed to making Canada the best place to work, live and invest and raise a family.” Later, the Transport Minister speculated some nefariousness involving a Liberal MP, offshore tax havens and the Liberal policy on corporate tax rates.

Finance Minsiter Jim Flaherty is on the television now, celebrating Mr. Ignatieff’s choice of subject matter. No doubt Mr. Baird was equally enthused. Not that it particularly matters to Mr. Baird what the subject is.

The Stats. The oil industry and gay pride, five questions each. Securities regulation and the economy, four questions each. Women’s groups, the Supreme Court, mortgage fraud, crime, Internet access, the G20, Afghanistan and food safety, two questions each. Culture, firearms, Helena Guergis and pensions, one question each.

Tony Clement, nine answers. John Baird, seven answers. Christian Paradis and Ted Menzies, four answers each. Dave MacKenzie, three answers. Rona Ambrose, Rob Nicholson, Peter MacKay and Gerry Ritz, two answers each. Jay Hill, Peter Kent and Bev Oda, one answer each.




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