The Commons: First, convince us you’ll do no harm - Macleans.ca

The Commons: First, convince us you’ll do no harm

Would Michael Ignatieff, if given the opportunity, destroy this country?

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The Scene. As his second summer as Liberal leader dawns, Michael Ignatieff’s challenges are many and varied. They are myriad and they are daunting. They are traditional—common to every opposition leader who has ever been unlucky enough to hold the job—and they are unique to his particular circumstance.

It would be silly to rank them, to attempt to even prioritize such complex and interconnected problems. But if there is one question that lingers most persistently, most dangerously and most dispiritingly, it is this: Would Michael Ignatieff, if given the opportunity, destroy this country?

This is, of course, the question that is raised by the government side whenever Mr. Ignatieff so much as opens his mouth. His every proposal portends doom. His every thought indicates dark intentions. His very nature suggests a sinister agenda—most of it apparently having to do with some plan to tax every Canadian into poverty, for what monstrous purpose we can only speculate.

Today, as he has of late, he pursued the government’s proposed corporate tax cuts, then wondered if the Prime Minister would make good on his commitment to eliminate subsidies for the oil industry. Noting that this was a question about the economy, Mr. Harper then stood to report that, according to the OECD, Canada was due to recover well from the recession he was quite sure would never happen in the first place. This was, he testified, because his government had cut taxes, unlike a Liberal government which would raise taxes.

Mr. Ignatieff returned to his feet to lecture the Prime Minister with his left hand. “I asked a clear question in the House which is will he or will he not keep his promise to eliminate the useless fossil fuel subsidies that the G20 meeting at Pittsburgh promised to eliminate?” he repeated. “Will he keep his promise in Toronto? Yes or no.”

He voice jumped on octave or two as he presented these options.

“Mr. Speaker, absolutely,” Mr. Harper shot back, now apparently compelled to match the Liberal leader’s volume. And he wouldn’t have to cut these subsidies, he continued, if a Liberal government hadn’t established them in the first place. At this, the cheerleaders on the government side—only a House ban on props preventing them from carrying pom-poms—leapt to their feet to applaud and whoop.

Mr. Ignatieff attempted with his third attempt to steady his rhetoric and explain his concerns, ignoring the heckles and noise that usually come whenever one so much as hesitates to scream their words in rapid succession. “The government needs to face the fact that Canadian families are among the most indebted in the world,” he shot back. “Over 50% of their income goes to housing. That is going to increase as interest rates rise. Instead of helping those families the government is giving another $6 billion gift to corporations and useless subsidies to oil corporations. When will it change course, freeze those taxes and start helping middle class families?”

So challenged on his middle class bonafides, Mr. Harper went into his Foghorn Leghorn routine, bobbing his head and lecturing the opposition leader opposite. “Mr. Speaker, while the leader of the opposition has been off on all kinds of other tangents for the past year this government has been focused on the economy,” he moaned. “That is one reason why the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said today the same thing the International Monetary Fund said that Canada will lead growth among the major developed economies this year and next. That is why the Canadian economy has created 300,000 net new jobs in the past six months. It is because we have a government that believes in getting taxes lower instead of the Liberal Party that wants to raise those taxes.”

The Conservatives jumped up to cheer at the suggestion that however bad off we are now, there’s no telling how much worse a shape we’d be in had Mr. Ignatieff been in charge.

Indeed, if this point was not thus made clear enough for the afternoon, there was what followed. After Mr. Ignatieff, it was Bob Rae the Liberals sent up, the shadow foreign minister wondering aloud if the government had not bungled its way into spending something like a billion dollars on security for this summer’s meetings of the G8 and G20. And so, perhaps predictably, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews stood and greeted this as evidence that the Liberals would happily endanger the lives of Canadians and the leaders of the free world for the sake of fiscal prudence.

“I understand that the Liberals do not believe in securing Canadians or the visitors here,” he huffed. “We are different.”

Point, apparently, made.

The Stats. The economy, six questions. The G8, securities regulation, abortion and Parliament, four questions each. Firearms, three questions. The oil industry, bilingualism, crime, foreign ownership and culture, two questions each. Public transit and the Internet, one question each.

Stephen Harper, 10 answers. Vic Toews, six answers. Rob Nicholson and Jay Hill, four answers each. Christian Paradis, Rona Ambrose and Mikle, three answers each. John Baird and Bev Oda, two answers each. James Moore, one answer.