The Commons: Give or take a dozen billion dollars

Debating numbers big and small


The Scene. The Finance Minister should at least feel chuffed that the Leader of the Opposition feels it important to pay very close attention to what he has to say.

“Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Finance Minister said that Canada is ‘not in need of a contingency plan’ to deal with the threats facing our economy,” Thomas Mulcair recounted this afternoon. “That was quite a surprise because just two weeks ago the same finance minister said, ‘we have contingency plans not only with respect to the fiscal cliff, but with respect to the European situation.’ Which is it? Facing the real threat of another recession, do the Conservatives have a contingency plan or not? Canadians deserve a straight answer.”

Perhaps Jim Flaherty was merely a bit too cute with his response yesterday. But he surely couldn’t say so now. And anyway, he was elsewhere, so here came Jason Kenney to offer the government side’s official explanation.

“Mr. Speaker, of course, this government is and will continue to be prudent in our fiscal and economic planning,” Mr. Kenney explained. “That is why we have the best fiscal position in the G7. It is why we have the best job creation record among the major developed economies. It is why the OECD says we will have the best economic growth for many years to come.”

With that much sort of clarified, Mr. Kenney moved to segue.

“Mr. Speaker, I will tell you about contingencies,” he offered. “If we ever had an NDP government, we would need a contingency for massive, out-of-control spending, at least $56 billion in unbudgeted new spending committed by that party, in part to be financed by a $21-billion carbon tax.”

The $56-billion figure would seem to be based on a Conservative party estimate of the cost of proposals contained in an NDP submission to the finance committee. (Although presumably once the stated cap-and-trade proposal was implemented and the country consequently destroyed, there would be no functioning government capable of spending any money.)

Mr. Mulcair seemed to think the precise nature of the problem he was trying to explain had been missed. “Here is the problem, Mr. Speaker,” he clarified. “First, the Finance Minister claims he has a contingency plan. Then the same Finance Minister says he does not need a contingency plan. Now Conservatives are saying that maybe they do have a contingency plan after all, but they pretend to know something different from the Finance Minister, who claims that he does not need a contingency plan. Canadians deserve better than this. The Prime Minister and his Minister of Finance cannot get their stories straight.”

As much fun as it is to say the word “contingency” a bunch of times in quick succession, Mr. Mulcair was vaguely required by the vague rules of this place to present a question and so he did.

“If the contingency plan exists, will they stand up and table it in the House, instead of doing like that minister and trying to avoid the issue?” he wondered.

It is perhaps a bit odd to ask that a contingency plan be presented before the applicable event has occurred. One imagines this sort of expectation, were it to be officially adopted, could result in the government having to present dozens of plans to the House to account for nearly limitless possibilities—from a debt crisis in Europe and a leap over the fiscal cliff in the United States to the possibility that California’s recent auction of carbon credits will trigger a zombie apocalypse.

“Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition has once again confirmed that New Democrats tend not to even read the budget before they decide how they are going to vote on it,” Mr. Kenney lamented in response, “because if he were to read the last budget or any of the last five budgets, he would see that there is a line in each one of those budgets for any unexpected emergencies.”

A general purpose zombie apocalypse fund probably makes more sense. But even if the New Democrats had apparently skipped over this line, they’d apparently taken note of the numbers on budget balance. “Mr. Speaker, this is a tough week for the Minister of Finance,” Peggy Nash ventured after Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Kenney had finished their three rounds. “Yesterday, he was mistaken when he said that the Conservatives would keep their promises about balancing the budget. Their election platform included a surplus of $2.8 billion in 2014, but during his economic update, the Finance Minister said there would be a deficit of $8.6 billion, a difference of more $11 billion.

What services, Ms. Nash wondered, would the Conservatives be cutting to meet their 2011 promise.

Ted Menzies, as is his habit, attempted a segue. “Mr. Speaker,” he declared, “the first thing we would cut would be a $21-billion tax that is purported to be the only NDP solution it has to getting back to balance.”

It is a general rule of proper accounting, that misnamed future hypotheticals are the easiest things to cut.

“All of our budgets have kept us on track,” Mr. Menzies continued. “Our plan is working. We will get back to balance in the medium term. In fact, we expect to get back to balance in this Parliament.”

Ms. Nash was unpersuaded. And apparently moved to something like poetry.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservative platform seems to have gone the way of the minister’s contingency plan: out the door to be forgotten forevermore,” she mused.

Now then, some numbers.

“However, the reality is compared to the Conservatives’ platform,” Ms. Nash continued. “They are off by $5.9 billion next year; $8.8 billion the year after that; $11.4 billion off the next year; and finally, $6.9 billion the year after that. Does the minister really consider this massive $33 billion in cumulative bad projections to be a small sum of money?”

Mr. Menzies attempted to segue to the bright side. “Mr. Speaker, the number she just referred to is actually quite small,” he explained, “compared to the $56 billion that the New Democrats have suggested they would take out of Canadians’ pockets in all of their plans.”

The Stats. Ethics, six questions. The Middle East, four questions. The economy, the environment, crime and pharmaceuticals, three questions each. The budget, the F-35, government spending, foreign investment and Atlantic Canada, two questions each. Aboriginal affairs, border security, credit cards, small business and pyrrhotite, one question each.

John Baird, four responses. Jason Kenney, Ted Menzies, Peter Van Loan, Peter Kent, Pierre Poilievre, Tony Clement, Christian Paradis and Rob Nicholson, three responses each. Peter MacKay, Rona Ambrose, Kellie Leitch and Leona Aglukkaq, two responses each. John Duncan, Candice Bergen and Maxime Bernier, one response each.


The Commons: Give or take a dozen billion dollars

  1. I hope your employment contract calls for periods of mandatory
    rehab following prolonged exposure to QP … or at least that your
    employer supply you with a hazmat suit.

  2. It is perhaps a bit odd to ask that a contingency plan be presented before the applicable event has occurred. One imagines this sort of expectation, were it to be officially adopted, could result in the government having to present dozens of plans to the House to account for nearly limitless possibilities—from a debt crisis in Europe and a leap over the fiscal cliff in the United States to the possibility that California’s recent auction of carbon credits will trigger a zombie apocalypse…A general purpose zombie apocalypse fund probably makes more sense.

    Oh.My.Gawd. Wherry has actually [gasp!] made light of the NDP’s line of questioning in the House. But, according to his critics, is he nothing more than a cypher of NDP cant? Is this musing a ruse to confuse?

    What will the merry Wherry-wackers make of this?

    • I think Wherry read the comments from yesterday where he was castigated by a person known as Bill who was disturbed by Wherry’s partisanship. Who says lefties can’t take a hint.

      • I see. So not only is he a shill for the “lefties”, he’s spineless, too, shaping his position in response to feedback from those keen intellects among his critics out there.

        You must be drunk with power, given your ability to cow a journalist like Wherry.

        • I was suggesting that Wherry was reacting to Bill’s comments yesterday. I could care less what Wherry has to say. He is just one of many lefties in this country. Its fun reading his blog and watching you lefties react with outrage.

          • Earth to Mervin: I’m no more a “leftie” than you are a “right-wingnut”. Labels serve no other purpose than to make the labeler feel self-righteous.

      • Wherry……worries….. about…..these……things….about…..what….Bil….thinks…I…… think….. you’ve……got……it……you’re…..absolutely……brilliant deluded

        • Sorry…obviously too complicated for you.

    • IMO…Wherry is not making light of the NDP line of questioning at all….Wherry is mocking the usual Conservative responses to NDP questions.

      For example we all know the huge efforts the Conservatives have gone to in pointing out the $ 21.5 BILLION in proposed new NDP carbon revenues that were in the NDP 2011 election platform. Wherry is mocking the Conservatives by suggesting that a California carbon credit auction could trigger a “zombie apocalypse” this is Wherry’s attempt at humor to mock the Conservatives usual responses involving NDP Carbon revenue proposals that suggest an economic disaster (or worse) could occur to Canada if the NDP were able to implement them. Hence the “zombie apocalypse” parody.


      • So let me see if I understand this: when Wherry is making light of the NDP, he’s really mocking the Cons? Man, that’s deep. Next, he’ll be using some kind of arcane code to disguise his evil anti-Con message.

        Good thing you’re sharp enough to see through it.

        • As mentioned, I did not interpret Wherry’s comments in the same manner as you did.

      • Bill! You’re hard to get a hold of. How about that $20 billion Conservative carbon tax?

        • I have no idea what you mean.

          • The federal excise tax on gasoline. 10 cents per litre. The government rakes in approximately $5 billion per year from it. Between 2011/2012 fiscal and 2014/2015, that represents $20 billion in revenues.

            It’s the Conservatives Tax On Everything. It hurts the pocketbooks of all Canadians and surely will bring our economy to ruin.

            What I don’t understand is why you want to talk about a carbon tax of a party who is unlikely to gain power instead of the carbon tax that today’s government has already implemented and is hurting the pocketbooks of all Canadians, all just to pad government coffers.


  3. It’s actually Obama’s $36 billion dollar car tax. Canada doesn’t have much choice in the matter if we want to save all those CAW jobs in the auto industry in Canada.

    Obama chose regulation over a carbon tax on gasoline. Canada, regardless of who was PM, basically had no choice but to harmonize our policies with American ones.

    • I submit you are correct. From my perspective harmonizing regulation makes sense, in my view that is what occurred in this instance.

    • Harmonization will be this government’s excuse, too, when they finally implement a family-killing carbon tax to echo Obama’s most-likely policy on this issue. “It’s killing our families but it’s not our fault. The devil made us do it”.

    • Now how about you provide a shred of evidence that Canada needs to adopt US efficiency standards in order to save auto industry jobs.

Sign in to comment.