The Commons: How big is your budget?

Halloween in the Commons: Time to shame the committee chairs

by Aaron Wherry

Adrian Wyld/CP Images

The Scene. Of all the festive games to be played on Halloween, shaming committee chairs is somewhat less messy than leaving a bag of flaming dog poop on a neighbour’s doorstep, but decidedly less fun than bobbing for apples. Alas, under the stodgy rules of parliamentary decorum, it was the best the NDP could offer this afternoon.

The New Democrats have been occupying themselves these days with attempting to convince various committees to take up study of C-45, the government’s latest budget bill. The Conservatives, soon after tabling the bill in the House, had said that they would allow the bill to be studied at 10 committees. The Conservatives vowed they would move a motion at the finance committee to do just that. But the New Democrats were apparently keen to see those studies commence post haste and so have been proposing motions hither and yon. Each of those efforts seems to have been stymied. And so now the New Democrats get to claim great umbrage.

“Mr. Speaker, this is simple,” Megan Leslie explained this afternoon. “A motion was proposed, we went in camera, and the motion never came out again.”

Ms. Leslie wondered if the chair of the environment committee—Conservative MP Mark Warawa—might stand and confirm that he was going to be scheduling hearings on C-45. To respond though stood Transport Minister Denis Lebel, who assured Ms. Leslie of the validity of the budget’s changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Jean Crowder tried her luck, wondering if the chair of the aboriginal affairs committee—Conservative MP Chris Warkentin—would endorse a study of budget bill amendments to the Indian Act. To respond stood Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan. Phil Toone asked to hear from the chair of the fisheries committee—Conservative MP Rodney Weston—but instead heard from Mr. Lebel.

Finally, when the NDP’s Rosane Doré Lefebrve asked to hear from the chair of the public safety committee, Government House leader Peter Van Loan decided he had enough of this game. Standing with a significant stack of papers in his hand, Mr. Van Loan attempted to pronounce shame on the official opposition.

“Mr. Speaker, the government is asking several committees to scrutinize the legislation, but I always find it interesting when the NDP members say, ‘Do as we say, not as we do.’ They complain that this bill is too big, but when the NDP does budget bills in Manitoba, they are omnibus bills,” he protested.

There were chuckles from the New Democrats.

“When the Leader of the Opposition was a member of the government in Quebec, they had a budget implementation bill 468 sections long, 383 pages,” he continued.

“Woah!” sang various Conservatives in mock shock.

“The Leader of the Opposition says, ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ ” Mr. Van Loan concluded.

In Mr. Mulcair’s defence, one member of a legislature cannot possibly be expected to make a difference in the composition of the budget.

While the Conservatives heckled, the New Democrats insisted on continuing with their chosen game. Robert Aubin asked to hear from the chair of the transport committee. In response, Mr. Lebel stood and invoked a carbon tax.

When Sadia Groguhé stood and asked for a response from the chair of the immigration committee, Mr. Van Loan pointed down the government’s front row at Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Mr. Kenney, though, pointed back across the room at committee chair David Tilson. Apparently by the rules of ministerial precedence in pointing, Mr. Tilson was now compelled to stand. “Mr. Speaker, surely the member is not asking me to overrule the decision of the committee,” Mr. Tilson protested. “If that is what she is asking me to do, the answer is no. The committee spoke, and that is the answer.”

Charlie Angus stood then to make the final move, suggesting that the Conservatives were attempting to protect Tony Clement from questions about the navigable waters around his riding. Here though it was Mr. Van Loan who stood, with an urgent bulletin in hand.

“Mr. Speaker, while the opposition continues to complain about the size of the bill, I do have to get up and correct myself,” the House leader explained. “I earlier quoted the length of a Quebec budget implementation bill as 383 pages. Unfortunately, that is only the English version of the budget bill of the Leader of the Opposition when he was in the Quebec government. When we have it bilingual, as ours is, it is actually 778 pages long, far longer than any budget bill from this government.”

“Woah!” the Conservatives cried, even louder this time.

By the rules of Mr. Van Loan’s game—whereby one’s guilt is rendered moot when similar guilt is pronounced on one’s opponent—this was apparently supposed to count as a win.

Unfortunately for Mr. Van Loan, a budget bill of 778 pages would measure as only the second largest on his government’s record—more than a hundred pages shorter than the 904-page budget implementation act that received royal assent in 2010.

Perhaps if Mr. Mulcair promises to keep any NDP budget under that page length he can claim ultimate victory.

The Stats. The budget, 10 questions. Foreign investment and veterans, six questions. The Navigable Waters Protection Act, three questions. Employment insurance, ACOA, immigration and fisheries, two questions each. Ethics, the military, trade, the census, the economy and the aluminum industry, one question each.

Stephen Harper, Denis Lebel and Steven Blaney, six responses each. Jim Flaherty and Diane Finley, three responses each. Peter Van Loan, Bernard Valcourt, Gail Shea and Jason Kenney, two responses each. John Duncan, David Tilson, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, Ed Fast, Christian Paradis and Maxime Bernier, one response each.

The Commons: How big is your budget?

  1. My favourite comment of Wherry’s from this article….

    “In Mr. Mulcair’s defence, one member of a legislature cannot possibly be expected to make a difference in the composition of the budget.” – Aaron Wherry

    Like we need the disclaimer. Wherry has been working hard to defend the NDP at every opportunity, just as he once again does in this article…..

    • When you tell it like it is, report what you see and hear and it involves the illegitimate Harper government and someone else, anyone else, how can there ever be defence against the indefensible?

      • My point is does Mulcair REALLLY need to be defended by Wherry ? Are Wherry’s readers really incapable of deducing that what role Mulcair might have had for a Provincial omnibudget when he was a member of the caucus ?

        The mere fact that Wherry cannot contain himself and feels he MUST point this out to his readers is a clear indicator of his ongoing partisanship and political bias. What is funny about some of you is that as long as Wherry is biased towards your political affiliation you see no problem with it. That is a sad commentary

        • So reporters shouldn’t bother pointing out context? Or they simply shouldn’t bother pointing out context when it doesn’t help the CPC?

  2. My favourite comment of Wherry’s from this article….

    “In Mr. Mulcair’s defence, one member of a legislature cannot possibly be expected to make a difference in the composition of the budget.” – Aaron Wherry

    Like we need the disclaimer. Wherry has been working hard to defend the NDP at every opportunity, just as he once again does in this article.

    • Still waiting to continue our discussion on Harper’s speech supporting a carbon tax in 2008. It’s on the PMO website, I provided the link. Harper supported a carbon tax.

      Looking forward to your response!

      • Go easy on Bill, he only has clearance to issue talking points, not debate real issues.

      • My response ? We are talking about today and NOT four years ago. We are talking about what was in the campaign platforms that each party ran on in this past election not something that occurred four years ago. The world has changed greatly over the past four years.

        The only reason why people like Wherry go out of the way to try to compare a four year old platform to the most recent platform is in his ongoing efforts to defend the NDP and to try and discredit the Conservatives. Even going so far as to arbitrarily play the role of judge, jury and executioner and label it a “farce” at every opportunity. The real farce is of course Wherry’s blatant partisanship and bias and finally people like me are no longer going to sit back and ignore poor journalism that is biased.

        Drag up 1974 campaign platforms if you have too but one thing Wherry cannot hide is that voters will look at what was in the NDP platform in the last election and not four years ago. Let’s not forget that $ 21.5 BILLION in NDP increased revenues on Carbon did exist, it is a fact, and the NDP will pay for it as they deserve too.

        • Following your own logic, I would suggest this:
          Is it any less fair for Aaron Wherry to attempt to reconcile Harper’s disapproval of a carbon tax today to his support of one 4 years ago, than it is for Harper today to speculate what the NDP platform will look like in 2015 based on what it looked like in 2011? Keep in mind no matter what Mulcair’s position on a carbon tax is today, it is all a moot point until 2015 at the earliest. To paraphrase your own words, the world will change greatly in the next 3-4 years.
          Voters will look at what is in the NDP’s 2015 platform, they won’t give a hoot what was in their 2011 platform, just the same as you don’t seem to give a hoot what was in Harper’s 2008 platform.
          You’re otherwise welcome to focus your attention on the party who is not in power. I myself would prefer to focus my attention on the party that is running the country today versus the party that has a slim chance to run it 3 years from now.
          (clarification: I do not support cap-and-trade nor generally the NDP, I support a straight-up carbon tax, which is a more efficient and consumer-friendly approach than Harper’s costlier regulatory approach – I’d welcome your rebuttal on why regulatory is better).

          • Small but critical clarification: I support a carbon tax with an offsetting decrease to income taxes so that it is revenue neutral. I do not support a stand-alone carbon tax.

          • In answer to your question I think it is Wherry’s responsibility is to fairly and accurately report what each the PM and leader of the Opposition say. I don’t believe it is his job to turn around and defend Mulcair and say “In Mulcair’s defence….” That is not Wherry’s job to defend Mulcair, at least not if he is professional and responsible non partisan journalist. It should be up to the readers to decide and deduce based on fact reported by Wherry.. But no, Wherry cannot help himself he has to defend Mulcair against what Harper, or in this case house leader PVL said, and starts with the “In Mulcair’s defence” rhetoric. Do you seriously see it as Wherry’s job to defend Mulcair ?

            We may not be on same side of the fence politically but you strike me as a reasonable person surely you can at least admit that Wherry’s “in defence of Mulcair” was over the line partisan rhetoric. Or do you believe that ALL journalists should “defend” certain politicians based on their own personal political interpretations

          • Sure, Wherry’s blog generally has a bit of a slant to it. So does Brian Lilley. And Ezra Levant.
            I personally find myself smart enough to filter the slant in anything I read and formulate my own opinions. It looks like you’re smart enough to see through that slant and form your own opinions also. And my opinion is the vast majority of readers here are also smart enough to see through any bias and formulate their own opinions based on the facts they gather, both from this blog as well as other sources.
            Do you consider the majority of readers here to be too stupid that you feel it necessary to complain that Aaron sprinkles a bit of sublte commentary into his blog?

          • The difference of course is that people like Ezra Levant have the integrity to be upfront with their readers and openly disclose their political leanings. I don’t have an issue with partisan journalists provided they have the integrity to disclose their political leanings.

            My concern with Wherry is that he makes no such disclosure and attempts to masquerade as a non partisan journalist when in fact he is clearly very partisan. Wherry even openly comes to the defence of Mulcair which is completely inappropriate and unprofessional for a truly non partisan journalist.

            I do thank you for having the integrity to recognize and admit to the general “slant” on this blog from Mr.Wherry’s ongoing commentary. And yes, readers are intelligent, I agree with you – there should be no need for political bias from the journalist in question. Reports the facts and let the viewers decide. If you must insert your own personal point of view then make full disclosure up front much as Sun news does.

          • Show me one example of Brian Lilley saying flat out he is a conservative partisan (I’ve omitted Ezra; bad example on my part as he once tried to run for the Canadian Alliance), and I’ll concede your point.
            Still, what do you think such a disclosure would achieve? We’re all smart enough to read between the lines and form our own thoughts. If Aaron were to say something like that, I don’t think it wouldn’t change one reader’s view of this blog, and I think if you were to respond to me honestly and candidly, you’d agree no one’s mind would really be changed. It’d likely just reinforce people’s pre-existing biases…. right-leaning readers would hate him more, left-leaning like him more)
            I myself believe in free markets – I suppose if you don’t like what is written here, vote with your computer, go read something else and don’t give Macleans the web traffic. If no one read this blog, Macleans wouldn’t continue to employ him.

          • “Wherry even openly comes to the defence of Mulcair…”

            Uh, no Bill, he didn’t. Seriously, did you follow the link? Is irony too hard for you?

          • If all you want to see is what the PM and the leader of the Opposition say, with no desire for any context, then perhaps try this site: http://www.parl.gc.ca/housechamberbusiness/chambersittings.aspx

            That way, not only do you not have to see Wherry’s stuff which apparently bothers you so much, but you also deny Macleans the ad revenue they get when you read the stuff.

            And then as an added bonus, we wouldn’t have to read your crap.

  3. Today’s G&M Editorial had the best overview on the budget.

    “The NDP opposition is upset that the Harper government spent $8-billion less than it promised in its 2011 budget, a budget on which the Conservatives campaigned. They are attempting to sell Ottawa’s frugality as a lack of transparency, but in this case it’s far more sensible to see it as a wise use of taxpayers’ money at a time when governments need to reduce their deficits. Call it leading by example.

    According to the Public Accounts, the billions in savings are easily explained and just as easily justified. Almost $2-billion came as a result of lower-than-expected Employment Insurance claims; another $1.4-billion is explained by a change stemming from British Columbia’s decision not to adopt the Harmonized Sales Tax. But the bulk of the savings – around $5-billion – are the result of Ottawa’s decision not to squander every single penny it had originally budgeted as stimulus spending designed to aid in the country’s economic recovery.

    There are far too few politicians in Canada, or in the world for that matter, who can resist the temptation to spend a dollar once it has been made available to them in a budget. The Harper government could have easily lavished those approved monies on headline-grabbing infrastructure programs, even if the country’s stabilized economy dictated otherwise. Instead, the government ended up reducing its 2011-12 deficit by $6-billion through the rather extraordinary measure of not wasting your money on unneeded projects.
    There is no question that the Harper government has transparency issues. Its recent omnibus budget bills are a sham that make proper Parliamentary oversight next-to-impossible. And the government has done nothing to improve Ottawa’s arcane budget process, despite repeatedly promising more accountability. Overall, budget transparency should be a government priority. But when it comes to promising to spend billions during an election campaign and then quietly not spending it once you are in power because there is no longer a valid justification for it, most Canadians, aside from the NDP, are okay with that.”

  4. It did not take long for the angry man to come out. Mulcair is looking more desparate as each day goes by. He better watch the pretty boy in the corner who will try and eat his lunch if he is elected leader. However, nobody believes that Mulcair and his band of kids and activists are anywhere near being able to run the federal government. Bob Rae tried and blew himself up politically. Mulcair can talk about winning the next election but like the Liberals he is living in a fantasyland.

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