The Commons: Huzzah, Mr. Ignatieff asks a question that is not entirely rhetorical

But never let it be said Parliament is no place for a Ringo joke

by Aaron Wherry

The Commons: Huzzah, Mr. Ignatieff asks a question that is not entirely rhetoricalThe Scene. We are—as a people, as a political class, as a town quite bored with itself—easily impressed. So it is that the Prime Minister’s overt display this weekend of something approaching personality is being roundly hailed as something approaching significance. Mr. Harper played the piano and sang. In public. And such is the state of things that, were you to judge only the reaction, you might assume he’d personally negotiated the surrender of the Taliban, or at least convinced Gary Bettman to move a hockey team to Hamilton.

By those same standards, similar huzzahs are almost certainly due to the leader of the opposition, who, let the record show, stood in the House this day and asked a question that was almost not entirely rhetorical.

This was, mere months ago, his trademark: an insistence that Question Period be something other than an exchange of slanders. Alas, since returning this fall, with a new mandate of opposition to justify, he’s been less reason and inquiry and more piss and vinegar. Take, for instance, the first of his questions on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week.

“How,” he wondered on Monday, “are Canadians supposed to believe what today’s report says?”

“Why,” he begged on Tuesday, “does this Prime Minister have nothing to say and nothing to offer to these workers in Trois-Rivières? Why?”

“Could,” he asked on Wednesday, “the Prime Minister advise when he and his ministers plan to start bailing?”

“When,” he queried on Thursday, “will this government admit that its ideology is to weaken the Government of Canada’s ability to protect Canadians?

All good fun, no doubt. But all ultimately, and inherently, futile. Here, on the other hand, was his effort today.

“Mr. Speaker, even before the recession hit, the government had spent its way through a $13 billion surplus left by the previous Liberal government and over the past six months it has changed its fiscal projections no less than three times, each time painting a worse picture,” he began, the Conservatives howling. “Now we are told to brace for a $56 billion deficit and future deficits stretching until who knows when. With recovery stalling and unemployment rising, will the government finally admit to Canadians that it has taken this country back into a structural deficit?”

Now, sure, this was perhaps futile too—”Absolutely not, Mr. Speaker,” John Baird offered in response—but there was something here beyond on a basic assumption of government evil. Progress. Kind of.

“Mr. Speaker,” retorted Mr. Ignatieff after Mr. Baird had finished fulminating, “I think the minister is still in the yellow submarine with his Prime Minister.”

Let it never be said that reason and inquiry are incompatible with Ringo Starr jokes.

In any event, the two repeated their assertions in French and then Mr. Ignatieff rose with a thought.

“Mr. Speaker, this House is not going to get the facts about Canada’s economic situation from the government or the minister,” he posited. “So here is a thought.”

The Conservatives whined.

“The Conservatives proposed the creation of a Parliamentary Budget Officer and then they shackled him,” Mr. Ignatieff continued. “The question is this. Will they unshackle the Parliamentary Budget Officer? Will they provide him with the resources he needs and open the country’s books so that Canadians can finally get the truth about the nation’s finances?”

“Mr. Speaker,” responded the Transport Minister, “we have run an open and transparent government.”

The Liberal side bellowed with theatric laughter. The Speaker called for order.

“Mr. Speaker, the truth is it is this government that has put in place countless measures to ensure that we monitor public finances, to ensure that we run the country as it should be, conservatively and fiscally responsibly,” Mr. Baird continued when the proceedings were able to resume. “Every single day in this House the Liberal Party stands up in this place and demands more spending, more programs, and every time we try to put some fiscal sanity into the debate, this party can be counted on to shout it down. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr. Speaker, reports to you and w, we have every confidence in you and your fine staff.”

Up next, Joe Volpe wondered if the government side might explain when the Prime Minister became aware of the plight of Suaad Hagi Mohamud and what he had done with that information. Deepak Obhrai dutifully rose and detailed the heavy workload of officials in the department of foreign affairs.

Marlene Jennings inquired as to why the Military Police Complaints Commission was having such a difficult time investigating allegations of detainee abuse in Afghanistan. Peter MacKay assured her everything was fine.

Bob Rae asked the Foreign Affairs Minister for Canada’s position on report of widespread fraud in recent Afghan elections. Lawrence Cannon competently stood and committed several non-committal sentences to the record.

Awhile later it was Martha Hall Findlay’s turn, the Liberal apparently not assuaged by last week’s gift of an autographed picture of the Prime Minister (a good-natured response to her wondering aloud about the enthusiastic use of Mr. Harper’s image on government websites).

“Mr. Speaker, I tried last week to get some answers on government advertising. There were no answers and no numbers,” she recapped, “so I will try again and I will ask the President of the Treasury Board, because after all, he is the one responsible for the spending and he should know. How much exactly have Canadian taxpayers now paid for the government’s partisan, pat-themselves-on-the-back advertising so far?”

The President of the Treasury Board did indeed stand.

“Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada does not bill the taxpayer for that kind of advertising,” he reported. “The Government of Canada gets out key messages that reach a large number of Canadians on important issues.”

The Liberals found this particularly hysterical.

“And they laugh,” Toews scolded. “H1N1, elder abuse, the home renovation tax credit, Canadian Forces recruitment. That is what the role of government is and we will continue to do that.”

Ms. Hall Findlay was unimpressed. “Mr. Speaker, I am not exactly sure who the President of the Treasury Board thinks actually pays for government spending if it is not the Canadian taxpayers,” she said, bewildered. “I am not sure which is worse, the fact that he does not have the numbers, he does not know them or he is trying to hide something. Look at the TV campaign alone. We are talking tens of millions of dollars—forty, sixty, a hundred.

“Once in government, the Conservatives did away with the rules restricting ad spending and they have gone wild ever since. In 2007-08 they spent double what the previous government spent,” she continued. “I challenge the minister once again to give us a number. How much has this government spent on its—”

In her confusion, she’d lost track of time. The Speaker turned matters back to Mr. Toews.

“Mr. Speaker, let us deal with the issue of H1N1,” he offered. “This is an issue that all Canadians need to be familiar with. They need to understand what the risks are, what the problems are, and indeed the steps that the Canadian government is taking in order to address this issue. Members across the way continuously ask the Canadian government what it is doing, and we are telling the Canadian people directly.”

So there.

With the next question, Conservative backbencher Tilly O’Neill-Gordon rose and asked the Defence Minister about Canada’s recent commitment to fight pirates. Mr. MacKay rose and, of course, answered fully and affirmatively.

The Stats. Afghanistan, six question. Crime, four questions. The federal deficit and taxation, three questions each. Suaad Hagi Mohamud, trade, employment, government ethics, government advertising, affordable housing aboriginals and fisheries, two questions each. Farmers, H1N1, museums, the environment, the economy and pirates, one question each.

John Baird, eight answers. Peter MacKay, five answers. Christian Paradis, Rob Nicholson, Lawrence Cannon, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Stockwell Day, Vic Toews, Diane Finley, Helena Guergis and Gail Shea, two answers each. Deepak Obhrai, Peter Van Loan, Gerry Ritz, Leona Aglukkaq, James Moore, Jim Prentice and Gary Goodyear, one answer each.

The Commons: Huzzah, Mr. Ignatieff asks a question that is not entirely rhetorical

  1. "…will the government finally admit to Canadians that it has taken this country back into a structural deficit?"

    Sorry, but how is this not completely rhetorical?

    • Perhaps it is rhetorical, but only if the Prime Minister refuses to do his job and provide an honest response! Highly unlikely because he prefers partisan jibes to honest information.

      Canadians are now facing a massive structural deficit that will force tax increases if the government wants to protect Canada's credit rating and its ability to borrow down the road. Canada could hit the proverbial wall once again as it did in 1992-93 when the money markets threatened a capital strike if Canada refused to reign in its ballooning deficit and debt.

      PM Harper, once he has his majority, will cut programs of all kinds as well as raising EI premiums as Martin did in the 1990s.

      • One of the first ones to be cut will be the funding to all the parties based on their share of the vote.
        SH loves to kick sand in faces

        • And the whopping $20 million that will save.

          He could save even more if he cut the even bigger and more unfair taxpayer subsidy of the huge tax deduction for political donations. The per vote subsidy ties subsidy to voter intentions and voter support; whereas the tax deduction subsidy results in non-Conservative taxpayers subsidizing Conservatives.

          I wonder why Harper supports cutting one and not the other?

          That is a rhetorical question, in case there was any doubt.

          • All of which is fine and dandy to think, but doesn't at all relate to whether Ignatieff's question was rehetorical or not. Did he really expect Harper to answer 'yes' or 'no'? It's phrased exactly the same as one of those 'so, when did you stop beating your wife' questions.

  2. I watched this circus today for the first time in years and I believe it to be
    one of the rare examples of truth in advertising …
    It is called Question Period.
    It is not called Question and Answer Period.

    • Perhaps it's time to change that. Get rid of the excuse not to answer. In Britain it's called Question Time – yet they get answers.

    • Forty years ago I worked at External (now Foreign Affairs IIRC) and ACTUAL responses were prepared in anticipation of questions brought up by the opposition. Now, all we get are non responses and ridicule of the opposition from the govt. of the day. Why isn't the MSM holding the govt. to account by doing some investigative reporting on where, when and how those so-called stimulus billions are being spent. Instead, all we get is rah rah about Harper's tinkling the keys.

  3. What a great opening paragraph Mr. Wherry. I wish your media colleagues would all read it.

  4. I think Wherry is jealous of Harper.

  5. By those same standards, similar huzzahs are almost certainly due to the leader of the opposition

    I fail to follow the logic. Apparently asking a question in the House is equivalent to playing the piano in an NAC concert?

  6. Let it never be said that reason and inquiry are not incompatible with Ringo Starr jokes.

    Holy toledo, that sentence has a triple negative! That ain't got no sense nowhere!

    • yep, and the "not" actually contradicts what Wherry intended to say… I think…

    • Looks like he took out the extra "not".

  7. Conservatives are sure flying high now, but when it comes time to pay the piper, Stephen Harper might be singing a very different Beatles tune "Yesterday, my problems seemed so far away"

  8. Sorry Dick – wrong song – he should have been singing "Fool on the Hill"!

    • "Happiness… is a warm gun" perhaps?

      Or "Taxman", with all his tax increases?

      • "everybody's got something to hide 'cept for me and my monkey"…or…"piggies"…?

        <The White Album was their best as far as I'm concerned…>

        • Agreed. White album rocks!

  9. Profound opening sentence there, AW. But you may be confusing expressions of "being impressed" to the real thing.

    Funny thing is that nobody talked about the actual reason for the NAC gala, the charities it is supposed to help. It all became about Harper, much like the Conservative party site or actionplan.gc.ca.

    Maybe, AW, the political class isn't bored with itself. Maybe, it's just blissfully obsessed with itself.

  10. Hey, that yellow submarine quip was pretty good.

  11. Harper still sucks.

  12. "you might assume he'd personally negotiated the surrender of the Taliban, or at least convinced Gary Bettman to move a hockey team to Hamilton"

    On the 70th anniversary of "The Wizard of Oz," Aaron displays his Munchkin-surpassing smallness. Thanks for always stooping to my expectations.

    • Your expectations – uh, huh…..complete biased and partisan. And, arrogant…..as if Wherry should be even worry about your expectations.

      With what you Con partisans accept from Harper, you don't have very high expectations.

      • As a Lib partisan, would you say that all your hopes and dreams are fulfilled by the Negative Man Iggy ?

        • They sure as hell aren't fulfilled by Harper. I find it funny to be called a partisan by partisans.

    • Bahahahahahaahahahah! No one here is smaller than you, Joan. That comment was ridiculous.

  13. Unfortunately, the domain of Opposition has been traditionally negative-ville. There were few who could match Mean Mister Mustard himself when it came to frowning and complaining from the other side of the house. Heck, he even stooped to writing letters to the Wall Street Journal to continue his whinging, after he'd used up his supply of John Howard speeches…

  14. Why not add some real drama and hire some unemployed writers to spice up the proceedings a bit? Couldn't be any worse than Reality Television or what the opposition is passing for intelligent questioning.( The governments answers are already scripted so little will change there.)

  15. Oh my , how the liberals are funny when they are dropping like flies in the polls That green eyed monster is called jealousy, and it wont back away.I bet you right now the conservatives have some liberals wanting to cross over, they see the writing on the wall. Iggy could sing, it's MY party and I will cry If I want to,and you know, he will.

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