The Commons: In search of loose change

Because it would be “utterly indefensible” to spend any less than $1 billion

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. Michael Ignatieff began with an attempt to weave together various disparate strands to form a basket. A basket within which he could carry his message from one middle-class suburban door to the next.

Or something like that.

The Bank of Canada, he reported, had today hiked—the only word one can use when describing this action—interest rates. Canadian families are already more indebted than households anywhere else in the G20. The government is spending a billion to secure three days of meetings of G20 world leaders later this month. How, he wondered, could the government explain putting so much into the latter in light of the former?

Here, though, the Prime Minister stood with his own basket to weave. The interest rate hike, he said, was due to Canada’s sound economy. The G20 meetings, meanwhile, would bring as many delegates as the Olympics had athletes with even greater security risks. Ipso facto, the money simply has to be spent.

This government had previously blamed its billion on the attacks of 9/11, the recent fire-bombing of a bank outlet in Ottawa and, perhaps most frightening of all, Paul Martin’s failed reelection campaign of 2006. So here, in a way, was the most reasonable explanation yet. Still, Mr. Ignatieff was unsatisfied.

“Mr. Speaker, Canadians still cannot understand it,” he presumed to report. “The Olympic Games were nearly three weeks. This is 72 hours. These are costing more. No one can understand it.”

And now a new strand. “The choices here do not make any sense,” he continued, “$1 billion for security; $6 billion in tax cuts for corporations that are already profitable. How does the government explain these choices to hard-pressed Canadian families caught in the mortgage squeeze?”

Presented with a pu-pu platter of alleged failings, the Prime Minister skillfully picked only that which he could most enjoy swallowing. “Of course everybody wishes that security costs for these major summits were less,” he conceded. “But the reality is we have more delegates at these summits than we have athletes at the Olympic Games. It is of enormous scale. The risks are immensely greater. The costs we are incurring are in line with what summits unfortunately today cost, and we will make the investments necessary to ensure the full security of the summits.”

For a third and final time this afternoon the two stood to face each other, each clutching sheets of white paper they entirely ignored.

“Nobody can understand how the costs got out of control and nobody can understand how we explain that to Canadians who are facing a mortgage squeeze,” Mr. Ignatieff posited. “Instead of helping these Canadian families, we have a government that does not know how to manage public money. Again, I ask the Prime Minister, how does he justify these charges to hard-pressed Canadian families?”

Over to Mr. Harper, first swiping his hand to pronounce it “utterly indefensible” to not spend that billion, then jabbing the air so vehemently that he nearly threatened to poke out one of Jim Prentice’s eyes. “When it comes to economic management,” he cried, “this government has the best growth rate in the developed world because of the policies of this government and because we do not listen to the irresponsible—”

His time had expired, but you can most likely guess the rest.

It was Marlene Jennings who, in her own understated way, attempted to find conciliation, some small point of mutual agreement.

Recalling the $2.1-million once paid to former prime minister Brian Mulroney to settle a libel lawsuit, Ms. Jennings wondered if now might be a good time to ask for that money’s prompt return. “Mr. Speaker, in 1996, Brian Mulroney denied, under oath, having any business dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber. He claimed, ‘We would have a coffee once or twice.’ What he failed to mention was that his coffee was sweetened with envelopes stuffed with cash,” she loudly proclaimed, perhaps misunderstanding that coffee actually tastes quite sour after it has been strained through money filled envelopes.

The Justice Minister was non-committal in response. But that $2.1-million would make it undoubtedly a little easier to cover that $1-billion.

The Stats. The G20, six questions. Brian Mulroney, the oil industry, the budget bill and foreign affairs, four questions each. Israel, three questions. Medical isotopes, securities regulation and multiple sclerosis, two questions each. Abortion, the environment, crime, ethics, the auto industry, hepatitis C and the economy, one question each.

Stephen Harper, eight answers. Ted Menzies and Leona Aglukkaq, five answers each. Rob Nicholson and Christian Paradis, four answers each. Bev Oda, three answers. Rona Ambrose and Mike Lake, two answers each. James Moore, Diane Finley, Jim Prentice, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, John Baird and Lawrence Cannon, one answer each.

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