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The Commons: Our government’s weight issues

BY AARON WHERRY


 

What does this mean?

The Scene. Stephane Dion rose first, up with a downer of an announcement.

“Mr. Speaker,” he lamented, “tomorrow will be a sad day for Canadians.”

How so exactly? Because, Mr. Dion explained, tomorrow the government will reveal its intentions for our increasingly dizzy and frequently dizzying economy. And with that, Mr. Dion warned, the government will make clear its plans to set the country back no less than twenty years. “Au temps Mulroney,” he cried.

Happy news no doubt for the mysterious German arms dealers among us.

Perhaps missing the Liberal leader’s point, Ted Menzies jumped up quick in celebration. “Thank goodness,” he said, “it was the Conservatives that won the election!”

Here, at least, was a sentiment no doubt shared by some on the Liberal side. Indeed, if there is a good time to be in opposition it is surely in these moments of profound economic chaos. All the more so when the government side is only managing to forcefully remind the citizenry how unable they are to impose order on the global financial system.

“Is the reason that the government has offered no plan for struggling sectors of our economy,” Dion asked with his supplementary, “because his budget is out of control, because his cabinet is bloated, or is it simply that he does not care?”

At this bloated bit, John Baird rubbed his belly defensively. Gary Lunn, Gordon O’Connor, Rona Ambrose and Bev Oda—combined ministerial salary, $297,600—merely did their best to blend in with the crushed velvet upholstery.

“Mr. Speaker, the answer would be none of the above,” Menzies corrected. “In fact, this Prime Minister cares dearly.”

Dion, obstinate as usual, would not take Ted’s word for it.

“Where is the plan to get our economy back on track?” he begged.

Tony Clement stood up then, quick to rhyme off all the initiatives his government had implemented before he became Minister of Industry. Asked later to name which members of the American administration he had so far consulted with since taking on his new job, Clement appeared stumped.

Wayne Easter was given the Liberals’ second spot, his folksy Eastern twang perfectly suited to populist outrage. “Mr. Speaker,” he cried, “the Prime Minister’s propaganda machine was out in full force last night trying to divert attention away from his responsibility for the deficit. The Prime Minister expanded cabinet from an original 26 to a new 37 four weeks ago, full ministers, inflated salaries, personal cars and drivers, bloated staffs, bigger and more offices and millions in contingency funds. Will the Prime Minister reduce his cabinet to a sensible level, cut the 37 limo service and cut the bloated staffing?”

“Cut the fat!” cried a Liberal backbencher.

“So much for the new decorum, Mr. Speaker,” huffed Jay Hill, the government’s dapper house leader. “The facts are that the size of our cabinet has not increased but what we have done is add ministers of state.”

“How many more chauffeurs have you hired?” yelped another Liberal.

When Easter persisted, Hill turned threatening. “I urge the member to wait until tomorrow,” he said, “and we will see who wants to lead by example.”

And when the NDP picked up the questioning, Mr. Menzies turned pouty. “If we could have a little help in this House,” he whined, “we may actually instill some enthusiasm in Canadians that the end is not near.”

As one observer noted, in those last five words the parliamentary secretary had stumbled upon one heck of a campaign slogan.

Some time later, John McCallum stood up with a parting shot. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “if the government House leader cannot even count cabinet spots, it is not surprising these Conservatives cannot balance their budget.”

Solace then perhaps in knowing that no matter how sad tomorrow and every day after it, there will still be time and place for sarcasm.

The Stats. The economy, 20 questions. The forestry industry, six questions. The environment, three questions. Employment, two questions. Energy efficiency, violence against women, Omar Khadr and credit cards, one question each.

Jim Flaherty, seven answers. Tony Clement and Lisa Raitt, six answers each. Ted Menzies and Jim Prentice, four answers each. Jay Hill and John Baird, two answers each. Christian Paradis, Peter MacKay, Helena Guergis and Deepak Obhrai, one answer each.


 

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