The Scene. Flirting dangerously with a public demonstration of intellect, Ralph Goodale opened with a reference to Einstein. “The definition of insanity,” Mr. Goodale mused, referring to the father of modern physics, “is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
This could’ve been understood as a comment on most of the actors in our political process, but in this case was apparently intended as a reference to the Prime Minister. “In the case of the Chinook military helicopters, the Conservative sole-sourced, untendered, non-competitive process caused overruns of 100 percent and at least five years delay. The Auditor General says that fiasco could well be repeated on the F-35 purchase; sole-sourced, untendered, non-competitive,” the Liberal deputy continued. “Why will the government not listen to Sheila Fraser, define the specifications and get competitive bids?”
The Prime Minister stood here to dismiss this. “Mr. Speaker, of course, nothing could be further from the tooth,” he shrugged, quickly correctly himself to say “truth.”
Yesterday the Prime Minister blamed a decision of the previous Liberal government for all that currently ails the Defence Department. And so today, if only to be fair, the Prime Minister commended a decision of the previous Liberal government for enabling his government to now so lavishly demonstrate its unique support for the troops.
“We are following a process that was put in place by the previous government,” he explained, wagging his fist to demonstrate assurance. “The previous government put that in place because it understood that at the end of this decade we have to replace our CF-18 fighters and we have to be part of a world consortium and get the best for that year, not just the best planes, but get the work here to be done in this country. That is why the previous government did it.”
How to explain that the current Liberal opposition’s concerns about a Conservative government purchase the Prime Minister now trace to the previous Liberal government whose defence policy he regularly laments? The answer seemed obvious. “Now Liberals want to play coalition politics to scrap this deal,” Mr. Harper ventured. “This government will not play politics with the men and women of the armed forces or the Canadian air force.”
He did not specifically exclude the Navy here. Presumably they thus remain fair game.
Mr. Goodale, ever fastidious, stood with a clarification. “Mr. Speaker,” he advised, “the previous government preserved the right to tender.”
He proceeded to review the plight of the child-rearing, parent-minding, hard-working, penny-pinching, heavily indebted Canadian family. “Why,” he asked, “can’t the Conservatives do what is right for the air force and right for the taxpayer at the same time?”
The Prime Minister typically builds to a full-throated yell, but here he went directly to a shout. Indeed, he seems now committed to yelling his way through this debate, to defeating his detractors with decibels. Whatever this will lack in reason and logic, it is not without rationale—this official opposition typically quite easy to scare. “When it comes to managing taxpayers’ money through a recession I will not make any apologies to a party that cut the military, that cut health care, that cut education and that raised taxes,” Mr. Harper cried. “We are on a very different track in this government.”
Now apparently quite eager to incite the Prime Minister, the Liberal deputy directed his next question at the heart Mr. Harper has so proudly strapped to his sleeve. “It is only the Conservative that insists on being reckless, that demands a blank cheque, that says to satisfy the air force it has to break all the rules and waste $3 billion,” Mr. Goodale proclaimed. “Do Conservatives not know what an insult that is to the Canadian Forces?”
This was more than enough and now the Prime Minister was off, shouting, damning, declaring and demonstrably carrying on—yesterday’s unburdening having apparently not quite exhausted his sense of indignation. “Mr. Speaker, Liberals can talk all they want about investments they made in the military. We are not going to find a single person in the military anywhere in this country who believes that, because they know about the decade of darkness,” he asserted, now back to damning Liberal defence policy.
“Calm down,” beseeched a Liberal voice, perhaps fearing for the Prime Minister’s blood pressure. “Calm down.”
“The party opposite and its coalition friends use every attempt, every piece of misinformation to try and oppose anything we do for our men and women in uniform,” the Prime Minister finished. “It is absolutely disgraceful.”
We are now surely headed toward the day when Mr. Harper will appear here in a camouflage suit and beret. Perhaps to demonstrate his support for the troops, he might additionally vow to serve only military rations at 24 Sussex and replace his campaign bus for the next election with a blue tank.
But first here was Dominic LeBlanc, the Liberal proving he could speak in a loud voice too and beseeching the Prime Minister to explain why he’d supported a Liberal decision to cancel a helicopter program that Mr. Harper had cited yesterday as a mistake. Selflessly throwing himself in front of this alleged contradiction, Peter MacKay leapt up to assert that Mr. LeBlanc himself had once been supportive of the purchase of new fighter jets. “He has completely turned himself inside out,” the Defence Minister exclaimed.
If so uncomfortably contorted, Mr. LeBlanc is hardly alone at this moment.
The Stats. The military, seven questions. Foreign investment, five questions. Veterans and foreign aid, four questions each. Ethics, infrastructure and taxation, three questions each. Omar Khadr and the G20, two questions each. Rights & Democracy, crime, immigration, disability benefits, North Korea and firefighters, one question each.
Peter MacKay, eight answers. Stephen Harper, six answers. Lawrence Cannon, Bev Oda and Jim Flaherty, four answers each. Chuck Strahl and Tony Clement, three answers each. Vic Toews and John Baird, two answers each. Rob Nicholson, Jason Kenney and Stockwell Day, one answer each.