The Scene. Michael Ignatieff opened with a joke. Of sorts.
“Mr. Speaker, yesterday the government tabled its first budget report, as required by the House, and what is remarkable is what is missing. There is no mention of the 190,000 jobs the government promised to create in its budget just six weeks ago,” he said.
The Conservative laughed uproariously, apparently assuming Ignatieff expected to see those jobs already created. The Liberal leader threw up his arms.
“I fail to see what is amusing, Mr. Speaker,” he said.
The Speaker called for order.
“Let me put this in a way the Conservatives can understand,” Ignatieff continued. “They promised to create 190,000 jobs six weeks ago. There is no mention of that figure in the current report. Why is the government backing down from its own projections?”
The Liberals stood and yelled. The Prime Minister stood and reviewed the latest analysis of the International Monetary Fund, including some generally positive remarks for the government’s stimulus package. “The focus now is appropriately on implementing that package,” Harper reprimanded, so I would encourage the party opposite, rather than always trying to find the negative in everything, to simply get on with passing this and doing something positive for the Canadian economy.”
Ignatieff deemed this not much of an answer.
“In my own riding, a generation of older women workers is facing unemployment for the first time. They are not eligible for EI and they cannot access skills and language training they need to find new jobs,” he continued. “What is the Prime Minister doing for those older women workers who are being left behind by their government’s plan?”
This did not impress the Prime Minister.
“Once again, Mr. Speaker, the leader of the opposition has absolutely nothing to propose. Of course, in the budget there are measures for older workers. That is why we are so anxious to see the budget and the implementing legislation pass,” Mr. Harper said. “When the leader of the Liberal Party talks about out of touch, he should get in touch with some of those out of touch senators he has at the other end of the hall and get them to get on with passing the budget.”
There would be much more of this—this shadowboxing with ghosts that may or may not exist.
Ignatieff asked a question in French to which Harper responded in same before switching to English for the sake of clarity. “However once again, when we are talking about the economy, what Canadians are looking for is this plan to be implemented. What they are certainly not looking for is a party with no plan, with no economic experience, and with the only proposals and not so hidden agenda to raise taxes,” he lectured. “That is no plan. That is why Canadians want our plan passed and passed now.”
At this mention of experience, Ignatieff gestured theatrically to the former finance minister, Ralph Goodale, sitting to his right. And next up for the Liberals stood John McCallum, formerly the chief economist with the Royal Bank. He picked up roughly where the Liberal leader had begun.
“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister refused to answer the question about the 190,000 jobs that he committed to in the budget but said nothing about in his first probationary report, so let us try the Finance Minister,” McCallum began. “Does he not understand that when 129,000 jobs are lost in January alone, which is one Canadian losing his or her job every 20 seconds, Canadians care deeply about this job issue? Why did the minister totally ignore this commitment to 129,000 jobs in his first report?”
Up came Jim Flaherty.
“Mr. Speaker, Canada’s economic action plan of course was announced on January 27. We want to implement it with the stimulus that is in the first budget bill. The leader of the opposition says he has told the Liberal senators to pass the bill. When? It can be passed today. It can receive royal assent. It can help the unemployed people in Canada right now,” he growled. “It is very plain that that additional time for unemployed Canadians is available now. Where is the plan on the other side? Where is the courage on the other side to help unemployed Canadians?”
The Conservatives stood and cheered the Finance Minister’s efforts.
McCallum came up once more. “Mr. Speaker, I think it is disgraceful that at this time of unemployment, the Finance Minister has scrummed three times on the 190,000 jobs and he does not answer. Neither he nor the Prime Minister will answer the question about this solemn budget commitment in question period. They will not answer this question,” he yelped. “When will they come clean with Canadians on their commitment to create jobs? Do they not care? Have they given up? Why will they not come clean?”
The Liberals stood to cheer.
Back came Flaherty, now yelling without bothering to breathe. “Mr. Speaker, if the members opposite cared about unemployed people in Canada, the budget bill would be law by now. That is an action that is within their control,” he cried. “The difference is there is a plan on this side of the House and no plan on the other side of the House. We have a bill that is ready to pass. We want it to become law. They want to delay it from becoming law. We want to help unemployed Canadians on this side of the House. The other side of the House does not care about unemployed Canadians. We have a positive plan. They offer nothing in terms of a plan, only a negative attitude toward those in need in Canada.”
It is tedious to unravel all this, but perhaps necessary all the same. So here goes.
The government’s budget has passed the House of Commons and is now with the Senate. While the rest of Ottawa goes on break next week, the Senate’s finance committee will remain to continue its study of the legislation. The budget is apparently on track to be ratified before the end of the month and in plenty of time to receive the Governor General’s royal assent by April 1, the first day of the next fiscal year.
No money promised in the budget can be spent before then and thus, the Liberals contend, nothing is amiss, there is no delay.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives respond, changes to employment insurance would take effect immediately. Thus, they counter, there is a delay.
The Liberals, for their part, argue they are acting according to a schedule agreed to with Conservatives in the Senate and will direct you to Table 4.2 of the government’s stimulus progress report, released just yesterday, which says the employment insurance changes will be available in April.
None of which, of course, was made clear to anyone during Question Period.
“There is one thing standing in the way of help for Canadians and that is the Liberal senate,” lamented John Baird in response to a Liberal question. “We need the member to get down there and urge them to get the job done.”
“As soon as the bill gets passed, we will be able to move forward with that,” moped Jim Flaherty in response to an NDP question, “and I hope the Liberal senators will stop delaying the bill in the other place.”
“We fully stand behind our slaughter capacity in this country,” later proclaimed Gerry Ritz. “In fact we have added more in this budget. I hope the member is going to run down the hall and get his Senate to pass it later today.”
At one point Jack Layton felt the need to interject. “Mr. Speaker, yesterday in Brampton the Prime Minister was accusing the opposition of holding up the estimates, but understanding Standing Order 81, as he should know, it is the government that brings forward the date for the vote on the estimates, and what date did it choose? March 24,” he said. “Either the Prime Minister does not understand the rules of the House and of his own government or he was misleading Canadians yesterday. Which is it?”
In response, the Prime Minister opted to accuse the NDP of “playing political games.”
After Question Period, Michael Ignatieff emerged from the House with clarity on his mind.
“This Prime Minister cannot live without creating artificial crises,” he alleged. “From the 28th of January when I decided to vote this budget, I did so because I believe stimulus was in the national interest, right? I cannot understand why he wants to provoke difficulties where there are none. My only hypothesis is this economy’s falling like a stone and he’d like you to write about something else.”
Then, for good measure. “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s a joke.”
The Stats. The economy, 23 questions. Forestry and immigration, four questions each. Justice and agriculture, two questions each. Africa, foreign affairs and bilingualism, one question each.
Stephen Harper, eight answers. Jim Flaherty, five answers. Jason Kenney, four answers. Diane Finley and John Baird, three answers each. Vic Toews, Rob Nicholson, Stockwell Day and Tony Clement, two answers each. Diane Ablonczy, Bev Oda, Gerry Ritz, Keith Ashfield, Denis Lebel, James Moore and Lisa Raitt, one answer each.