The Scene. After Jack Layton had finished haranguing the Conservative side, swiping his right hand dismissively and projecting across the chamber his outrage at the latest revelation of government expenditure, John Baird was compelled to defend his team and here the platitudes runneth over. But as the Transport Minister waxed proudly about Canada’s status as a “major player” and “world leader,” his face seemed to give the game away—the makings of a slight smirk breaking ever so slightly and ever so briefly.
Alas, for even his generation’s most formidable obfuscater, it is perhaps becoming near impossible to keep a straight sneer in the face of such stuff.
Where once there was merely a billion-dollar security bill over which to trade accusations of failure, the meetings of the G8 and G20 in Ontario this month are now being discussed in terms of the antique steamship and the remote gazebo and the faraway toilets. And to those novelties, you can now add an indoor lake—sorry, “reflecting pool“—in downtown Toronto.
And to all that you can add new complaints over what is not in an already-leaked draft of the final communiqué to be issued at the end of the G8 gathering.
“Mr. Speaker, it is not just the cost of this photo op, it is the content of the photo op that is so empty when we look at the G8 communiqué,” Michael Ignatieff clarified off the top of Question Period this afternoon. “No progress on climate change; nothing on the environment; no progress on maternal health because Conservatives will not defend the rights overseas that they claim to defend at home; no action on banking reform either. Canadians read the full text of the proposed G8 communiqué and they ask, what did we get for this, what did we get for $1 billion? What was the Prime Minister thinking?”
Thus can the meeting of the G8, still three weeks away, already be said to be an abject failure. Such apparently is the pace of modern life that we are now able to pass on judgment on the outcome of future events before they have occurred.
After Mr. Ignatieff had dispensed with such concerns for the serious business of international diplomacy and the collective management of world affairs, it was Mark Holland’s turn to stand and dance the dance of righteous indignation. “Mr. Speaker, we now learn that the billion dollar security price tag for the 72 hours of G8 and G20 meetings is just the beginning,” he warned. “For the use of media only the government is splurging on a $2-million fake lake in downtown Toronto. Complete with a sprawling dock, bar, canoes and a giant Jumbotron, the government is literally going to flush it down the drain when the 72-hour spend-fest is over. Having run up the biggest deficit in Canadian history, did someone, not anyone in government think that $2 million, 72-hour fake lake to host a meeting on fiscal restraint was a bad idea?”
To defend its security expenses, the government previously invoked the attacks of 9/11, fire-bombing anarchists and Paul Martin’s 2006 electoral campaign. Seemingly none of these could explain the fake lake—sorry, reflecting pool. And so the fake lake—sorry, reflecting pool—was here heralded as nothing less than a question of patriotism.
“Mr. Speaker, obviously Canada is very proud of hosting the world,” Lawrence Cannon informed the House, his voice rising and his face darkening as he attempted to be heard over the catcalls of the opposition side. “It is a normal practice for the host country of an international summit to use the opportunity to showcase all their country has to offer to the world and that is exactly what we are doing. We are going to be proud to showcase Canada to the world, contrary to what the Liberals want to do.”
Indeed, among the many weaknesses in Mr. Ignatieff’s formal pursuit of high office is a distinct unwillingness to commit to the building of temporary indoor lakes (sorry, reflecting pools).
Mr. Holland stood for this supplementary, apparently hoping to shame the government with a current pop culture reference. “Instead of hosting world leaders, maybe the government should consider party planning for Lady Gaga,” he sniffed. “How can the government look at people whose EI has just run out and justify this billion-dollar spend fest?”
Here Mr. Cannon bowed to the pressures of pleasing the mainstream media. “We are going to have over 3,000 international media persons who will be in Canada,” he reported. “We are going to be very proud to showcase Canada to them all.”
The opposition was not yet through with questions of this sort though, and eventually the government was forced to send up Tony Clement, the Industry Minister now mocked as ShamWow Tony or, more formally, the ShamWow Minister.
On the matter of the antique steamship in his riding, Mr. Clement protested that the money for refurbishment had come not from the G8 account, but some other account entirely. When that failed to mollify the Liberal side, Mr. Clement rose to recount how the previous Liberal government had once spent money to fix up the Bluenose. And when that failed to quiet his hecklers, the minister dove further.
“When the Liberals were in power, not only did they fund the Bluenose and some other infrastructure projects for Halifax, they put in $3 million extra for Halifax after the summit was over,” he cried. “That is how proud they were of Halifax, so they should not be coming to us when we are spending money for tourism, for business development and for the future of Canadian business. We are proud of that, because that is what good governments do.”
That this answer seemed to contradict nearly everything about what brought Mr. Clement’s government to power was perhaps merely inconvenient. Alas, when you are adrift in the middle of a fake lake, desperately trying to keep from going under, you must cling to whatever is available.
The Stats. The G20, 16 questions. Employment, the oil industry and the military, three questions each. Israel, the environment, securities regulation and foreign aid, two questions. Maternal health, product safety, firearms, multiple sclerosis, Parliament and Brian Mulroney, one question each.
Christian Paradis, seven answers. John Baird, six answers. Lawrence Cannon and Tony Clement, four answers each. Bev Oda, three answers. Jim Prentice, Peter MacKay, Ted Menzies and Leona Aglukkaq, two answers each. Denis Lebel, Gail Shea, John Duncan, Vic Toews, Jay Hill, Rona Ambrose and Rob Nicholson, one answer each.