The Scene. In preemptive move, the government side sent up another of its backbenchers before Question Period—this one named Greg Rickford—to report on the latest outrageousness of the Liberal leader.
“Mr. Speaker, Canada’s auto industry directly employs over 150,000 Canadians and another 340,000 indirectly … half a million Canadians and their families depend on the health and viability of this industry and are looking to their leaders to ensure that Canada remains a strong part of the North American automotive industry through these economic times,” Rickford began. “That is why it is absolutely shameful that the leader of the opposition has turned up his nose to auto sector workers by saying: ‘No voter in B.C. wants to throw money into the auto sector and neither do I.’”
To Rickford’s credit, this was not entirely incorrect. Mr. Ignatieff did speak those 16 words. And one assumes it was by innocent omission that the Conservative failed to note the two preceding sentences. “I don’t believe in bailouts,” Mr. Ignatieff reportedly said. “What I believe in is fully-refundable loan packages for industries that give you a business plan that will restore them to profitability.”
Undaunted by such details, Rickford went on. “I wonder if he would repeat the same sentiment at a town hall meeting in Ontario,” he whined. “I am sure he has more savvy than that. He has shown time and time again that he is more than willing to flip-flop on the content of his message to suit whatever audience he is speaking to, whether it be in Saanich, St. Catharines or at his home in Harvard.”
This last bit was, apparently, meant as a put-down.
It’s unclear when Harvard became a dirty word. For sure, the sorts of things people do at places like Harvard has long been suspect. “Over the course of his nearly four decades working abroad as a professor, pundit, and politician, Michael Ignatieff chose to focus on abstract constitutional, sociological and foreign policy issues,” the Conservatives moaned in a fundraising letter a few weeks ago, “while ignoring everyday issues such as the jobs and savings of Canadians.”
For the record, Mr. Ignatieff completed his PhD in history at Harvard and later spent five years there as director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Perhaps had he known that such work would render him unfit to hold high office in Canada, he would have avoided it. Or at least avoided this.
As it is, his interest in higher education, intellectualism and general knowledge is a burden he must now bear. A stain he might never wash away. A shame he may never reconcile, no matter how many questions he asks this government about the everyday issues of everyday Canadians.
“Mr. Speaker, President Obama’s announcement about the U.S. auto sector leaves Canadians wondering who is defending the Canadian industry,” he asked today to open Question Period. “The minister says he supports the Americans’ plan, but where is the coordinated strategy to save the North American industry as a whole? This crisis has been gathering for years. Why has the government waited for three years so that Washington can decide the fate of our workers and our industry?”
With the Prime Minister elsewhere, Industry Minister Tony Clement stood to lead the government response. “Mr. Speaker, in fact we are coordinated with the Americans because this is an integrated auto sector. We have been working with American officials and the Prime Minister has been working with the U.S. president to make sure that the Americans are aware this is integrated and that is why our response today was indeed integrated,” he responded. “The honourable member stands in his place and talks about failed Liberal policies of previous governments and then in British Columbia on the weekend, says he does not want to support the auto sector. So which is the real leader of the opposition?”
“Mr. Speaker,” responded Ignatieff, “the minister’s capacity for misquotation never fails to astonish me.”
Clement shrugged, obviously unimpressed by the Liberal leader’s ability to pronounce polysyllabic words.
Ignatieff insisted on repeating his request for factual information. “Last week, GM testified to the auto subcommittee that it had committed all of its worldwide assets, including its assets in Canada, as collateral for U.S. loans to keep its American operations alive. That may mean that the government’s loans to GM Canada are going to be unsecured and Canadian taxpayers are going to be on the hook,” he said. “The government was not at the table. It did not stand up for taxpayers. It did not stand up for Canadian workers. Why not?”
Clement, whose two degrees from the University of Toronto are of no consequence to this discussion, suggested Mr. Ignatieff was eager to see several hundred thousand people put out of work.
“Mr. Speaker, I take this to be ‘no,’ the loans are unsecured and I await contradiction,” Ignatieff shot back.
Liberal Frank Valeriote rose next, removed his glasses and lectured the government side about car warranties. Clement stood and pledged his interest in the President’s next move. “The fact of the matter is these plans are progressing,” he said. “Obviously the U.S. President has some new ideas. We are willing to take a look at those.”
It was at this point that Mr. Rickford must have been tempted to interject. Whatever the merits of the Preisdent’s ideas, he did, of course, spend several years in the general vicinity of Harvard. Indeed, like Mr. Ignatieff, Barack Obama lowered himself to obtain a degree from that breeding ground of communists, socialists, liberals and other such villains.
The Liberals kept on with their pressing for details. “Mr. Speaker, let’s try this again,” ventured Marc Garneau. “My question to the Minister of Industry is very simple and I trust crystal clear. Can he tell us whether any loans which may be made to GM Canada by the federal government will be backed by any GM assets? In other words, will the Conservatives be requiring GM Canada to put up any collateral for any loans made to it? If so, what is that collateral?”
Clement would only clarify that the government had not yet actually delivered a loan to General Motors.
Only when Mr. Valeriote ventured a question about government plans to make credit more easily available to consumers, did the government send someone other than the Industry Minister up to handle the dominant issue of the day.
“Mr. Speaker, the credit facility is part of the extraordinary financing framework that was announced in the budget on January 27. It is very important in terms of acquiring the commercial paper that is supported by loans with respect to vehicles and equipment,” huffed Jim Flaherty. “Unlike the opposition, we have actually consulted to create a plan that will work for Canadians and the plan will be implemented shortly.”
The Finance Minister took only one other question this afternoon, the government obviously somewhat reluctant to let a Princeton grad say too much on its behalf.
The Stats. The automotive industry, 10 questions. Quebec and employment, five questions each. Abousfian Abdelrazik, four questions. The military, three questions. Taxation, crime, the disabled and trade, two questions each. Home renovations, listeriosis, poverty, tobacco farmers, the CBC and pipeline safety, one question each.
Tony Clement, nine answers. Deepak Obhrai, seven answers. Christian Paradis and Ed Komarnicki, five answers. Peter MacKay, three answers. Jim Flaherty, Peter Van Loan, Gerry Ritz and Stockwell Day, two answers each. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, David Anderson, Dean Del Mastro and John Baird, one answer each.