The Commons: There must be something here to disagree about -

The Commons: There must be something here to disagree about

The opposition pounces on the “fairness” with which the government issued its shipbuilding contracts


The Scene. First, the unquestionably good news.

“Mr. Speaker, today, myself, the NDP shipbuilding critic from Sackville-Eastern Shore, and all New Democrats celebrate with the workers of Nova Scotia and British Columbia,” Nycole Turmel informed the House.

Alas, this is Question Period and so this much would not suffice.

“But for other workers,” Ms. Turmel continued, “yesterday’s announcement came up $2 billion short. Instead of announcing the full $35 billion in contracts, the government picked winners and losers. The Prime Minister left major shipyards like Davie vulnerable. Why?”

The NDP leader’s lament was not well received.

“This is your angle?” begged James Moore from the government frontbench.

“You’re the loser!” cried a voice from the near corner of the Conservative side.

Opposition is the NDP’s constitutional responsibility. Fifty-nine Quebec MPs is its political reality. So here we were. However much two shipyards won in yesterday’s procurement sweepstakes, one firm—in Quebec—lost. And however much the government rejects everything the NDP represents and champions, it is not above angling to use New Democrat agreement as confirmation of righteousness.

“Mr. Speaker,” explained the Prime Minister, “while the leader of the NDP has chosen at the last hour to criticize the process, the fact of the matter is this. The NDP member of Parliament for Louis-Hébert said, ‘We would like to ensure that all the processes are clear and transparent and we recognize that that is the case here.’ In the case of the NDP member for Sackville-Eastern Shore, he said, ‘We are very pleased and we congratulate the government on that process.’ ”

Alas, this did not quite convince Ms. Turmel to cease with her questions. “Mr. Speaker, yes, we agree and everyone agrees that the awarding of government contracts should not be a partisan process,” she allowed with her third opportunity. “This should be the case, for naval contracts, fighter aircraft and for the G8 gazebos. That said, it is the duty of government to implement a national strategy of development of the shipbuilding industry.”

As appeals for consistency go, this was a masterpiece. Either the shipbuilding industry should be given its own G8 Legacy Fund—seafaring gazebos for everyone!—or the G8 Legacy Fund should’ve been handled with the sort of discretion reserved for shipbuilding procurement.

Showing the resolve that has made him a three-term prime minister, Mr. Harper talked right past this conundrum. “The position on our side is, of course, completely clear,” he ventured. “These are great initiatives not just for the shipbuilding industry but for the Canadian economy. New Democrats have to get together and work out their policy on the other side. Meanwhile, we will get on with making sure that shipbuilding and the Canadian economy move forward.”

A moment later, the NDP’s Denis Blanchette suggested the government find some way to work with the Davie shipyard and Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose duly stood and noted that another 100 ships needed to be built and decades more of maintenance to be accounted for. This sounded something like the start of something that might eventually amount to a point of common cause. But before this could take hold, Bob Rae was up with another of this pesky inconsistencies.

“Just very simply, to the Prime Minister,” he pleaded. “If he can have a fairness officer rendering an opinion, if he can have a competition which is non-partisan, if he can have a process which is generally seen as being fair and objective when it comes to the shipbuilding contracts, why can the government not see the logic of doing the same thing with respect to the purchase of several billion dollars worth of new fighter jets for the country?”

Of course, however much he deplored the Liberal government and everything it ever did, the Prime Minister is not unwilling to credit it for decisions he doesn’t want to defend.

“The fact of the matter is, the previous Liberal government was part of an international process to select an aircraft company to develop the fifth generation fighter,” Mr. Harper posited. “That is obviously why this government is proceeding in that way.”

And if the Liberal side agreed even a little bit with this interpretation of history, we might’ve had the start of another agreement here too.

The Stats. Shipbuilding, seven questions. The economy and fisheries, four questions each. Military procurement and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, three questions each. The Canadian Wheat Board, Canada Post, taxation, veterans and the G8 Legacy Fund, two questions each. Salmon, supply management, the environment, Africa, health care, sports, gay rights and crime, one question each.

Stephen Harper, six answers. Keith Ashfield, five answers. Rona Ambrose and Jim Flaherty, four answers each. Gerry Ritz, John Baird and Bernard Valcourt, three answers each. Julian Fantino, Steven Blaney and Steven Fletcher, two answers each. Michelle Rempel, Bev Oda, Leona Aglukkaq and Rob Nicholson, one answer each.


The Commons: There must be something here to disagree about

  1. Nycole Turmel embarrassed herself on the shipbuilding file, the latest in an unfortunate series of NDP bloopers in the past few days alone.  Her questions and criticisms have been utterly nonsensical. Of course, readers would be unlikely to pick up this sort of nuance from the above sketch.

    The official opposition, through sheer incompetence, is failing in its responsibility to hold the government to account.  Since it’s the media’s responsibility to hold all MPs to account, I’m glad that at least some journalists are accurately reporting on the confusion, incoherence, and goofiness emanating from the opposition benches:

    • Yes, yes; they’re all children.  You aren’t the victim anymore, Crit.  Rejoice!

      • I’m not the victim anymore?  Victim of what, exactly?

        • Everything!

    • Do tell, how could *anybody* hold this government to account when they refuse to give a straight answer to any question posed, when they refuse to provide documents needed to check up on what they’re doing, and when they cut debates short and put through legislation in massive omnibus bills?

  2. I’ve got to hand it to the Conservatives. They did a solid job in handling these contracts. Reminds me of the arms-length tactic Martin and Dodge used when they unleashed the CPP Investment Board. 

    • They were clearly (and rightly) spooked by the thermonuclear political fallout from the Mulroney govt’s decision on the old CF-18 contract.  I think they did as good a job as they reasonably could to make sure that they at least wouldn’t make the process-related errors that happened then.

      • In the Globe and Mail business section today, they explain that it was Peter Stoffer of the NDP that recommended the procedure for handing out the shipbuilding contracts that the conservatives followed.

  3. The awarding of the contracts was entirely predictable… for Peter McKay and the Irvings, and one for their base in BC.  Then make Quebec pay for electing Dippers.

    Was anyone surprised?

    • What base they have in BC is squarely located in the Interior, where this contract will have little political or economic effect.  It may help them make some gains though, but the places in BC where these ships will be built and sourced aren’t exactly Conservative strongholds at the moment.

      • I’m sure Harper is hoping they will be after this.

      • You’re not following Emily’s logic, Orson.  If an unimpeachable arm’s length process had awarded a contract to Quebec, it would be evidence of Harper sucking up to the province and trying to buy votes.  Since it didn’t, it’s evidence that Harper is rewarding his friends and “making Quebec pay for electing Dippers”.

        • The man has been known as a devious hard-ass…whose every move has been strategy to attack the opposition…. for well over 5 years now….but suddenlly you think he’s become all sweetness and light?

          What are you smoking?

          • I certainly don’t think he’s become all sweetness and light.   I just think he happened to get this one right.  You know, that old saying about a broken clock being right twice a day . . .

          • I’ll agree with that…

            I don’t like the whole shipbuilding thing to begin with, and we’ll regret it….but he may have gotten the method right.

            I just wish we could count on more than an ‘accidental PM’

    • Actually it was the NDP shipbuilding crtic that recommended the procedure that the conservatives followed for handing out the contracts….you can read about it in the Globe and Mail business section for today’s date under the title “Rift in the NDP caucas”.

      • And Cons, as we know, are always open to recommendations from the NDP….

        • Peter Stoffer, the NDP shipbuilding critic WAS thrilled with the outcome of the contract awarding so I am thinking that they did follow his recommendation when they had a group of civil servants supervised a a “fairness monitor” hand out the contracts.

          • And there really is a tooth fairy.

    • I would argue that, despite today’s seat counts, Nova Scotia (specifically Halifax) is a stronger NDP base than Quebec (as is BC, specifically Vancouver).  I can also tell you that very few people here actually respect Mackay, no matter how many military coattails he clings to or how often he clings.  I’m actually surprised by this.  As a cynic, I thought that it would go to BC first (because there certainly is a stronger Conservative base there than here, and they are hardcore CRAP Conservative, not the Red Tories out in much of the NS countryside), and Halifax second (because the Irvings are big Conservative supporters).  Or that they’d find a way to support shipbuilders in Calgary and Muskoka. I was genuinely surprised by this announcement.

      Edited to fix a time-warp issue.

  4. Huh… that’s odd. I was replying to someone else and it started a new thread. The DISQUS gremlins strike again!

    I’d delete this comment if I could, but deletion isn’t an option in the new commenting system. All I can do is edit.

    • If you go into Disqus itself and hover over your comment, a little X appears. Click that and while it doesn’t delete your comment entirely, it changes it to as if a guest wrote it.

      Hrm, thinking about it though, I’m not sure if that’s not actually worse.

  5. I know the consnsus is that this was simply a rare coincidence of good politics and good policy for the govt but i can’t help but wonder if the Tories haven’t managed to have their cake and eat it too this time. There would appear to be no political arm twisting yet they continue to find a way place the NDP on one side of issues such as, the monarchy; the flag; the military and various aspects of the tory branding exercise that has lately been going on. Sometimes things are what they appear to be… still, i wonder…

    • Hey if I’m a Dipper, I still have one thing to be very happy about:  Nycole Turmel will not be NDP leader for very long.

      • Not to be too hard on her, but she has been a bit of a disaster so far. Almost anyone the dippers have would have been better. On an issue like this one where she would be wise to just say nothing she continues to clump around on the political stage like a cart horse – it’s like watching Dion all over again, and i liked Dion.. Seriously what a time to be lumbered with an inexperienced leader.I bet Rae’s just about weeping with frustration.

        • She makes Dion seem almost charismatic and politically skillful.

          Amazing how the NDP managed to pick an interim leader whose English language skills are even worse than Dion’s.