The Scene. Stephen Harper arrived at his seat, sat down and nodded across the aisle. Michael Ignatieff nodded back.
A short while later, one of Mr. Harper’s dutiful backbenchers stood to impugn the Liberal leader’s good name.
“Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader is out of touch with real Canadians. More specifically, he is out of touch with rural Canadians,” exclaimed Chris Warkentin, apparently unaware of Mr. Ignatieff’s childhood years spent rolling around in the manure of his uncle’s dairy farm in Richmond, Quebec. “The Liberal leader does not support rural Canadians. I would ask the Liberal leader when he will quit his assault on rural Canadians.”
Ignatieff laughed, then stood to begin his questioning of the Prime Minister with a novel suggestion.
“Mr. Speaker, Canadians deserve a clear message from their Prime Minister about this economic crisis,” he said. “Sometimes he says we are in a recession, sometimes it is a depression. In September it was not going to happen at all. This weekend on CNN the Prime Minister called it ‘a cyclical downturn but nothing that requires major government intervention.’ We supported $40 billion worth of stimulus because we believe this is a serious economic crisis. Does the Prime Minister now feel a little differently?”
Ignatieff leaned forward on this bit and raised his voice an octave or two to better enunciate the mockery.
“Mr. Speaker, if the honourable member will look closely at the transcript of that interview he will see that I was speaking specifically of the mortgage sector,” the Prime Minister clarified of his comments about a cyclical downturn. “In the United States they are spending tens of billions of dollars to deal with the problems in their mortgage sector. We do have a cyclical downturn in our mortgage sector, but nothing that requires a massive government bailout package for that particular sector.
“Notwithstanding the economic difficulties, that is one of the many strengths this country has over the United States.”
Hurray for us. But Ignatieff was unimpressed.
“Mr. Speaker, we are still awaiting a clear statement and definition of what this crisis amounts to and how the Prime Minister defines it will help Canadians to get through it,” the Liberal explained. “Let me ask again, does he regard this as a cyclical downturn, a recession, or a depression? A clear answer will give Canadians guidance.”
The Prime Minister would not be baited.
“Mr. Speaker, the economic plan of the Minister of Finance has spoken very clearly about the government’s views on this and our action plan to deal with it,” he said.
“We have no plan whatsoever,” he continued, the Liberals offering a mock cheer, “or no proposals whatsoever from the leader opposite.”
After another round of accusations between the leaders, the proceedings were turned over to the finance critic and his ministerial counterpart.
“Mr. Speaker, if there is a hand on the tiller more wobbly than the Prime Minister’s, it can only belong to the Finance Minister,” John McCallum said, shaking his hands in front of him as if impersonating a zombie. “When he says Ontario is the last place to invest, when he lurches from claims of balanced budgets in November, which nobody believed, to $84 billion of deficits two months later, how can he possibly instill Canadians with a much needed sense of confidence at this moment of economic crisis?”
“Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for his warm remarks,” Jim Flaherty responded.
“It is March now. The biggest budget in recent Canadian history was introduced on January 27. The Liberal opposition said they were going to support it. The budget implementation bill is still in the House today on March 3,” he continued, his voice rising to a yell. “Not one penny of stimulus has gone out to the Canadians who need the help—”
“Your House leader has scheduled a vote this afternoon,” Ralph Goodale helpfully heckled.
“—including the Canadians who live in Wascana,” Flaherty finished in loving reference to Goodale’s Saskatchewan riding.
McCallum came back up with a correction. “Mr. Speaker, the finance minister, of all people, ought to know that a penny of fiscal stimulus before April 1 is illegal,” he explained.
“The act will be passed in plenty of time,” he reassured.
“Last fall, with job losses mounting in Canada in the midst of its worst economic performance in decades, the minister tabled an economic statement that did nothing at all,” McCallum then recalled. “Why did he have no plan when Canada needed it most?”
So challenged, the Finance Minister decided to answer Mr. Ignatieff’s original question.
“Mr. Speaker, we are in the midst of a severe recession globally and Canada is doing better than most countries. However, Canada is significantly affected by this recession,” Mr. Flaherty said.
No doubt Canadians will sleep easier tonight with this much clarified.
The Stats. The economy, eight questions. Afghanistan, six questions. Aboriginals, five questions. Forestry, four questions. Employment, three questions. Taxation, infrastructure and the seal hunt, two questions each. Israel, veterans, crime, government licenses, mining and women’s rights, one question each.
Stephen Harper, nine answers. Peter MacKay, seven answers. Chuck Strahl, five answers. Jim Flaherty, four answers. Diane Finley, three answers. Stockwell Day, John Baird and Gail Shea, two answers each. Jason Kenney, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Tony Clement and Helena Guergis, one answer each.