The Scene. As Jack Harris proceeded with his first question, there were catcalls from the government side. There was also some discussion along the government’s frontbench—between Messrs. Harper, Van Loan and MacKay—as to who would stand to respond.
“Mr. Speaker, as Canadians brace for another recession, we learn that our defence minister continues his ethically challenged ways. He has racked up nearly $3 million jetting around the country,” the NDP defence critic reviewed. “The government will not invest in infrastructure, in health care or jobs, but it will invest millions in making this minister the frequent flyer champion of government jets. When will the government ground that high-flying minister?”
Typically—this being the ninth question of the day and Mr. Harris not being a party leader—this would’ve been for the Defence Minister to answer. But here Mr. Harper motioned that he would take it.
“Mr. Speaker, I am surprised to get that question from the honourable member,” he claimed, as if he were somehow new to this place. “As I pointed out, the minister uses the Challenger 70 per cent less than his predecessors and, half the time he does that, it is for repatriation ceremonies. What I would expect from the honourable member is for him to be asking how he could join the Minister of National Defence and also participate in those ceremonies for Canadian families.”
Apparently finding this bit of logic quite persuasive, the government members leapt to their feet to applaud and yell out. No doubt they would’ve been even more enthused had this version of events been indisputably true.
Undeterred, Mr. Harris stood and generously offered to assist the Prime Minister.
“Mr. Speaker, perhaps some facts can help the Prime Minister answer the questions more accurately,” he said. “Most of the flights were not for repatriation of fallen soldiers, only nine of the 35. There was a flight from a fishing camp at Camp Crosbie, to a lobster festival in Halifax, and Challenger trips to photo ops for government spending announcements. He even took a jet to Vancouver to the same event to which another minister flew commercial.”
What the NDP critic seemed to fail to grasp here is that Peter MacKay supports the troops. And that that pretty much explains everything.
Mr. Harper attempted once more to make this point. “Mr. Speaker, the fact is the Minister of National Defence has participated in some 55 repatriation ceremonies for over 80 lost Canadian service personnel,” the Prime Minister explained as the House fell silent.
“When the member asks these kinds of questions and behaves this way,” he finished, “he reflects on his own character, not on that of the Minister of National Defence.”
Once more the Conservative members leapt up. Across the way, Thomas Mulcair pantomimed the playing of a violin.
There is, for sure, a case to be made that fussing over who has flown where and on what is of little importance in the grand sweep of national governance. If it is any solace to Mr. Harris, he should remember that however unbecoming his questions about official air travel protocol, dwelling on such matters does not necessarily disqualify him from becoming, say, Immigration Minister in a Harper cabinet (or Government House Leader or Heritage Minister or, for that matter, Defence Minister).
Alas, there is no solace of any kind to be found for the man who continues to sit—and quite resolutely at that—a half dozen seats down the frontbench from Mr. MacKay. To Tony Clement’s continued chagrin, none of his gazebos or public toilets or bike racks can be said to have been directly involved in a deceased soldier’s repatriation ceremony. Though surely some kind of case could be made that some veteran or member of the Canadian Forces resides in his riding and could, therefore, be said to have possibly benefitted. A photo of someone in uniform sitting in the shade under a bandshell should likely soon be procured.
“It has been 112 days of this charade of hiding behind the foreign affairs minister,” Charlie Angus asked after Mr. Baird had dismissed his first question. “Will that member stand up and come clean to the Canadian people?”
After two more direct challenges to Mr. Clement’s fortitude, the NDP sent up Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé and the subject of countless jokes. “As a single mother, my days are very full,” she said, standing straight and tall with her hands folded together in front of her. She proceeded to explain her commitments to home and family and work and her efforts to get home at a decent hour.
“The last thing I want is to hear about the mismanagement of public funds at the G8 summit,” she claimed. A minister who does not respond to questions and refuses to accept responsibility, is that really the model we want to pass on to our children?”
Across the aisle, the Prime Minister smiled, perhaps in admiration of this gambit.
John Baird duly stood to take this one as he has taken every other attempt to shame Mr. Clement.
“The Auditor General has come forward with some positive observations on how the government could do an even better job at being more open and transparent,” he assured. “The government has accepted all those recommendations and will continue to work constructively with the Auditor General to constantly raise the bar to do an even better job for hard-working taxpayers.”
And no doubt Mr. Clement supports the troops too.
The Stats. The economy, seven questions. The G8 Legacy Fund, six questions. The environment, five questions. The defence minister, four questions. Seniors, three questions. Judicial independence, abortion, Sri Lanka, the RCMP and copyright law, two questions each. Infrastructure, veterans, taxation and the Canadian Wheat Board, one question each.
Stephen Harper, nine answers. John Baird, eight answers. Peter Kent, five answers. James Moore, four answers. Jim Flaherty, three answers. Leona Aglukkaq, Peter Van Loan and Vic Toews, two answers each. Denis Lebel, Alice Wong, Steven Blaney and Gerry Ritz, one answer each.