The Commons: Why so bashful?

Rona Ambrose delivers a lullaby of bafflegab in defense of cutbacks

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. Here was Rona Ambrose’s chance. Late in the hour, the New Democrats had sent up Nycole Turmel with an urgent bulletin. ” ‘Public Works managers informed their employees Monday the department will shed about 700 jobs over the coming three years, including the elimination of 92 auditors,’ ” she informed the House, reading aloud from a freshly published news report.

“Is it true?” Ms. Turmel wondered.

And so here stood Ms. Ambrose, afforded a great opportunity to loudly and proudly luxuriate in those “Conservative values”—those “Canadian values,” as the Prime Minister is lately fond of putting it. Here she was practically invited to not only confirm the hundreds of public sector jobs eliminated, but proclaim her government’s belief in those hallowed principles of conservatism: limited government, fiscal prudence, personal liberty and the righteousness of the unfettered market. Here was her chance to champion with soaring prose, or at least exclamation points, a new awakening of freedom, a new day for an empowered nation casting off the shackles of tyranny.

Instead, she said this: “Mr. Speaker, as part of our continuous efforts to become more efficient and more effective, Public Works has achieved the strategic review target set out by Treasury Board.”

To Ms. Turmel’s yes or no question, this seemed the most banal way possible—a lullaby of bafflegab—of confirming the affirmative.

“These savings will provide the room to continue paying down debt and investing in the priorities of Canadians, including lowering taxes for families,” she continued. “Retirement and attrition will provide the public service with the flexibility to manage these decisions without substantial job losses.”

The Conservative side did then leapt up to chant Ms. Ambrose’s surname the way the faithful had chanted the Prime Minister’s a week and a half ago. Indeed, while the Conservatives seem quite proud of what they’ve accomplished electorally, they are rather humble—downright shy even—about what they are doing in the way of exercising the power derived thereof.

It is, of course, mildly problematic that the government of conservative values is not always one of orthodox practice. And explaining that away does not always make for the best applause lines.

Today, for instance, the government side was first made to face complaints that the Prime Minister’s own department had often failed to obey the government’s own rules on hospitality spending. In the absence of the Prime Minister, his parliamentary secretary, Dean Del Mastro, was compelled to stand and direct the House’s attention to the fact that the government might’ve spent even more on hospitality than it already did. “Mr. Speaker, our government has cut spending on hospitality by more than 30 per cent over and above the previous government’s record,” he reported.

Like Ambrose’s mild-mannered, mostly implied salute to the vague notion of smallerish government, this equally failed to stir up a rousing chorus of “Har! Per!”

There is, as well, the continued frontbench presence of Tony Clement, he who is nominally charged with guiding the government towards greater efficiency, but he who is subject to daily taunts about the millions in public funds spent to build gazebos and public toilets around his riding.

The New Democrats find the latter egregious enough that they have assigned two shadow ministers—Alexandre Boulerice and Charlie Angus—to the task of shaming Mr. Clement. Alas, neither have yet so wounded the President of the Treasury Board’s self-respect that he has felt it necessary to stand and respond.

In his place, it has been John Baird’s job to stand and obfuscate and, most awkwardly, enthuse selectively about the millions that were spent for the purposes of a weekend meeting.  ”Mr. Speaker, I am happy to describe some of these projects and what was done. There is an airport in North Bay. The government helped resurface the runway so that planes could land on it,” he happily reported. “There is a provincial highway in that part of rural Ontario that was repaved. That is important. A community centre was also built. It is now available for the benefit of the people in that municipality. I could go on.”

Indeed, he could, probably for much of the entire hour, what with all the taxpayer-funded trinkets now scattered around Muskoka that could be detailed and explained at length.

But were Mr. Baird at all interested in matching his words with both Ms. Ambrose’s words and his government’s “own efforts to become more efficient and more effective,” he would, of course, have to say something quite different. Something like, say, “We’re supposed to be a major industrialized country. A major industrialized country surely has conference sites where it can host significant dignitaries without having to spend millions of dollars sprucing up the environment.”

Something like this would, presumably, require the exile of Mr. Clement to the furthest reaches of the backbench. But, for the record, these words were spoken some 16 years ago, on the eve of a G7 summit in Halifax. At the time it was reported that the Liberal government of the day was due to spend $8.1 million tidying up the host city (or less than a sixth of what was put toward stocking Mr. Clement’s riding).

They were spoken by a young agitator named Jason Kenney, who, in one of life’s little ironies, now occupies the seat along the frontbench immediately to the right of Mr. Baird and Mr. Clement.

The Stats. Labour, seven questions. Government spending, six questions. The G8 and G20 summits, five questions. Housing, four questions. The environment, asbestos, Lebanon and the Canadian Wheat Board, two questions each. Infrastructure, flooding, sports, trade, aboriginal affairs, the military and bank notes, one question each.

Lisa Raitt and Jim Flaherty, five answers each. John Baird, four answers. Dean Del Mastro, three answers. Ted Menzies, Tim Uppal, Peter Kent, Joe Oliver, Mike Lake, Diane Ablonczy, David Anderson and Rona Ambrose, two answers each. Tony Clement, Denis Lebel, Candice Hoeppner, Bal Gosal, Ed Fast and John Duncan, one answer each.

The Commons: Why so bashful?

  1. Well see, you can save money by spending it, raise taxes by cutting them, have cut-backs occur without cutting anything, create a smaller govt by making it bigger and other such CONtradictions.
     
    They call it  ‘Miracle Financing’ ….and if you order now, they’ll even throw in 5 free steak knives for a mere $10 more.
     
    Mind you, it all sounds silly when you say it out loud, so they try hard not to.

    • One sees you are back on form, OE1.  One doesn’t know whether one should feel glad or roll one’s eyes heavenward.   

      • LOL Thank you…. one tries.

  2. Poor Weary – your heart’s not really in it, is it? Possibly 12 more years of this and not able to stir a response? Epic fail!

    • Don’t blame Wherry for the difficulties of this chat-site.

      60% of this country didn’t vote for Harper.

      • And that’s only among those who actually cast ballots.

      • And 70% did not vote for the NDP and 80% for the Libs and probably 90% did not vote for the Greens. This is a silly talking point. Wise up. You know better than most that very few governments in Canada have ever won with a popular vote greater than 50%.

        Whether you and Wherry like it or not you will have to put up with 4 years of this government. In fact now Wherry is resorting to pretending he is a cabinet minister and using his own talking points. That’s how desparate he has become. Message to Wherry and Emily. Nobody is listening.

        • Don’t lump 4 parties together, and then compare them to the one right-wing we have. You know better.

          Message to hollinm….don’t blame Wherry for chatsite problems…none of the threads are getting the hundreds of posts they used to.

          It has nothing to do with your ‘dear leader’.

          • That’s right don’t lump four parties together. Take your own advice that’s what you are doing when you say the Conservatives only won 60% of the vote.
            There are no chatsite problems. The fact is the anti Harper commenters are tired and defeated. Time to take a break. There will be plenty of time four years down the road.

          • Cons only got 40% of the vote….60% went to other parties.

            Pay attention.

            And yes indeed there are chatsite problems….don’t you ever read threads before making silly statements?

            Anti-Harper sentiment is alive and well, and why Cons think they have a free 4 year ride, I don’t know.

            Hell even Harp’s own senators have turned against him. LOL

  3. I think this is one of Wherry’s best pieces yet on QP.. It closes with such a sweet bit of irony.

    A beautifully framed question about the 92 auditors.“Is it true?”

    And of course, the utterly predictable and ridiculous non-answer.  I hope this same question is asked over and over again in the coming days; and I look forward to when Treasury Board minister Tony Clements offers his version of the strong conservative government vision.

  4. Another shabby flacid irrelevant diatribette from Mr Wherry, reinforced in the Comments Column by that same old coterie of Harper-Hater spurned and non-forgiving left-Liberal warhorses who tried oh so hard  but failed to derail his successful electoral campaign. Are you not all worried about being, “the ones who stayed behind”?  No, I guess you aren’t, being fanatic(ette)s.  

    • So you think it’s a good idea to lay off the auditors?

  5. Wherry  - I enjoyed The Commons this morning. I enjoy snarky commentary about pols, wish you would do more of it. All pols are equally ridiculous, it is target rich environment, you are spoilt for choice.

    I really wish North American journalists didn’t try to appear neutral when they are not. Political reporters have opinions just like everyone else and should be allowed to express them. I think UK papers do so much better because they have views and opinions. 

    I am combination Daily Telegraph and Sun reader of course. 

    Don’t tell me about the press, I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; 

    the Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; the Times is read by people who actually do run the country;

    the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country;

    the Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and the The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is. 

    Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Conflict_of_Interest

    • I live in Canada.

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