The Commons: You can have it both ways or no way at all

“Flip a coin. Heads, Mr. Harper wins. Tails, Mr. Ignatieff loses. On such logic does Ottawa trudge into winter.”

by Aaron Wherry

harperseptThe Scene. To evidence of the Prime Minister’s particularly brand of genius, you can add this, the first exchange of Question Period on this, the last day of September.

Michael Ignatieff opened with some cause for concern. “Mr. Speaker, Statistics Canada reported that the economy stalled in July,” he said.

The Conservatives across the way groused loudly as he proceeded to report the afternoon’s news.

“While the government spent millions of dollars telling Canadians that everything is fine, experts do not agree,” the Liberal leader continued. “The chief economist at the Bank of Montreal stated that the economy’s flat performance is a shocker. ‘It is not just a shot across our bows,’ said the bank, ‘it is more like a torpedo through the hull.’ ”

The Conservatives yelped.

“Can the Prime Minister advise,” Mr. Ignatieff finished, “when he and his ministers plan to start bailing?”

The Prime Minister pretended not to notice this question of proper seafaring.

“Mr. Speaker, while Canada’s economic performance was flat in July, of course we did see growth in June, and this is a much better performance than we are seeing south of the border,” he said simply. “As I have said repeatedly, while we are seeing the beginnings of a global recovery, it is fragile. That is why the House of Commons needs to be at work on the economy, passing measures for the unemployed and not out forcing an unnecessary and wasteful election.”

There is a certain exquisite charm to the options before us as presented by the Prime Minister. On the one hand, the economy may be doing well, or at least better than expected, a possibility that would apparently justify Mr. Harper’s continued presence in office. On the other hand, the economy may be teetering, or at least struggling, a possibility that would, well, justify Mr. Harper’s continued presence in office. Flip a coin. Heads, Mr. Harper wins. Tails, Mr. Ignatieff loses. On such logic does Ottawa trudge into winter.

The questions came round to Jack Layton, who dared suggest Mr. Harper’s government had some responsibility for a change in provincial taxation it loudly promoted and then lucratively facilitated. “Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance’s decision to impose a new tax on everything from diapers to gasoline to funerals is going to be a hardship on families, particularly as they are struggling with this economic crisis,” the NDP leader declared. “He thinks so highly of this new tax that he bribed Ontario and British Columbia with seven billion taxpayer dollars in order to impose and accept the new HST. He even brags in the media today that the HST will not be a big issue in the next election because the consumers will have become used to it. Does the Prime Minister also think that Canadians are going to be so forgetful that they are going to forgive him for his new death tax?”

The Prime Minister turned up his nose at this Palinesque turn of phrase. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I think that Canadians understand that provincial governments impose provincial taxes and federal governments impose federal taxes.”

Mr. Layton read aloud from the agreement in question, particularly the part that identified an entity known as “Canada” to be involved. Mr. Harper suggested Mr. Layton was being ridiculous. Mr. Layton posited that it was Mr. Harper who was ridiculous. Mr. Harper repeated his previous assertion of Mr. Layton’s ridiculousness. The judges at ringside called it a draw.

It was then Gerard Kennedy’s turn.

“Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister refused to answer simple questions about the misspending of infrastructure money in New Brunswick,” he alleged, blasphemously. “How about today we try the other side of the country, where it is even worse? In British Columbia, the Prime Minister has now promised to give $158 million in extra government funds to his Conservative colleagues at the expense of the unemployed and their families in other parts of the province. Rather than focusing on jobs, the Prime Minister is focused on helping his Conservatives keep theirs. Why should Canadians anywhere in this country trust the government?”

John Baird leapt to his feet to declare that the largest of the government’s grants had gone to a riding currently represented by an opposition member.

Mr. Kennedy tried again. ”The Prime Minister has his priorities badly mixed up. These are difficult times. He is supposed to be standing up for Canadians in need,” he ventured. “Instead, in B.C. he gave his own MPs an average of three times as much money as those in opposition ridings in the province. All the top 10 allocations went to hungry Conservatives. Two-thirds of his cabinet took those top 10 positions. Will the Prime Minister explain today why he and his ministers are too busy dividing up the cash among themselves instead of looking after British Columbians who need the assistance?”

Mr. Baird rose to report that the president of the Canadian Construction Association was impressed with the government’s work to date.

Liberal Bonnie Crombie moved on to a different matter. Why, she wondered, was Mr. Baird’s department unable to supply the Parliamentary Budget Officer with details of its infrastructure spending? Mr. Baird reported news of federal funding in Ms. Crombie’s riding. The Conservative side cheered. “More! More!” they sang.

Ms. Crombie tried once more. “Will the minister come clean and open the books for all Canadians?” she wondered. Mr. Baird stood to announce the thanks of the mayor of King Township. The Conservatives cheered again. “More! More!” they repeated.

Indeed. The more these questions are asked, the more they go unanswered.

The Stats. The economy and taxation, five questions each. Forestry and Afghanistan, four questions each. Employment and the auto industry, three questions each. Tobacco, trade, H1N1 and the environment, two questions each. Lighthouses, the Philippines, farmers, transportation, nuclear weapons and crime, one question each.

Stephen Harper, eight answers. Stockwell Day, six answers. John Baird, five answers. Tony Clement, three answers. Rona Ambrose, Leona Aglukkaq, Peter MacKay, Jim Prentice and Lawrence Cannon, two answers each. Josee Verner, Gail Shea, Bev Oda, Diane Finley, Gerry Ritz and Rob Nicholson, one answer each.

The Commons: You can have it both ways or no way at all

  1. "Palinesque turn of phrase"

    Nice description, Wherry. You do have a way with words.

    Your description of the PM's non-answers to Ignatieff is accurate, but what really struck me was the fact that Ignatieff did not even seem to try to engage the PM. He'd better hope there is no election since he sure wouldn't do well in a debate if he's just willing to let the PM get away with answers like that.

    One problem the Liberal brain trust has is that they believe the general public will respond to things that the PM says the same way that they do. Unfortunately for them, the public sometimes has a different reaction.

    • Hence the problem with the Liberals. They have convinced themselves that Canadians hate Harper as much as they do. There they are wrong and so as Iggy continues to swish around trying to make up an issue that may grab the imagination of Canadians the country increasingly turns against him and his party.

      • What about Harper's intention that Canadians hate the Liberals, or just that the CONs hate Liberals to the point where they'll lie, distort, threaten, cheat, embellish and even contort their own principles just to see if it will impact their rivals in a negative order. During much of that time, forgetting that they are the government, to provide governance to people who vote liberal, ndp, bloc etc.
        I'd say there's a big disconnect between your blather holinurhed and reality, but that seems to sum up your team entirely.

        • Harper is not running around threatening an election every other week and then running and hiding. You have made some unsubstantiated allegations and if you really believe what you are saying then it makes sense that you lay out the case with specific examples where the government has lied, distort, threaten etc. Otherwise it is just a lot of hotair and does not mesh with how Canadians view the PM and government.

          • Maybe I'm missing something but didn't he *cause* an election, a year ago, against the spirit of his own fixed election date bill *and* during the worst economic crisis in my lifetime?

          • He did cause an election a year ago because he knew that the opposition intended on bringing him down in the fall and he wanted to catch Dion off guard. It worked for Chretien several times so why not him. As you noted the court ruled recently that he did not break the law by calling the election. Yes maybe the spirit but I think it was good for the country given what ultimately happened i.e recession.

            You will recall that when the campaign started there were only rumblings of things to come. However, after the election the tsunami hit the world and our country big time.

      • Mervin, 68% of all Canadians detest Harpo. Please don't continue to swirl your BS around.

        • And even more detest the Count. Look over at Nik's site this morning. You will see that Harper continues to leave the Count in the dust according to public opinion.

          • Mervin, I did look over on his poll and for an opposition in his job less than a year he is doing just fine. Harpercrite thoughhas been PM for 3 plus years and is mired at 32% popularity. No matter how you spin it I say Harpo is a piece of garbage to most Canadians.

    • Engage the PM? Aren't they both already married?

  2. You forgot the part where Baird denounced Crombie as un-Canadian.

  3. You forgot the part where Baird with much bluster denounced Crombie as un-Canadian.

    • Another reason he is an incompetent loser

      • oooh, aren't you the queen of ad hominem. At what point would you think it reasonable to actually make an argument?
        Sadly, you are what you deride.

        • Ad hominem against Baird – yeesh the man is the very embodiment of ad hominem.

  4. You missed one of the best lines. As he PM pointed out, the NDP never saw a tax they didn't like.

    • The HST ??

      But don't let me interrupt your lack of thought.

      • Why shouldn't the federal NDP like the HST? I assume the sales tax on kitchen tables wouldn't change in BC or ON.

        • Actually it would … assuming that kitchen tables are not on the list of exemptions. They are not exempt
          in NS where we have been blessed with HST for years … on the understanding that it would free up
          bidness to make us an economic dynano. That's worked out well.

        • Seems to me only one party loved the income trust tax to make it a halloween apertif.

      • Dippers burst into applause over raising the GST,
        the only tax that low income Canadians pay, and Dippers want to raise it……oh those poor most vulnerable

        • Truly low income Canadians [ whatever that really is ] don't pay GST, or more accurately what they do is rebated back to them. Up untli now they've paid no tax on their rent or food – which would be the bulk of their expenditure. Now thanks in part to Harper they will be paying [HST} in some parts of our great land. Conservatives – they give with one hand and take with the other.

        • NDP govt. in Manitoba is resisting the introduction of the HST, but don't let the facts get in the way of a long held prejudice.

  5. Some of the questions are obviously more about the preamble than hoping to get an answer, and the Conservatives are always happy to oblige.

    But some of those questions, particularly Bonnie Crombie's question, are fair and in fact show the Liberals doing their job.

    The Conservatives said they had to skip more than a few accountability rules in order to get the stimulus out faster, asking everyone to just "trust" them. OK, fine. But here we are 9 months later and there are all sorts of questions arising, that on the face of it are deeply troubling.

    And Baird's answer is to shove off?

  6. Baird is so annoying

    • see my post above.

      • Somebody is being a bully. Wont say who!

    • I enjoy watching a Baird performance, he really gets into it!
      Duceppe too, a seasoned performer he is.

      • If watching a junk yard dog foam at the mouth is your thing…

  7. “Minister of Finance's decision to impose a new tax on everything from diapers to gasoline to funerals is going to be a hardship on families …. he bribed Ontario and British Columbia with seven billion taxpayer dollars in order to impose new HST… think that Canadians are going to be so forgetful that they are going to forgive him for his new death tax?”

    Layton's taking a right wing position to attack Cons? That's different, don't know how effective it will be.

    I wish one of the Ministers would stand up and say Con ridings are getting more money to make up for neglect they suffered during Chretien/Martin years. I don't think Libs attempt to make issue of where money is going will have much resonance with electorate. Anyone who is aware of politics knows perfectly well pols have been funneling money to their ridings since we started electing them way back when. This is nothing new so I doubt many will be scandalized.

    Wherry I have been reading The Commons for a long time now but it just hit me now what your job entails. You have to watch these clowns every day without getting too embittered or snarky. Better you than me is all I can say because I would have gone postal long ago.

  8. “Minister of Finance's decision to impose a new tax on everything from diapers to gasoline to funerals is going to be a hardship on families …. he bribed Ontario and British Columbia with seven billion taxpayer dollars in order to impose new HST… think that Canadians are going to be so forgetful that they are going to forgive him for his new death tax?”

    Layton's taking a right wing position to attack Cons? That's different, don't know how effective it will be.

    I wish one of the Ministers would stand up and say Con ridings are getting more money to make up for neglect they suffered during Chretien/Martin years. I don't think Libs attempt to make issue of where money is going will have much resonance with electorate. Anyone who is aware of politics knows perfectly well pols have been funneling money to their ridings since time began. This is nothing new so I doubt many will be scandalized.

    Wherry I have been reading The Commons for a long time now but it just hit me now what your job entails. You have to watch these clowns every day without getting too embittered or snarky. Better you than me is all I can say because I would have gone postal long ago.

    • It's good to know that opposition to regressive taxation is a right wing position. I'm sorry
      I missed that.

      • How has this tax worked out in NS? Out in lotus land were still in the throes of whether this something that will eventually lower prices and increase productivity and so on, or – it's just a tax shift onto the backs of ordinary folks. One thing seems bizarre to me – why now, in a a recession?

        • There were all the same arguments made back then and , as usual , the CoC bidness boomers
          got their way. The evidence of success is the exploding economies of the Maritime Provinces.

          But, then, what can we expect, being culturally defeatist and all.

          • I'm confused. Wasn't it supposed to help productivity and lower prices?

      • What you missed was the Liberal governments of Ontario and BC are doing the shifting,
        and the Federal Liberal and Dipper parties are the ones wanting to raise the regressive federal GST.
        And we taxpayers are picking up a big bill to help the Liberal governments in BC and Ontario make the shift.

        • And its the federal CONs using sticks and/or carrots to impose their will on them. Just a glimpse of the downshifting, or perhaps shafting, that Harper plans should he get his dream job. Of course, Wilson would dearly love his so-called leader find his so-con mojo again, instead of the tiring 'act like a liberal, eat like a Conservative' play we've all had to endure…

        • You have it backasswards buddy. Harper's been sucking and blowing on this while bribing us with our money.
          Raise the GST? Fine..cut income taxes and small business tax. It's not regressive at all – except for those who really can afford to pay it.
          BC libs are cons in liberal clothing…nice try!

          • The one thing I would point out the Libs when they were in power thought the HST was a good idea and there were several provinces who bought into the merged tax a number of years ago including Quebec.

            Its no secret that the Harper government has been pushing for the provinces who are not part of HST to adopt it believing it will make business more competitive. However, the final decision is up to the provinces. Ontario and B.C. have decided for their own reasons to adopt the HST. Harper has agreed to assist with the transition costs etc. That is a good thing in my exstimation.

            Iggy is now on record of supporting the HST. While he tried to fudge his position McGuinty called him out. So he will have a tough time arguing it being a Harper Sales Tax. However, it was a nice try.

          • "Ontario and B.C. have decided for their own reasons to adopt the HST."

            Well, sure, but wasn't one of those reasons "Flaherty's going to give us billions of dollars if we agree to his demands?".

    • What gives this a unique taste of scandal is that we're in the worst economic situation since the Depression. The money is supposed to be creating jobs and putting money back into the communities that need it most.

    • What gives this a unique taste of scandal is that we're in the worst economic situation since the Depression. The money is supposed to be creating jobs and putting money back into the communities that need it most. It was approved by Parliament without any of the usual strings attached, so that it could be dispersed quickly. The government said "trust us." Look where that got us.

      • "we're in the worst economic situation since the Depression."

        Arguable. I wasn't around for the Depression but from mid 1970's to early'80s and beginning of 90s were tough times as well.

        "The money is supposed to be creating jobs and putting money back into the communities that need it most"

        I wasn't being facetious when I mentioned the Chretien/Martin years. They showered plenty of money into their ridings and now Cons are focusing on different ridings because they are 'the communities that need it most'. Kennedy has to be careful with his message that Canadians need help but only Con ridings are getting it. Sounds like Canadians and Cons are two separate and entirely different groups.

    • Well, when the Tories main talking point is "look how fast we're shoveling money out the door", it's hardly surprising that the NDP's main attack would be "those crazy SOBs are going to raise taxes to pay for all their extravagant spending".

      We live in Bizarro Canada.

      • One of the democratic reforms I would like to see is opposition parties only opposing the Government when they actually don't agree with policy. Con stimulus spending is something dippers should like – lots of money for frivolous projects sounds right up their alley to me.

      • Provincial NDP governments in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba have a substantive records of conservative outlook on taxation, even if some people prefer to believe their prejudice about Dippers.

        And where do Conservaitves get their reputation for fiscal prudence? Brian Mulroney raised taxes and spending and cut transfer payments and had his share of boondoggles (anyone remember the Scientific Reseach Tax Credit?). The Harris Government had a woodchopper policy, just hacked away at anything and everything and left a big deficit, and for one of the all time big contrasts, since we're comparing NDP and Conservative was the fiscal stability of both the Romanow and Calvert governments in Saskatchewan which were much better fiscal managers than the chaotic Conservatives under Devine who raised taxes, sold assets, introduced user fees, cut services and programs, and actually stole office equipment. I mean, really, when were these glory days of fiscal responsbility by a Conservative government? Are any of them still alive?

  9. You should start keeping track of how many answers each member of the government gives as well as how many "answers" the government gives. I'd like to see stats comparing how many questions get directly answers against how many are blatantly sidestepped. I'm sick of tolerating the garbage that passes for answers most of the time, but I do love this column.
    So I suggest reporting the summary of the answers at the bottom of the column as follows:
    |Stephen Harper, eight responses; two answers, six "answers"; Stockwell Day, six responses; three answers, three "answers"; etc."
    How about it?

    • If the opposition parties would quit with the expansive pre-ambles (which are like mini speeches) and pose questions which are not loaded with fabrications, distortions, falsehoods maybe the government would then answer specific questions. Remember they have 45 seconds to respond. That is not a lot of time because most issues cannot be answered fully in that short period of time.

      On the other hand I do agree that the government does dodge questions and I am not sure why that is done.

      It has always been the way in our parliamentary system and I don't see it changing no matter whether you track questions and answers or not.

    • You are sick of the answers. I am sick of the questions. "Why is your cookie bigger than my cookie, wah." Most of the present Opposition make the Muppets sound like statesmen.

      • Most of the present Opposition make the Muppets sound like statesmen.

        Fair enough — what analogy would you use to describe the government's answers (and those giving them)?

  10. "Mr. Harper's government had some responsibility for a change in provincial taxation it loudly promoted and then lucratively facilitated."

    Lucratively? This is the first time I've heard the federal government is making a profit by administering sales tax for the provinces. And this is after the $8 billion bribe to the provinces? One of us is maybe a bit confused about the financial consequences of the HST for the federal government.

    • Lucratively FACILITATED.

      He's not saying the feds are profiting from the change (though they may be, but who cares) he saying they bribed the provinces to make the change. It's the $8 billion that he's saying was "lucrative" for the provinces.

      The point is, it's just a bit disingenuous for the Tories to argue in favour of the HST for years, give the provinces billions and billions of dollars to convince them to adopt the change, and then basically say "Why is everyone looking at us? This was all the provinces' idea!!!". It's like the Don paying a hitman to whack a guy and then saying "What? Don't look at me! Tony killed that guy! Sure, I asked him to do it, and I gave him $8 billion in exchange for doing it, but it was totally his idea! ".

  11. Get over it, Harper's not that much of a genius.
    A conniving rat is more like it

  12. Even a Genius makes mistakes –
    The SPIN will outspin itself when you least expect it.

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