Owing to travel and a two-week break in the parliamentary calendar, this afternoon was the first time Messrs Mulcair and Trudeau had had the opportunity to set eyes on the Prime Minister in nearly a month. And, as they say, absence makes time for the heart to accumulate grievances.
“Mr. Speaker, the Supreme Court categorically rejected the appointment of Marc Nadon to the highest court,” Mr. Mulcair reminded Mr. Harper at the outset, on the off chance the Prime Minister had forgotten as much at some point in the last two weeks. The leader of the opposition wondered if the Prime Minister might ”tell us clearly that there is no question of renaming Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court.”
Lest anyone here be exposed to a direct answer and thus begin to expect anything of the sort on a regular basis, Mr. Harper offered only that the government would “obviously comply with the letter and spirit of this judgment” and then accused the NDP of not expressing any reservations about Mr. Nadon’s appointment at the outset. Because if the Prime Minister was wrong, at least no one here was telling him as much at the time.
Mr. Mulcair moved on to the second item on his list of things he’d been waiting to bug the Prime Minister about: the transportation of a party fundraiser aboard the prime ministerial plane.
Mr. Harper deferred to his own rules. “We have been very clear,” he said. “My practice as Prime Minister is any use I make or anybody else makes of the Challenger for anything other than government business is reimbursed immediately at commercial rates. That has been done in this and all cases.”
The NDP leader was unconvinced. “Mr. Speaker, maybe he could tell Canadians where they can buy a commercially available ticket for $200 between Calgary and Ottawa in a private plane,” Mr. Mulcair shot back, shaking his head. The New Democrats, apparently interested in a good deal on airfare, applauded.
(If you book now and fly next Tuesday, Air Canada will take you from Calgary to Ottawa for $261.58. Which is at least roughly equivalent to what Marc Kihn was billed on average.)
“Is it not clear that Mark Kihn was invited on the Prime Minister’s taxpayer funded jet as a reward for raising money for the Conservative Party?” Mr. Mulcair begged. “Can the Prime Minister tell us in good faith that he thinks there is nothing wrong with that?”
The Conservatives groaned, the New Democrats stood and cheered.
Once again, Mr. Speaker, as I have said repeatedly, the RCMP requires me to fly on a non-commercial aircraft,” the Prime Minister offered. “Any use of government aircraft for anything other than commercial purposes is reimbursed.”
Mr. Harper gamely suggested here that “when an individual is on the plane who is not a parliamentarian or a staff member, we are always sure that is done in a way that actually lowers the cost of the flight to taxpayers”—the logic here being that if Mr. Kihn hadn’t been present, the seat would’ve been empty. But unless the prime minister plans to start offering seats, perhaps through some kind of lottery, to any citizen who is willing to tag along at a commercial rate, this was probably not the soundest explanation.
The Prime Minister’s choice of travelling companions is, of course, but the least of his problems, running somewhere behind his choice of chief of staff, his choice of senator for Prince Edward Island, his choice of justice and his choice of party director. It has been a long winter for him, stretching on some 12 months or so (depending on whether you consider Nigel Wright’s cheque to Mike Duffy or the day the Liberals passed the Conservatives in polling as when it first turned cold).
But at least for awhile yet, if he’s willing to deal with the complaints, he’ll be able to pass major amendments to federal election law.
“Mr. Speaker, even the slim support that the Prime Minister claims to have for his bill is evaporating before his eyes,” Mr. Mulcair explained, now moving to the third item on his list. “Former Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, has said under this bill, ‘Canadians will lose their trust and their confidence in our elections.’ ”
“A-minus!” called out a Conservative voice in celebration of Mr. Kingsley’s initial grade.
“Harry Neufeld has said that the Conservatives have been blatantly misrepresenting his work,” Mr. Mulcair continued. “The Prime Minister has claimed that they were both supporting his bill. Of course, he was wrong. Is it not time for the Prime Minister to simply withdraw this undemocratic bill?”
Mr. Harper lamented here that the New Democrats had decided to oppose the bill before reading it—this seemingly a reference to the fact that NDP critic Craig Scott expressed reservations after skimming through C-23 shortly after it was tabled in the House.
“Mr. Speaker, of course, the NDP’s main complaint, after not having read the bill, is that it tightens the rules to make sure that people cannot vote without any identification whatsoever,” the Prime Minister explained. “We know the fundamental rule of elections in democratic societies is that votes are supposed to be secret, but voters are not supposed to be secret.”
The Conservatives stood and applauded.
Now it was Mr. Trudeau’s turns, the Liberal leader adding his concern to matter of Mr. Nadon before turning to the Liberal corner’s insistence that insufficient funding is being provided for infrastructure. Mr. Harper sighed as he began his response.
“Mr. Speaker, if the leader of the Liberal Party actually was familiar with the budget he would know that last year the government announced the largest infrastructure program in Canadian history, $70 billion over the next 10 years,” the Prime Minister reported.
The Conservatives applauded.
“To understand that,” Mr. Harper continued, “one would have to understand things like, bank presidents are not members of the middle-class and retirees living on their savings are members of the middle-class.”
The Conservatives stood to cheer their man’s mockery.
And so here is something else—no matter how long this winter lasts, the Prime Minister still has at least another year to pass legislation and at least another year to keep making fun of things Justin Trudeau says.
“Mr. Speaker, this,” Mr. Trudeau attempt to shoot back, “from the first Prime Minister in Canadian history to see his nominee to the Supreme Court rejected.”
“Ohhhh!” the Conservatives cried in mock hurt.
Possibly the fate of this Mr. Harper’s government depends on whether Mr. Trudeau’s words end up being regarded as sillier than this government’s actions.