The Commons: Abbott & Costello fix the economy

Who was away this day. Absent too was What.


The Scene. Michael Ignatieff, perhaps the best-schooled leader of the opposition since at least the last one, opened the proceedings with reference to the American philosophers, William Abbott and Louis Costello.

“Mr. Speaker, 129,000 jobs were lost in January. Personal bankruptcies increased by more than 50 per cent in December,” he said. “On Friday, the Prime Minister said that there will be no more help for Canadians even if the economy continues to worsen. Then, his Minister of Finance said exactly the opposite. So who is on first?”

Who was away this day. Absent too was What. So it fell to Ted Menzies (I Don’t Give A Darn in this analogy) to table the government’s official response. “Mr. Speaker, it is a very plain and simple message that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance delivered,” Menzies said. “It is as simple as this: The finance minister has said that if the economy continues to decline, this government will not abandon Canadians. The Prime Minister was referring to the fact that he will not accept any amendments to this budget.”

Despite this reassurance that Canadians would be neither abandoned, nor have Parliamentary democracy imposed upon them, the Liberal leader continued with his casting of doubt. Mr. Menzies, easily distracted, responded with complaint about the lack of deference shown his government by the Bloc Quebecois and NDP.

“The only contradiction in this House of Commons is the fact that we have two parties, the Bloc and the NDP, that are refusing to work with the majority representation of Canadians that want to get people back to work and stem the job loss,” he said. “We have the Bloc and the NDP who, before they even read the budget, said they did not care about Canadians losing their jobs.”

A moment later, Mr. Menzies, besmirched apparently by the sound of his own voice, was declaring that now is a not a time to be “playing politics.”

But Ignatieff had by then moved on to a new game—something the American commentator Stephen T. Colbert might call Better Know A Small, Single-Industry, Canadian Town That Will Soon Be Crushed As A Result Of This Government’s Inability To Deal With The Global Economic Crisis.

“Mr. Speaker, let us bring this crisis down to a single community: Mackenzie, British Columbia,” he began. “Four thousand people. Four sawmills, all shut. Nearly 100 per cent unemployment. Not just pulp mill workers, but loggers, truckers and everyone down the line. Everybody there are single-industry towns like this all across Canada. Federal help was promised to Mackenzie last year but it did not work. So what now? Is this government going to let Mackenzie die?”

Menzies would not let this challenge pass without half an answer. “Mr. Speaker, the honourable member who represents the town of Mackenzie has raised that issue many times,” he said.

“Well,” chirped Ralph Goodale, the endlessly helpful Liberal house leader, “listen to him then!”

Liberal Marlene Jennings stood and suggested that various economists were expressing doubt about the government’s economic policy.

“Mr. Speaker,” responded Menzies, “there is an awful lot of experts calling themselves economists.”

Indeed. Self-styled economists abound these days.

One day after Jim Flaherty presented the government’s budget and emergency stimulus measures, something calling itself the “International Monetary Fund” claimed that Canada’s projections had been wildly overstated. Kevin Page, a man believing himself to be the Parliamentary Budget Officer, recently told a parliamentary committee that Mr. Flaherty had over-estimated his stimulus package by at least $8 billion and the expected boost to employment by about 70,000 jobs. A small Toronto-based bank then declared that, based on its calculations, said stimulus would amount to 0.5 per cent of GDP, not the 1.9 per cent promised by Mr. Flaherty.

To these amateur assessments, Mr. Menzies had a rejoinder.

“Let me quote Dale Orr of Global Insight, a very respected economist,” he said. “‘The budget overall was a pretty reasonable compromise.'”

High praise, for sure. Especially when compared with what else Mr. Orr has had to say about the federal budget being overly optimistic and poorly justified.

Unpersuaded by this objective testimony to the government’s approximate reasonableness, the opposition parties kept at Mr. Menzies. The Bloc members were unhappy with various policies of corporate taxation. The NDP’s Jack Layton was just generally unhappy.

“Will the Prime Minister finally admit that the stimulus package that has been put together is not going to do near enough for the vulnerable who are being left behind, to protect the jobs of today and to create the ones we need for tomorrow?” Layton asked, having long since given up hope of receiving an answer.

Under questioning from John McCallum, Menzies finally made a concession of sorts. “As much as members of the opposition would like to suggest that they knew what was coming,” he said, “they knew nothing more about what was coming than anybody did.”

Never mind who’s on first then. This government has clearly settled on a game they think they can win: Who’s least hapless?

The Stats. The economy, 22 questions. Omar Khadr, three questions. Taxation, food safety, mining and the environment, two questions each. Science, women’s rights, Sri Lanka, sports, Chuck Cadman and health care, one question each.

Ted Menzies, 12 answers. Tony Clement, seven answers. Diane Finley, six answers. Lawrence Cannon, four answers. Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Pierre Lemieux, two answers each. Vic Toews, Jim Prentice, Gary Lunn, Josee Verner, Pierre Poilievre and Leona Aglukkaq, one answer each.


The Commons: Abbott & Costello fix the economy

  1. I know Menzies is the parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, and thus is the logical choice to respond to questions on the economy in the absence of Harper and Flaherty.

    But when you know the economy is likely going to be the lead opposition line of attack, does it really make sense to let a unilingual anglophone take the French questions too? Why would the Conservatives not have someone on hand who could respond to the French questions en Francais?

    Seems like an odd oversight. Wouldn’t you want the Quebec news to have a french clip? A minor style point, perhaps, but as someone with a passing interest on the comms side I found it peculiar.

  2. If the opposition think the government is so inept and the budget is so bad, why did they vote for it? Mr. Ignatieff’s smart-alec attitude is going to come back to haunt him. People are disliking him more and more as they get to know him more and more. He’s just an opportunistic politician, like many others. He wants to be Prime Minister and that’s it. He doesn’t give a damn about Mackenzie, BC. Mackenzie grew to accommodate the forestry industry when it was at its strongest. Now it’s at its weakest, hence the decline in employment in Mackenzie. It started to decline way before this economical “crisis”. The forestry sector needs to change its modis operandi and look for different markets, not a bailout from the government.

    • “People are disliking him more and more as they get to know him more and more. He’s just an opportunistic politician, like many others. He wants to be Prime Minister and that’s it. He doesn’t give a damn about Mackenzie, BC.”

      I think you meant to refer to Stephen Harper there. Like Ignatieff or not, that is clearly very untrue about the Liberal leader, as more and more polls are showing. He is rising while Harper is dropping.

      • I definitely was not thinking of Harper. Ignatieff is showing is true colours. He ins’t different than anybody else. Maybe he’s rising in Toronto, but Toronto is not the whole country, contrary to popular belief in Toronto.

        • The whole “I’m a hardcore tory” thing was kind of given away when you suggested the forestry collapse be averted by savvy marketing, eh. What, they building a lot of new condos on Tory Rock Candy Mountain?

        • Your comments are completely baseless. You have no facts to back up your assertions. Your name says it all mate; “my opinion”. So if it’s your opinion, don’t try to pass it off as fact.

        • I don’t live in Toronto but BC and I don’t buy your opinion one Iota. Try finding some facts to back up your opinion and the guys you hang out with at Tim Horton’s don’t count.

      • True. Women across this country are threatened by Harper are going to vote for Igantieff. The funding for day care put in place by liberal is almost gone. Women’s rights deserve more than one question.

        From one of many recent facebook groups asking just that:

        “Today in the United States President Obama tells us how proud he was to sign The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act which focuses on pay equity for women, and makes it easier for them to fight discrimination.

        Meanwhile here in Canada Prime Minister Harper has done the opposite, and has restricted women’s access to the court despite public uproar. Some describe the language in the current budget as Orwellian.

        We are told it is to put pay equity back in the hands of the unions where it belongs, but not every woman is in a union. We are also told there is a problem with long waits for trials. If so this should be addressed, but two wrongs do not make a right. It also misses the point.

        The wage gap only hurts the economy. With equal pay for work of equal value the top goal of the women’s rights movement this is not only a symbolically terrible thing to do, and a horrible message to send the women of Canada, but it is also economically senseless.

        Feel free to visit http://www.wageproject.org to see the cost of the wage gap to an economy over the lives of women, and have a look at the Minnesota model (http://tinyurl.com/cejvgo) to see how it is a reality.

        The CCPA (an independent, non-partisan research institute concerned with issues of social and economic justice) produced an e-book called the Harper Record. (http://www.policyalternatives.ca/reports/2008/09/reportsstudies1960/) The lengthy section on ‘Women’s Equality and Human Rights’ concludes:

        “Under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, women in Canada are witnessing a steady encroachment on the hard-won and still fragile equality rights for which they have fought long and hard.”

        Can anyone explain why the word “equality” was removed from the mandate for the Status of Women’s Council, and why this erosion of women’s rights in Canada?”

        “The Canadian Child Care Federation notes that “we know from experience that for every dollar invested in the development of a child, there is a seven-dollar return for all society.” (http://tinyurl.com/dafkwq)

        Please also take a few moment to read this important pdf from http://www.childcarecanada.org:
        “Why Canada can’t work without good child care: How childhood education and care supports the economy” (http://tinyurl.com/bsw3hp)

        a short excerpt: “…US studies based on actual progams show higher returns for low income children, as much 17 dollar for every dollar invested.)… Not investing in childhood education and care is bad economics… In the United States, Barack Obama has identified early childhood education and care as required for an economic recovery – one of a “new set of priorities to grow our economy and create jobs to start getting our economy back on track”…

        Again Harper has done the opposite of Obama and shows little concern for women rights, their families, or even economic sense. Conservatives blocked plans for national day care 30 years in the planning and now this news in the Toronto Sun: “Little hope for daycare dollars from feds” (http://tinyurl.com/b7bnt3)”

        Why are we not doing one of the most obvious and important things to stimulate the economy?

        And here’s a thought: What kind of prime minister deliberately misleads the public about the the parliamentary system works?

        • (that should have read) What kind of prime minister deliberately misleads the public about the way the parliamentary system works?

          Think about it. Igantieff has won many awards for his books and reviews going back years read that there is a great deal of honesty in his work. That, so far bodes well. Allan Gotlieb said we are lacking in International statesmanship in the prime minister’s office. I think this could be Ignatieff. His global experience and fluency in languages which include Russian could be a huge asset with the dispute over the arctic. Harper has broken so many promises to so many and can’t even be honest with us.

          I hope Ignatieff wants to be prime minister for the good of Canada.

  3. That would be “Stephen”… maybe you should change this little chant of yours … it’s a little too long to go on a sign at the next protest rally.

  4. We go on and on about stimulus packages. History shows that they are largely ineffective, and that the inevitable rebound of the markets, the economy in general, and eventually the employment numbers is always touted as a success for the visionaries of the day who came up with the wonderful idea of spending money we don’t have to supposedly create jobs. I certainly don’t agree that we should abandon the policy of not running federal budget deficits, especially when we are finally making some headway on the debt problem. For anybody to suggest that massive spending will help Canada’s economy, they obviously aren’t watching events down south. In the rush to stimulate, almost a trillion dollars earmarked to save the financial industry is being spent in a haphazard, piecemeal fashion, with no plan and very little oversight to ensure that the cash is actually going to its intended destination. In fact, before half of the package has even been spent, it was revealed that many millions had already gone up in smoke for “administration” costs (this “administration” probably being the only jobs “created” by this first round of financial tomfoolery). I’m not holding my breath that the monetary black hole we lovingly call Ottawa will do any better in this regard, their record speaking for itself (to all those “It wasn’t OUR fault!” types, this is a problem that crosses ALL party lines). As the Obama machine gears up to sell the latest fragrant pile to the U.S. electorate, I heard an interesting statistic that every one of the jobs that will be “created or saved” (try verifying THAT when the time comes) by this next trillion dollar stimulus package will cost in the neighborhood of $275 000. I don’t imagine that the Canadian version will clock in at the same level, but it’s interesting to see how politicians on both sides of the border are unbelievably calling for higher spending than has already been planned by these obscene proposals. It would cost a whole lot less to limit program spending and give average taxpayers (by that I refer to those of us who actually PAY taxes) a tax holiday for a few years. I guarantee this would get people spending and consuming again, and the increased GST revenue could help offset the amount of cash that the government has to borrow. I don’t ever foresee such a thing occurring, as there are too many sacred cow programs firmly attached like leaches on a vein, and too many special interests with their finger in the pie. While the entrenched political establishment tries to keep us from getting near enough to swim in their pool, they don’t notice that they knocked out the plug and the water is almost drained away. Thanks, or should I say “Merci”?

  5. Hey, Aaron, seems Mulcair and his little temper problem reared its ugly head again – what the hell did he say?

  6. The present HOC –

    (1) who’s on first = CPC (oops make that third base now as they just stole it a short while back)
    (2) what’s on second = LPC (iggy the new base stealer is doing pretty good off the line but the pressure is starting to build while his numbers seem higher)
    (3) I don’t know is on third = NDP (never mind tagged out and Jack is in the dugout but he’ll be back)
    (4) who cares is shortstop = BQ (still arguing with all the referree’s and letting the outfielders deal with things while trying to convince the home team that he is interested in the game))

    • so where’s the green party?

  7. A shame that this government can’t even come up with an original name for a boost to the economy. Stimulus package is all over CNN and never with reference to Canada. It may well be one (stimulus package) but please for once couldn’t this nation see its way to some more originality? Jobs are being lost in the thousands at a time. These are many people ( from all walks of life) who have either never been without jobs or who have had them for so long that retraining programs and handouts will barely begin to allow them to get their heads above the waterline. Stimulate what??? Headlines???

    Yawn…Say it with me – EI-EI-Ohhhh Canada…

    Alive and kickin’ in the Toronto Galaxy – one day we’ll be all grow’d up and like a big city and stuff…

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