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The Commons: The $3-billion question


 

The Scene. Ralph Goodale stood to open Question Period with a question of entirely symbolic value. The Finance Minister responded in kind.

“Mr. Speaker, as we know, we are in the midst of a global economic recession,” Jim Flaherty said. “This is a very serious time. Canadians have seen serious times before.”

“Where’s the $3 billion you’re sitting on?” Maria Minna interjected from across the aisle.

This was closer to what the Liberal house leader had meant to ask. And after Mr. Flaherty had finished, Mr. Goodale picked up where Ms. Minna had left.

“Mr. Speaker, the government says it will introduce a new law later this month to give itself a $3-billion blank cheque for spending after April 1,” he said. “Why can the government not find a few minutes any time in the next three weeks before April 1 to tell Canadians which stimulus programs will be financed with this unprecedented blank cheque?”

“Slush fund! Slush fund!” chirped a Liberal.

This is a somewhat tricky matter.

The government has indeed asked for $3-billion to be spent outside Parliamentary oversight. The opposition parties would like the government to explain how it plans to spend said money before they approve it. The government would like the opposition parties to stop hurting the country with their incessant questions.

Ms. Minna’s shouted query spoke to the even trickier matter.

Indeed, as the Liberals announced last week, the government already has approximately $3-billion in unspent, but officially approved, funds from last year’s budget. And as far as the Liberals are concerned, the government doesn’t need $3-billion if it already has $3-billion. As far as the government is concerned, this detail once again demonstrates the shortcomings of our democracy.

“Mr. Speaker, we have been very clear in our comments in respect of that fund,” said Vic Toews, responding to Mr. Goodale. “We have indicated that the projects in respect of which this money will be spent has all been spelled out in the budget and we appreciate the support that the Liberal Party gave us in that respect. We would ask that the Liberals encourage their colleagues in the Senate to get it through the Senate as quickly as possible.”

Goodale disagreed markedly.

“Mr. Speaker, the details are not in the budget,” he corrected. “The Prime Minister seems to be making the shocking confession that he cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.”

“Ralph!” cried John Baird in faux outrage.

“He says he can either quickly fight the recession or he can be accountable for his spending but somehow, he cannot do both,” Goodale continued. “That is utter nonsense. The two are not mutually exclusive, especially with more than three weeks to go before any of that spending would actually begin. Why will the Prime Minister not tell us accurately what the money is for?”

The Prime Minister, for the record, was not present. So back up came the Finance Minister.

“Mr. Speaker, it is for Canada’s economic action plan,” Flaherty said, holding his budget aloft and growling at the other side. “That is what it is for. It is for infrastructure spending. It is for spending for our colleges and universities. I know the member for Wascana does not understand that, but the Canadian construction season starts in a few weeks. In April, May and June, we need this money out the door. We need it for Canadians. We need it for Canadian families. One would think the Liberal opposition would understand that. This is a serious crisis. This money needs to get out the door now, in April, May and June. I hope the Liberals will get their Liberal senators to follow that lead.”

Marlene Jennings stood to continue with the line of questioning. Why hadn’t the government spent the billions it had? What was it going to do with the billions it wanted? Was there a plan of some sort that might explain these things?

“Mr. Speaker, not only do we have the plan, which is in Canada’s economic action plan, we have the process as well,” Flaherty growled.

The Finance Minister then put his fists together and turned them upwards, both begging and flashing his gold cufflinks.

“The President of the Treasury Board and I have met with the Auditor General. We have met with the parliamentary budget adviser. Treasury Board has been working very hard. Senior public servants in this government recognize the importance to Canadians of getting this done and getting it done promptly,” he said. “It is too bad the Liberal opposition doubts the veracity of our public servants in Canada to get this job done. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

“Louder! Louder!” heckled a Liberal.

Jennings switched directions, next wondering about the budget’s considerations for women.

The Finance Minister, whose face would be affixed in a permanent scowl by day’s end, was less than impressed with her insinuations.

“Mr. Speaker, as she probably knows, all of the elements that are in Canada’s economic action plan are gender-tested. That is part of the standard development of policy in the Government of Canada,” he said.

“No they are not,” sniped Ms. Minna. “Give me a break.”

“I am sorry the member for Beaches—East York does not understand government process, but all policy recommendations go through a gender assessment,” he said.

Then his big finish. “Having said that, this plan is a plan for all Canadians,” he said, his voice rising as his mates in caucus began to applaud, “for men, for women, for young people in Canada, for students, for professionals, for labourers. We are for all Canadians and all Canadians support this plan.”

By the end, the Finance Minister was shouting over the cheers as his side rose to salute him.

A fine show. Even if the $3-billion question remains resolutely unanswered.

The Stats. The economy, nine questions. The auto industry, seven questions. Forestry, six questions. Universities, arts funding, the CBC, agriculture, regional development and pay equity, two questions each. Infrastructure, government contracts, the steel industry and health care, one question each.

Gary Goodyear, ten questions. Jim Flaherty, seven answers. Denis Lebel, six answers. John Baird, Dean Del Mastro and Vic Toews, three answers each. Stockwell Day and Gerry Ritz, two answers each. Christian Paradis and Leona Aglukkaq, one answer each.


 

The Commons: The $3-billion question

  1. I know the member for Wascana does not understand that, but the Canadian construction season starts in a few weeks. In April, May and June, we need this money out the door.

    This is rich, coming from the Conservatives.

    Last May, in Regina, Mayor Pat Fiacco had to publicly embarrass the Conservatives into finally moving–after weeks of delay–on funding for IPSCO Place improvements. Dollars had been promised under the Building Canada Fund agreement, but nothing was happening as the construction season was ticking away.

    Now the Conservatives present themselves as the guardians of expediency when it comes to the spending of infrastructure dollars.

  2. I think this Liberal argument about “Where’s the $3 billion you’re sitting on?” a bit disingenuous.

    If indeed that money was approved for in the last budget, and remains unspent, then either:

    a) it was designated for specific spending projects (hence with “paliamentary oversight”) – in which case you couldn’t simply move it out from one account to another without parliamentary approval, or

    b) it was just general money that you could spend as you like, as the Liberals seem to be suggesting – so it had in fact no “parliamentary oversight” when approved.

    Fine show indeed.

    • I should have added:

      b) it was just general money that you could spend as you like, as the Liberals seem to be suggesting – so it had in fact no “parliamentary oversight” when approved, so what difference does another $3 billion make?

      • so what difference does another $3 billion make?

        Oh no difference Dot. A small price to pay to prop up ridings where CONservative is plummeting.

        Tory support plummets in Quebec, poll finds

        Remind me again who was all for the concept of transparent and accountable government.

        • Remind me again who was all for the concept of transparent and accountable government.

          Ummm, do you want me to say you, Brent? Afterall, your CAITI logo , on the CAITI site when one clicks on your name says “ADVOCACY.ACCOUNTABILITY.EDUCATION”

          One should also add OBSESSION.DECEIT.OBLIVIOUSNESS

    • David Atkin answers the question on his blog (the answer is a)

      No. Parliament approved that spending last year specifically for certain kinds of infrastructure projects. And, as infrastructure minister John Baird as noted on more than one occasion, this money will get spent likely on projects that can take a year or more until environmental assessments, approvals, and engineering work is complete.

      http://davidakin.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2009/3/10/4118322.html#1228123

  3. Way to tell em Jimmy Boy ! That’ll teach em – sometimes you just got to get their attention like the axiomatic mule …. “I am sorry the member for Beaches—East York does not understand government process, but all policy recommendations go through a gender assessment,” he said.

    • Actually the sight of no deficit/small surplus Jumbo playing Santi is a bit nauseating you must admit?

    • C’mon Wayne, surely even to you that sounds like newspeak.

  4. I believe that part of the reason that infrastructure spending already in the pipeline has not been approved and used is because some elements of it must be assessed for suitability as P3 projects. This is very time consuming. And if anyone is following the problems with P3 projects in BC and Ontario as well as the long history of provincially sponsored P3 projects in Nova Scotia there is reason for skepticism.

  5. Deficit Jim is a wonderful and generous pork barreling Finance Minister, especially with himself and his riding.

    I’m sure the dollar signs are lighting up if you bend down and look into the dwarf’s eyes.

    I always wanted a railroad, even as a wee Irish laddie! says Jim… http://news.therecord.com/Opinions/article/316793

    And there is lots and lots of $$$$ to spread around! All the CONservative MPs should be happy

    http://www.winnipegsun.com/comment/columnists/2009/03/08/8669106-sun.html

  6. all policy recommendations go through a gender assessment

    Q1: How many social-engineering “assessment” filters does every policy recommendation go through?
    Q2: How many public-payroll-benefits-and-pension busybodies does it take to assess each federal government light bulb?

  7. “Mr. Speaker, not only do we have the plan, which is in Canada’s economic action plan, we have the process as well,”

    Flaherty has a ‘plan’, and a ‘process’, I feel so reassured. What can possibly go wrong?

    • If I were the Auditor General, I’d be doing curl-ups and practicing my kung-fu.

  8. According to Jack Layton in an interview last week, his party contacted the Auditor General’s office about the CONS claims…….they DO NOT (according to Layton) approve.

    Harper and his bobbleheads are misrepresenting things to Canadians again.

  9. “We are for all Canadians and all Canadians support this plan.”

    What plan?

    • What “all” Canadians ?

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