The Commons: Back to our regularly scheduled doom

With Obama long gone, Parliament is forced back to reality


The Scene. It was, if even for just a few hours, nice of hope to visit. A pleasant distraction, if nothing else.

But the crushing business of reality could only be ignored for so long. And back to work we went today.

“Mr. Speaker, first, it was the unemployment numbers. Then, record bank proxies. Then, collapsing housing starts. Then, soaring trade deficit figures. Now, it is retail sales,” Michael Ignatieff began, putting his index finger and thumb together to list the harbingers of our doom. “They fell 5.4 per cent in December; the largest drop in 15 years. Bad news seems to be overwhelming this government’s strategy. So, the question is, is it going to revise this strategy as the situation worsens? The Prime Minister said one thing. The Minister of Finance said another. What is the government’s position?”

The Prime Minister was elsewhere, so up came Jim Flaherty. “Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister and I have been clear that what needs to happen is that Canada’s economic action, the major stimulus to our economy, that is contained in budget 2009, needs to be implemented,” he explained. “To be implemented, of course, it has to be passed by this House and go to the Senate.”

The Liberal leader stood again, apparently unsatisfied with the minister’s attempt to clarify the rudimentary basics of legislative democracy.

“Mr. Speaker, the minister did not answer the question,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “Will he answer that question?”

He most certainly would not.

“Mr. Speaker, in the budget, we were very conservative in our fiscal estimates for this year,” Flaherty said instead. “In fact, our prognostications are below the predictions by the private sector forecasters.”

Hurray, perhaps, for low expectations.

Mr. Ignatieff changed tack. What, he wondered, would happen to the pensions of auto workers in the event the auto industry ceases to exist. “What will the government say if these companies do tumble into bankruptcy?” he asked. “Tough luck?”

Up came the industry minister. “Mr. Speaker, contrary to what the honourable member is professing, the doomsaying scenario which he seems to luxuriate in,” Tony Clement exclaimed, waving his hands and grasping at words, “what I can tell this House is that we are working very closely with the sector, of course, with Premier McGuinty and the government of Ontario, and with the Obama administration, to ensure that we have a vibrant car industry, not only for the present, but for the future, as well.”

Hurray, perhaps, for anyone still capable of luxuriating in the idea of a vibrant car industry.

Liberal Marlene Jennings stood and made a snide reference to the government’s economic sensibilities. Mr. Flaherty appealed to a higher power.

“Mr. Speaker, as the honourable member opposite will know, President Obama visited last week and praised the efforts that had been made by Canada, by the Canadian government, with respect to our economic stimulus,” the Finance Minister said. “Canada, quite frankly, is a leading light in the world.”

Jennings attempted to clarify her point. “Mr. Speaker, what we are talking about here, what really matters, are the people those numbers represent,” she said. “What will the Conservatives do now to make up for their pathetic paralysis since the crisis first hit months ago?”

“Oh,” cried John Baird, “you’re going to hurt his feelings.”

“Mr. Speaker,” huffed Flaherty, “I do not know where the honourable member has been.”

“Right here!” yelped Jennings.

With that sorted out, the Bloc Quebecois proceeded with four questions on the government’s failure to prepare us for the coming climate apocalypse. And with the matters of economic and environmental disaster already covered, Jack Layton was left little option but to denounce everything else in between.

“Canada’s reputation is in free fall,” he observed. “Leadership on the world stage really has to start with leadership here at home, and what we have seen is that the government of Canada has been criticized frequently and successively by UN reports for its record on poverty, on women, on the environment, on human rights. Taser deaths were singled out by Italy. Norway pointed to the scale and character of violence against aboriginal women. The United Kingdom added that Canada had to give the highest priority to fundamental inequalities between aboriginal people and the rest of Canadians by settling land claims, among other measures.”

Then, finally, a question. “Could the government tell us,” Layton asked, “what progress, if any, has been registered with the UN in the Prime Minister’s meetings?”

The government might have, but would not.

“Mr. Speaker, I can talk specifically about some progress, for example, on specific claims settlements in British Columbia, my home province, where this last year we settled 31 land claims. That is a record number,” reported Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl. “We also urge the member at the far end of the hall here to help us pass the matrimonial real property rights bill, which will finally give aboriginal women and children the property rights they deserve and that every other Canadian takes for granted.”

This was likely not quite the answer Layton was looking for. But it was something.

The Stats. The environment, six questions. The economy, five questions. The auto industry, three questions. Human rights, the budget, federal jurisdiction, arts funding, trade, China, pay equity, press freedom, crime, listeriosis and foreign aid, two questions each. Israel, Omar Khadr and infrastructure, one question each.

Jim Flaherty, eight answers. Jim Prentice, six answers. Vic Toews and Lawrence Cannon, four answers each. Tony Clement, Chuck Strahl, Josee Verner, James Moore, Stockwell Day, Peter Van Loan and Bev Oda, two answers each. Jason Kenney, Rob Nicholson and John Baird, one answer each.