The Commons: Behold, the majesty of ways and means

"We will be watching them like hawks," Ignatieff warned

The Commons
At the conclusion of Question Period, the House proceeded with the pro forma. The tabling of documents, the presentation of petitions, the notice of motions for the production of papers, requests for emergency debates.

Liberal Mauril Bélanger got up and asked that the House move post-haste to discussion of the capital’s public transit strike. The Speaker agreed with the gravity of the situation, but noted that the weather outside was dreadful, a snow storm adding to the already icy hell that is Ottawa. In the interests then of everyone getting home safe—public transit obviously not being an option—the debate would be held Thursday.

Business moved then to Ways and Means Motion No. 1, resuming adjourned debate of the government’s budgetary policy. Up first, the leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, the honourable member for Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

Most identifiable members of the government side had long since left. Bev Oda sat alone along the front bench, working through some paper work.

“Canada’s ship of state has entered some very rough and turbulent water and the captain’s steering through this storm has been erratic,” Michael Ignatieff said, barely restraining himself from breaking into that timeless sea shanty about the drunken sailor. “He misjudged, he misled, he misguided. At first he failed to act and then he acted irresponsibly. Now finally, he recognizes that we are in real danger. Finally, he is taking some measures to head for safety, but it has been a long time coming.”

Government house leader Jay Hill strolled away. Lisa Raitt and Gordon O’Connor sat beside each other in silence, fiddling with their Blackberries.

Ignatieff proceeded with this business of splitting the political atom.

“Yesterday’s budget is a flawed document. However, the impact of a united opposition has been clear. The budget includes measures for which we called during the last election and that the Prime Minister said he would never do,” he noted. “At a time when Canadians raise questions about whether our political system could work, the political system did work.”

Indeed. Hurray for the system. The government stands unworthy of trust. The budget is variously and wildly insufficient. But the system has sort of worked. Or will work. At least until it doesn’t.

“We will vigilantly monitor the budget’s effects on our economy and on every region of the country,” Mr. Ignatieff explained. “If the Prime Minister fails, we will be ready to defeat him.”

Deepak Obhrai took his leave. Jay Hill returned, walked to his desk, retrieved a piece of paper, turned on his heels and left again. At least three government members appeared to be actively paying attention.

“Canadians do not want another election, and they are tired of political games. They have waited too long for action on the economy for us to fail them now because of partisan interests,” Ignatieff scolded. “The Liberal Party is not giving the Prime Minister of Canada a green light. We are giving him a flashing yellow light, proceed with extreme caution.”

“Yellow light!” chirped a critic from the NDP bench.

“We take nothing for granted from this Prime Minister and this government,” Ignatieff warned. “We will be watching them like hawks.”

“Woah, hawks!” yelped the NDP cynic.

The Liberal leader moved to his big finish.

“I move that the motion be amended by changing the period to a comma and adding the following,” he said, stirring the echoes.

“On condition,” he continued, “that that the Government table reports in Parliament no later than five sitting days before the last allotted day in each of the supply periods ending March 26th, 2009, June 23rd, 2009 and December 10th, 2009: to provide on-going economic and fiscal updates; to detail the actual implementation of the budget; to itemize the actual effects of the budget with respect to: the protection of the most vulnerable in Canadian society, the minimizing of existing job losses, the creation of the employment opportunities of tomorrow, the provision of economic stimulus in a manner fair to all regions of Canada, and the assurance that the Government’s deficit is not a burden to future generations or a detriment to economic recovery; and to provide details on any adjustments or new measures as may be required to benefit the Canadian economy.”

One hundred and fifty words in all. School children will no doubt sing them in verse for generations to come.

The Liberals stood to applaud. Mr. Ignatieff sat back down and signed his name in blue ink to a printed copy of this most copious of motions. A clerk took it from him and presented it to the Speaker, who dutifully repeated it in full.

“Very well said,” chirped Liberal house leader Ralph Goodale, quite obviously chuffed by this moment in procedural leadership.