The Commons: ‘Building costs for the water feature are $57,000′ -

The Commons: ‘Building costs for the water feature are $57,000′

In a few days, this fake lake has surpassed so many other matters of public policy


The Scene. Michael Ignatieff was quick to define the terms of this afternoon’s debate, referencing “ce faux lac” with his first available sentence. After the Prime Minister had shrugged a response—Mr. Harper perhaps aiming for non-chalance, but seeming rather to be barely awake—Mr. Ignatieff moved to expand the complaint.

“Mr. Speaker, what do fake lakes, gazebos and boats that do not float have to do with security?” he wondered aloud, shaking a loose fist at the government side. “The issue is not just the waste of money, it is that the summit promises to deliver so little on climate change, on women’s rights, on jobs and growth. This summit looks like a billion dollar speed bump on the road to the real summit which will be in Korea at the end of this year. How can the Prime Minister justify this expense for so little possible result?”

The Prime Minister nearly sighed his response. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “this is a historic change of position for the Liberal party to be against a multi-lateral process such as this.”

In and of itself, this was maybe not much in the way of retort, but worse, it did not rhyme—a quality that would seem to explain why this fake lake has come, in a few days, to have surpassed so many other less rhythmically monikered matters of public policy.

Mr. Ignatieff tried again, this time appealing directly to the prose of novelty t-shirt sloganeers. “Canadians are asking simple questions like ‘we spent $1 billion and all we got was this lousy fake lake?'” he reported. “That is not the end of it. They are asking about the agenda. There is no progress on key issues. Many issues are not even on the agenda. Canadians wanted leadership and what they got was a fake lake. How does the Prime Minister explain this?”

The Prime Minister would explain this with the first of several variations on the proper language for describing this indoor waterway. “The opposition is obviously throwing around a bunch of falsehoods,” he testified. “For instance yesterday they said there is a $2-million lake when in fact there is a $2-million marketing pavilion.”

Across the way, Liberals giggled.

“Mr. Speaker, now it is a marketing pavilion as if that changes anything,” mocked Mark Holland with the next opportunity.

Yesterday’s government response featured a half dozen ministers and the sight of Industry Minister Tony Clement standing and turning away from the opposition, as is his odd habit, to plead his case to his own government seatmates. Perhaps seeking consistency and reassurance this day, Mr. Clement was kept to his seat and Lawrence Cannon assigned to carry the day—the Foreign Affairs Minister armed with facts and bureaucratic language and a square jaw.

“Mr. Speaker, media are reporting widely, and obviously incorrectly, that the costs of apparently this artificial lake, which is a small part of the Experience Canada exhibit, is $1.9 million,” he explained with his first opportunity. “Through you, Mr. Speaker, to the colleagues, building costs for the water feature are $57,000.”

This—the sort of sentence that deserves to be on a plaque mounted to a wall somewhere on Parliament Hill—was greeted as some sort of game-changing revelation by the government side. But Mr. Holland had apparently prepared for this. “Mr. Speaker, even if it $57,000, that is more than the annual income of 40% of Canadian families,” he snapped. The Liberals stood to applaud.

“The fake lake and accessories, $2 million,” he continued, now listing the grievances. “Dancers, fiddlers and flowers, $20 million. A boat, $400,000. Distant gazebo and bathrooms, $300,000. An unlicensed security firm, and even a fake lighthouse. Now Toronto, too, gets something. Calling it their signature environmental initiative, the Conservatives are leaving a giant wall of plants—the cost of which they buried under the fake lake. What else are they hiding? How much more crazy does this thing get?”

Once again the Liberals stood to applaud.

Over then to Mr. Cannon, who sought here to summon something greater than all of us—something timeless and pure—to explain the water feature and the gazebos and the rustic toilets. “We are using this opportunity to be able to showcase Canada. We are telling Canada’s story,” he proclaimed. “We are proud of what we have done. We are proud of what we are doing. We are proud of being able to promote Canada abroad, and we will continue to do it with this amount of money.”

In the reflecting pool then, we see ourselves. In that far-off toilet, we find our purpose. With each gazebo, we stand on guard for thee.

Strangely, this did not shame the opposition side. The questions persisted and though the Prime Minister would eventually be roused to wag his finger and proclaim his government’s righteousness and Mr. Cannon would continue to stand and declare things with something approaching certainty, the Liberals would spend much of their afternoon laughing.

The Stats. The G20, 15 questions. Parliament, five questions. The oil industry, three questions. Ethics, Israel, the military and aboriginal affairs, two questions each. Employment, Quebec, immigration, the Arctic, firearms, air safety and the environment, one question each.

Lawrence Cannon, 12 answers. Stephen Harper, eight answers. Christian Paradis, six answers. John Duncan, three answers. Pierre Poilievre and Peter MacKay, two answers each. Jason Kenney, Vic Toews, John Baird, Rob Nicholson and Mark Warawa, one answer each.