The Commons: Duly elected to carry on unapologetically

Jason Kenney declines several invitations to say sorry

The Scene. Impatient to spoil the surprise, Thomas Mulcair wondered aloud if the government side might confirm now that they’ll be presenting another omnibus budget bill in the fall. In a rare nod to full disclosure, John Baird stood and promised as much.

“Every year, as long as I have been in this place and in the Legislature of Ontario, the Minister of Finance presents a budget in the winter and the spring, then presents a budget bill in the spring and another budget bill in the fall,” Mr. Baird recalled. “That will be no different this year.”

In 2009, the two budget bills were a combined 712 pages. In 2010, the government managed 1,056 pages of budget implementation. Last year, it was 716 pages. If such recent precedent is any gauge, and keeping in mind that C-38 covered 452 pages, the fall’s bill should be something like a mere 376 pages.

Mr. Mulcair now had several questions.  “Mr. Speaker, the Conservative’s plan this spring was to ram their Trojan Horse budget bill through Parliament without anyone noticing what was actually in it. They hid their proposals, but even Conservative MPs could tell us, Canadians are taking notice. Bringing in another omnibus bill, another ominous bill, to change Canada in ways they never talked about during the election is simply wrong,” he declared. “Why will they not allow MPs to study their proposals properly? Canadians are calling for it, we are certainly calling for it and even Conservative MPs are calling for it. Why will they not show some respect for Parliament? What else will they try to hide this time?”

The New Democrats stood to applaud. Mr. Baird stood and enthused. “Mr. Speaker, this government is very proud of its economic agenda. We are very proud of Budget 2012 and the clear map it sets out for long-term economic prosperity,” he proclaimed, drawing applause from the government side. “We had a significant amount of debate on Bill C-38, probably more than any other bill since I have been a member of this place. That debate is now concluded. Now we will refocus and do even more to create jobs, more to create more opportunity, so that every Canadian who is looking for a job, can have a job.”

Alas, Mr. Mulcair next declared that the “culture of concealment” was widespread—from omnibus budget bills to the access to information system to the refusal to provide the Parliamentary Budget Officer with the information he has requested. At this, Mr. Baird paused long enough from the tabling of platitudes to make a vague, but direct, complaint about Kevin Page.

“I have to say with great respect,” Mr. Baird explained, “I believe that from time to time and on occasion the Parliamentary Budget Office has overstepped its mandate.”

“Ohhh!” called out various voices on the opposition side.

So six years after the Conservatives promised a “parliamentary budget authority,” the parliamentary budget officer finds his authority openly questioned. But with that the House became almost entirely gripped by the matter of the Immigration Minister’s use of an epithet to describe Alberta’s deputy premier.

The NDP’s Linda Duncan wondered if Jason Kenney might apologize. He did not. She wondered why the Harper government was generally showing such disdain for the provinces. Mr. Kenney stood and compared Mr. Mulcair to Lucien Bouchard.

Bob Rae stood and suggested Mr. Kenney say sorry. Mr. Kenney declined. Mr. Rae suggested that it would demonstrate respect for western Canadians if Mr. Kenney apologized. Mr. Kenney was unpersuaded. “Mr. Speaker, last year I was honoured to receive a mandate from 76% of the voters in Calgary Southeast to work hard for Albertans,” the Immigration Minister congratulated himself. “I can say that I and every minister and every member of Parliament in this Conservative caucus are working very productively with our provincial governments from coast to coast, including the government of Alberta.”

Mr. Rae followed the logic. “Mr. Speaker, one can only imagine what the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism would have called the deputy premier of Alberta if he had received 80% of the votes from Calgary Southeast,” the interim Liberal leader came back. “It is hard to imagine how much further he would have gone.”

After several questions on less urgent matters—social services, trade with Europe, military procurement, whatever’s going on with Dean Del Mastro—Denis Coderre stood and demanded that Mr. Kenney apologize. The minister remained unmoved.

Now then it was Kevin Lamoureux’s turn. Intentionally or inadvertently, the Liberal MP, a regular presence in this place, was about to pull a decently indecent trick.

“Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Premier from Alberta is coming to Ottawa and he wants to meet with the Minister of Immigration and other Alberta members of Parliament,” Mr. Lamoureux. “The minister’s response to the suggestion is, and I quote: ‘He is a complete and utter asshole.’ ”

There was a general commotion in the House over this, various members variously outraged over the offence to their previously innocent ears. The Speaker stood and confirmed that one is not allowed to do indirectly what one is not supposed to do directly.

Mr. Lamoureux was thus shamed. “Mr. Speaker, like a man I recognize that I made a mistake,” he said. “I am apologizing and I am asking for the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to do likewise, and apologize for saying inappropriate words to the Deputy Premier of Alberta.”

The Liberals treated Mr. Lamoureux’s manners to a standing ovation.

Mr. Kenney was not so impressed. “Mr. Speaker, now we see why they are the third party,” he sighed, returning quickly to his seat.

Indeed, if the Liberal party is to ever again see the trappings of power, it will have to learn how to better conduct itself unapologetically.

The Stats. Ethics, 11 questions. The budget, five questions. Military procurement and employment, three questions each. Trade, the military, the Canada Revenue Agency, the RCMP and privacy, two questions each. The Canadian Wheat Board, smoking, the environment, immigration and energy, one question each.

Jason Kenney, nine responses. Vic Toews, four responses. John Baird, Gerald Keddy, Rona Ambrose and Pierre Poilievre, three responses each. Shelly Glover, Peter MacKay, Gail Shea and Diane Finley, two responses each. Gerry Ritz, Leona Aglukkaq, Tony Clement, Keith Ashfield and Joe Oliver, one response each.