The Commons: Inconvenienced by reality

With Harper away at a power point presentation in Brampton, Flaherty was left to answer the tough questions

The Commons: Inconvenienced by realityThe Scene. First, an existential question.

“Mr. Speaker,” Michael Ignatieff asked, “why is the Prime Minister telling Canadians in Brampton that we will be out of this economic crisis by 2010?”

Before anyone on the government side could respond, Ignatieff ventured an answer.

“It is a nice forecast,” he said. “I hope it is true, but this is the same Prime Minister who said, ‘If we were going to have a recession we would have had it by now.’ That was in September 2008. His reputation for credibility has never recovered.”

Following that flourish, Ignatieff asked: “So why should we believe his forecast now?”

With the Prime Minister not yet returned from his power point presentation in Brampton, Jim Flaherty rose to take this one.

“Mr. Speaker the Prime Minister and his government has an economic plan for Canada, Canada’s economic action plan,” he said, cradling the handsomely bound budget document in his arms. “It is a great read. I know the members opposite want to read it. I know they have only had about five weeks to get through it and it has lots of pages. It is a big read but I encourage the members opposite to take the time on behalf of Canada to read this.”

The Liberal leader appeared unconvinced.

“Mr. Speaker, Brampton, where the Prime Minister gave his speech, happens to be a place where 1,100 Chrysler workers lost their jobs in 2007 and 3,000 more jobs are hanging by a thread in 2009,” he said. “The government is on a far away planet.”

Ignatieff left the identity of said planet unspecified, showing the good judgment to refrain from trying to find a proper Uranus joke for our troubled times. “It said nothing about those workers in his speech,” he said. “When will the government stop spinning the facts about the reality of our economic situation and tell Canadians the truth?”

“Mr. Speaker, in fact the Prime Minister did mention the auto sector in his remarks,” Flaherty responded. “I am sure the leader of the opposition would like to retract saying that he did not.”

Indeed, among the Prime Minister’s 3,300 words this afternoon, three were “automotive.”

Undaunted, the Liberal leader repeated his question in French. Unmoved, the Finance Minister outed the real source of our troubles.

“I agree, Mr. Speaker, that economic times are difficult, that many Canadians are losing their jobs. That is why we have an economic plan for Canada. We have a challenge in the Liberal dominated Senate. This is a question of leadership,” he said, challenging Ignatieff to impose his will on the upper chamber.

Asked next about bank fees, Flaherty upped his demands. “I hope the member opposite will encourage the Liberal senators down the hall who he knows to make sure they act this week and not go off on holidays next week,” he said. “They cannot say they have constituency work because they do not have constituencies.”

And so, apparently, a week’s worth of Senate work is the only thing between recession and economic salvation. (No doubt the unemployed in Brampton will be delighted to learn that at the end of Question Period Mr. Ignatieff emerged to tell reporters that senators on all sides had agreed to expedite the budget without delay.)

A moment later, Jack Layton was up, typically unhappy. “Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives’ reckless fiscal policies have led Canada into the worst recession in a generation, but when it comes to the economy, the best that our missing-in-action peekaboo Prime Minister can do is to hightail it out of town to point fingers of blame at everybody else instead of taking a little responsibility,” he began, succinctly. “Meanwhile he is proceeding with the slow and steady death of the auto sector, forestry, mining, steel, and the list goes on. While he is in Brampton saying, ‘Don’t worry. Be happy,’ the Minister of Finance is telling the Senate that things are going wrong. Who is right? And who is in charge?”

“Mr. Speaker,” Flaherty clarified, “it is pretty clear to everybody in the world, actually, except perhaps the leader of the NDP, that there is a synchronized global recession.”

Layton persisted. “Is the government capable of taking any responsibility for the miserable economic performance of Canada?” he asked. “Yes or no?”

“Mr. Speaker, of course we have taken on the responsibility, unlike the leader of the NDP who did not even bother reading the economic plan for Canada before he decided to vote against it,” Flaherty responded.

With his last opportunity, Layton rose with a question for the IT department. “When these unemployed workers turn to the government’s job bank website to get a bit of help and maybe a bit of hope, what do they get?” he asked. “They log on and they are greeted by a message saying there are technical difficulties. Well, no kidding, Mr. Speaker. How can we have any confidence in a website about the slush fund when the government cannot even get its job bank website working?”

Diane Finley stood then, only to see Flaherty rise too. Finley, seeing Flaherty, sat back down, but Flaherty, seeing Finley stand, did likewise. After an awkward couple of seconds or so, Finley stood unopposed.

She provided then one of the most impressive moments of candour in the history of her government.

“Mr. Speaker, we are doing everything we can to ensure that all Canadians have access to all the labour market information, all the job information they can,” she began. “Unfortunately, we have unprecedented numbers of people looking to the job bank. We are working to update that to ensure it is robust enough to withstand the demands upon it. We are working on that to serve Canadians.”

Indeed. If it weren’t for all these unemployed people, everything would be going wonderfully.

The Stats. The economy, 11 questions. Science and arts funding, five questions. Forestry and immigration, four questions. The auto industry, high-speed rail and the CBC, two questions each. Child care, government contracts, Sri Lanka and fishers, one question each.

Jim Flaherty, nine answers. James Moore, seven answers. Gary Goodyear, five answers. Jason Kenney, four answers. Diane Finley and Stockwell Day, three answers each. Mike Lake and John Baird, two answers each. Denis Lebel, Christian Paradis, Lawrence Cannon and Jean-Pierre Blackburn, one answer each.