The Commons: John Baird will not be distracted by your democracy

In fairness to Mr. Baird, there is much to distract the Conservatives these days

The Scene. The rules of this place require him to address the other side indirectly, but Michael Ignatieff did not bother to look at Peter Milliken as he spoke.

“Mr. Speaker, your rulings yesterday should not have been necessary,” the Liberal leader said, staring down the government side. “A decent government would have complied with the rules of democracy without being forced to, but this is not a decent government.”

There were groans from the Conservatives in attendance.

“This is not the first time, not the second time, but the third time the government has been forced to respect the rulings and order of the House. Now the game is up,” Mr. Ignatieff continued. “If the government actually respects the rulings of the Speaker, will it deliver the documents to the House and will it fire that minister?”

Had the Prime Minister not been away, he could have shrugged for the official record. In Mr. Harper’s place stood Mr. Baird and by Mr. Baird’s estimation this was all one big misunderstanding. “We had considered the information that we had provided to the House,” he explained. “We believe that it responded in substance to the request that had been made by the House.” All the same, he promised to make “every effort” to now comply.

Mr. Ignatieff was not satisfied. “Mr. Speaker, every effort is not good enough,” he declared. “The House order is clear. This is a question of compliance, it is not a matter of discretion.”

After the Liberal had restated his query en francais, Mr. Baird stood. And here he took a stand.

“What is absolutely shocking is that the leader of the Liberal Party is trying to distract Canadians from their priorities,” he cried. “Everywhere I go in my own riding and right across Canada, Canadians are concerned about jobs, they are concerned about the economy, they are concerned about themselves and the future of their families. All we have are these Liberal distractions. We are going to stay focused on jobs. We are going to stay focused on the Canadian economy, even if the Liberals do not want us to.”

Mr. Ignatieff was mystified. Or at least incredulous. “Mr. Speaker, I can barely believe it,” he said. “The government seems to believe that Canadian democracy is a distraction.”

The Liberals side roared.

In fairness to Mr. Baird, there is much to distract the Conservatives these days. In addition to those two rulings of the Speaker, there are the four officials of theirs, including two sitting senators, presently facing charges of violating election laws. There is the government’s recent defeat at the Federal Court of Appeal. There are those questions about how the Immigration Minister conducts his office and why the former integrity commissioner was paid half a million to go away. There are those ninnies whining that the Government of Canada should not be renamed in Mr. Harper’s image and that, whatever we are to call it, the government should not be spending millions in public funds to promote its own cause. And that’s just the last two weeks.

Now, today, there is the Parliamentary Budget Officer claiming the government’s $16-billion commitment to new fighter jets is something closer to a $30-billion commitment.

It was on this that Mr. Ignatieff next questioned the government. “Mr. Speaker, yesterday you ruled that the government has to tell Canadians the truth about the real cost of the stealth fighter aircraft,” he reviewed. “The Conservative government has offered us a guesstimate of $16 billion. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said it is going to be just about double that at $30 billion. That is $1,000 for every Canadian man, woman and child. When will the government stop lowballing the Canadian public, face the facts and tell them the truth?”

Whenever in doubt, this government generally prefers to double down. Accused of not respecting democracy, it deems democracy a distraction. Accused here of irresponsibly procuring military equipment, Mr. Baird pledged to support the troops with a blank cheque.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “there is no denying that the new jet fighters that our air force so desperately needs to replace the CF-18s, which will be 40 years old, will have a price.”

The Liberal side howled at this rather imprecise costing.

“Let me say this,” Mr. Baird went on, warming up now. “The men and women in the Canadian armed forces are prepared to pay the ultimate price. They are prepared to sacrifice. They are brave. What do they count on? They count on the government to provide them with the tools they need. If that means it is going to be $50 a year or $1 a week to provide for Canadian sovereignty and to give our men and women the tools they need to do the job, it is a price that we are prepared to pay.”

The Conservatives leapt up to applaud Mr. Baird’s vaguely budgeted support.

Mind you, $50 per year and $1 per week are roughly equivalent. And a moment later Laurie Hawn, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of National Defence, stood to explain that the government’s actual commitment “amounts to $25 per Canadian per year” for the next 20 years. And if that is how the government chooses to express its $16-billion commitment, then $50 per Canadian per year for the next 20 years would seem to be closer in to the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s projections.

And so maybe the government has a quibble with the larger number. Or maybe it is not entirely tied to the smaller number. Or perhaps we should add arithmetic to the list of things Canadians do not presently wished to be distracted by.

The Stats. Ethics, 24 questions. The military, five questions. The Canada Revenue Agency and asbestos, two questions each. The economy, employment, forestry, industry, aboriginal affairs and bilingualism, one question each.

John Baird, seven answers. Stockwell Day, five answers. Pierre Poilievre and Laurie Hawn, four answers each. Jim Flaherty, Bev Oda and Christian Paradis, three answers each. Keith Ashfield and Jason Kenney, two answers each. Rona Ambrose, Diane Finley, Denis Lebel, Tony Clement, Vic Toews and James Moore, one answer each.

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