The Commons: Keystone XL and Peter Penashue are both great

Stephen Harper champions a pipeline and the former MP for Labrador

Thomas Mulcair wanted to talk about tax havens and about how Kevin Page had been blocked from studying the issue and how the Canada Revenue Agency has apparently identified more than 8,000 “offshore tax cheats” (to use Mr. Mulcair’s phrasing). The Prime Minister wanted to talk about what a terrible thing Mr. Mulcair had done.

“I am rather surprised to be getting a question like this on the economy from the leader of the opposition after he travelled to Washington to fight against Canadian jobs,” Mr. Harper pleaded with a shrug and a shake of the head after offering a perfunctory sentence in response to the actual question asked.

“Shame!” called a voice from the Conservative side.

“The NDP can oppose Canadian jobs,” Mr. Harper concluded, “but on this side we are for Canadian jobs.”

The Conservatives stood to applaud their man’s clarification.

Mr. Mulcair ad-libbed a retort. ” Mr. Speaker, his project includes the export of 40,000 Canadian value-added jobs,” he declared, proceeding then to jab his finger toward the ground. “We will keep standing up for Canada.”

The New Democrats stood to applaud.

So we are split on the precise value to Canada of the Keystone XL pipeline—one of these men is categorically in favour, the other has his concerns; about half of the country sides with the former, a little less than that sides with the latter. Perhaps cap-and-trade, which both of these men have supported at one time or another and which the American president also happens to prefer, truly is the reasonable solution to this concern. If only Republicans didn’t control the House of Representatives and Mr. Harper hadn’t decided that what he once supported was the same as what he once opposed.

Instead, we come to what seems a defining fight for these two men.

Mr. Mulcair, now en francais, returned to his concerns about tax evasion. According to the main estimates, he noted, the budget of the Canada Revenue Agency was due to be cut by $100 million. Mr. Harper, in response, managed two sentences in French, before switching back to English, his preferred language for haranguing.

“It is very interesting,” Mr. Harper observed. “If the Liberal…”

Mr. Mulcair laughed at the Prime Minister’s stumble.

“If the leader of the NDP were so proud of the position he had taken,” Mr. Harper continued, “I wonder why we had to find out what he really said from leaks out of private meetings.”

This was apparently reference to Nancy Pelosi’s saying something that Mr. Mulcair is said to have not said himself.

“The fact is,” Mr. Harper now lectured, wagging his finger, “when we go to Washington or around the world, we promote Canadian jobs and we do it upfront and in the open.”

The Conservatives stood to applaud.

M. Mulcair proceeded, en francais, to hector the government side about the deficit and mortgages and job training. Mr. Harper offered two sentences en francais and then once more returned to English.

“Once again, this is a serious issue, “Mr. Harper declared. “We have created 950,000 jobs in Canada. What we understand in this country on this side of the House and what the leader of the NDP fails to understand is that trade with the United States is critical to creating jobs on both sides of the border. That is why we are for NAFTA, for trade and for job creation on this side of the House, unlike the NDP.”

He pumped a Clintonian fist and once more various Conservatives stood to cheer.

Here Mr. Mulcair stood and turned to face Mr. Harper directly. “Mr. Speaker,” he declared, pumping his own fist, “adding jobs by creating a sustainable economy is the future of our country.”

Now he stared the Prime Minister down and pumped his fist and pointed and wagged and lectured and leaned in and raised his voice. “If we do not learn how to add value to our natural resources here instead of shipping our jobs to the U.S., we will not get out of the mess they have created. There are 300,000 more unemployed today than when the crisis hit in 2008,” Mr. Mulcair ventured. “That’s the fact.”

Across the way, Mr. Harper smirked. The New Democrats cheered. And, as a result, Mr. Mulcair’s time expired before he could actually phrase a question.

Mr. Harper now presented his version of the facts. “Mr. Speaker, the manufacturers and exporters of this country say that the tax policies of the NDP alone would kill 200,000 jobs in that sector. The leader of the NDP’s view that our resource sectors are a disease upon the economy would kill millions more,” the Prime Minister testified, chopping his hand and pointing his finger.  “We have 950,000 new jobs created since the end of the recession. It is one of the best records in the world and Canadians will never sacrifice that to the extremism and ideology of the NDP.”

The Conservatives were delighted and cried out their joy. But Mr. Mulcair still had a question to ask. Actually, he had three.

“Mr. Speaker, Peter Penashue has finally resigned after breaking the law. The Prime Minister has to answer a simple question. If Penashue did nothing wrong, why did he resign? If he did something wrong, why is the Prime Minister allowing him to run again?” the NDP leader wondered aloud. “Will the Prime Minister commit right now to allow Elections Canada to conclude its investigation before calling the byelection in Labrador or is it that he is afraid of what illegal activities might come to light?”

Mr. Mulcair crooked his head to the right and stared down the Prime Minister as he stated his last query.

Mr. Harper offered that “Minister Penashue” (old job titles being hard to forget) had “done the right thing under difficult circumstances” (the acceptance of illegal donations now apparently qualifying as a hardship).

“He is prepared to take his record and be accountable to the people of Labrador, everything from defending the seal hunt to promoting the Lower Churchill project,” the Prime Minister explained.

Indeed, Mr. Penashue would seem to be altogether more than merely re-electable.

“This,” the Prime Minister declared, “is the best member of Parliament Labrador has ever had.”

If an MP who resigned amid election violations less than two years after being elected is the best MP that Labrador has ever had, then Labrador’s 64 years in the country would seem to have been rather underwhelming. Perhaps as recompense, we could offer to route Keystone through Goose Bay.