The Commons: Leaping over a low bar

Baird invokes the sponsorship scandal to divert from the in-and-out

The Scene. Aside from the obvious, what is the difference between Jason Kenney and Bev Oda?

Two weeks ago, the latter became the subject of various questions related to the ethical standards by which she takes her ministerial responsibilities. And so she sat. And sat. And sat. And sat. And sat some more. And when she did finally stand, she didn’t have much of anything to say.

Last week, the former became the subject of various questions related to the ethical standards by which he takes his ministerial responsibilities. And so, today, he stood and stood and stood and stood some more. Indeed, of the eight questions posed on the matter this afternoon, Mr. Kenney answered (or at least responded to) each and every one.

Perhaps the government took an operational decision to spare Mr. Kenney the sort of mockery that Ms. Oda had endured. Perhaps they have recently revived their commitment to ministerial accountability. Perhaps from now on there’ll be no more hiding of ministers in plain sight.

All of which would certainly go to what the Conservative side is fond of claiming: that it is a government of standards. That it, no matter how loudly the likes of Ralph Goodale protest, regards its responsibilities quite seriously.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservative election fraud scheme is getting worse,” reported Mr. Goodale this afternoon after buttoning his jacket over his lime green tie. “It is a scheme to break national party spending laws by at least $1.3 million and then bill taxpayers for $800,000 in illegal rebates claimed by 67 local Conservative riding associations. Now we know that at least 17 claims were actually paid before Elections Canada detected the fraud and stopped the dirty money. If the Prime Minister thinks this is all okay, why did his regime concoct phony invoices to try to hide it?”

Only a man of Mr. Goodale’s solid build could possibly carry a question so heavy with loaded nouns and adjectives.

To this stood Pierre Poilievre, who buttoned his own jacket and bravely sighed his disappointment. “Mr. Speaker, it would be difficult to respond to and correct all of the facts and errors in the honourable member’s question in 35 seconds,” he said.

He proceeded then with a series of his own wildly debatable facts. “I will inform the member that Conservative candidates spent Conservative funds on Conservative advertising. The national party did transfer funds to the local campaigns and those local campaigns followed all the rules in making proper filings to Elections Canada,” he said. “That is why we continue to press our case in the court of law. We took Elections Canada to court because we have followed all the rules and we will continue to pursue our case.”

If the matter is now, at least until the courts rule further, almost entirely rhetorical, Mr. Goodale is in his element. “Mr. Speaker, let me be clear, this is not just a little administrative problem. It is election fraud, it is against the law and it is not commonplace. Only this Conservative regime had this scheme,” he shot back. “Charges have been laid. The Director of Public Prosecutions has said that there is voluminous evidence of illegality. Even to lay those charges he first had to believe that there was a likelihood of conviction. To deter such illegal behaviour, will the Prime Minister support mandatory minimum sentences to get tough on Conservative crime?”

Here Mr. Poilievre made a plea of both purity and victimhood. “What happened here, of course, was Conservative candidates spent Conservative funds on Conservative advertising,” he reviewed. “The national party transferred funds to the local campaign. The reason Elections Canada knows this is because, well, we told them, and why would we not? After all, it is legal, ethical and common practice among all parties. They singled us out and so we took them to court and we will continue to pursue our case.”

Mr. Goodale rose with a correction. “Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives did not tell Elections Canada,” he snapped, “they sent them false invoices.”

He went on to suggest that the two senators presently charged—including Doug Finley, watching from above in the senators’ gallery—should step aside while this matter was outstanding.

This was enough to get John Baird on his feet, apparently armed with a reference to the sponsorship scandal.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “let me tell the deputy leader of the Liberal Party that at least no one in this party has had to write a cheque for $1 million back to the taxpayers that they stole when they were in office.”

Over that bar does Mr. Baird’s side now proudly leap.

The Stats. Ethics, 14 questions. In and out, eight questions. Afghanistan, four questions. The Quebec City arena, three questions. The Prime Minister and health care, two questions each. Crime, the budget, the economy, Tunisia, railways, mining and child care, one question each.

Jason Kenney, eight answers. Pierre Poilievre, seven answers. Stockwell Day, six answers. Peter MacKay, four answers. Josee Verner, three answers. John Baird, Diane Ablonczy and Colin Carrie, two answers each. Lisa Raitt, Jim Flaherty, Rob Nicholson, Rob Merrifield, Dave Anderson and Diane Finley, one answer each.

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