The Commons: Rendered moot

Jack Layton waited until the budget was public before pulling the plug on the 40th Parliament

To Jack Layton’s credit, he waited for the Finance Minister to finish. Only after Jim Flaherty had tabled the federal budget in the House of Commons and concluded with his half hour explanation of such, did Mr. Layton hobble into the foyer with the assistance of a cane and render it all more or less moot.

Around a podium, a small mosh pit of cameras and microphones and people with press credentials had surrounded a portable podium to hear what the NDP leader might say. Looking indisputably pale, Mr. Layton squeezed through the crowd to his appointed spot. He recounted first how he had spoken with the Prime Minister a month earlier and for a moment it seemed he was about to claim victory, to proclaim the government’s concession of “practical solutions” he’s quite fond of talking about. And then that narrative turned.

“I want to build a Canada where no senior lives in poverty, a Canada where no family has to go without a doctor, a Canada where every Canadian can retire with dignity,” Mr. Layton said. “Clearly Mr. Harper doesn’t.”

Well then.

He proceeded to explain in some detail how clearly Mr. Harper did not and then, lest there was any doubt, he made himself clear. “Therefore,” he said, “New Democrats will not support the budget as presented.”

He agreed to take a few questions and eventually—inevitably—someone asked about his health. “Better by the day,” he said.

And with that he was done. And so, essentially, was the 40th Parliament.

What had preceded Mr. Layton’s announcement was thus rendered an expensively prepared pep rally. Perhaps it already was anyway.

Shortly after 4pm, Mr. Flaherty had risen behind his ornately carved lectern. His hair was  neatly combed, his lapel pin gleamed in the lights and his green tie seemed a fitting reference to both his heritage and his job. In the visitors gallery directly across sat his old boss, former Ontario premier Mike Harris, looking on.

The preferred gist of the to-do list that followed would seem to have been contained in a three-line passage early on. “Today, Parliament faces a choice,” Mr. Flaherty said. “It is a choice between stability and uncertainty. It is a choice between principle and opportunism.”

Mr. Flaherty did not specify to which principle (or principles?) he was referring. But perhaps we were meant to infer as much from what followed.

“We will keep taxes low,” he said. “We will undertake additional targeted investments to support jobs and growth. We will control government spending, and stay on track to eliminate the deficit. We will not cut transfer payments for crucial services like health care and education, unlike the previous Liberal government. We will not given in to opposition demands to impose massive tax increases.”

If there are principles in that they would seem to be pursuing a low rate of taxation and not knowingly doing anything too terrible to screw up the national economy.  Ask not, in other words, what your government can do for you, ask what your government promises at the moment that it won’t do to you.

The Conservative side saw fit to applaud every third sentence. Various sentences seemed written for that express purpose. “We also rejected calls from the opposition to impose a job-killing carbon tax,” Mr. Flaherty noted at one point to induce clapping.

A half dozen passages were deemed worthy of standing ovations and so the Conservative side stood to salute, in approximate order: Jobs! The Capital Cost Allowance! The Children’s Arts Tax Credit! Student loan forgiveness! Firefighters! Veterans! An end by 2015, two years later than originally forecast when the government finally admitted that deficit spending would be necessary, to the deficit spending the Prime Minister said would never happen!

Indeed, Mr. Flaherty was resolute. Or at least resolved to seeming so.

“As I said earlier,” he said, nearing a conclusion, “today Parliament faces a choice. A choice between opportunism or working together to secure our recovery and strengthen the financial security of Canadians.”

Lest anyone get worried, by “working together,” the Finance Minister here did not mean anything that might resemble some degree of mutually agreed upon collaboration between the various political parties that presently form Parliament. Such is the stuff of losers.

“Our government is focused on providing the principled, stable government our country needs at this challenging, but promising, time in our history,” he explained. “We invite all honourable members to support our low-tax plan for jobs and growth.”

With that he was done and the government side sprang up again to applaud. Various members of the frontbench approached to shake Mr. Flaherty’s hand. Various others called out, “More! More!”

No doubt there will be much more of this, only now on the campaign trail.

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