The Commons: Smirking towards the future - Macleans.ca

The Commons: Smirking towards the future

Baird slams the Liberals' “thinking, spending, taxing conference”

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The Scene. John Baird could barely contain his glee. Over the weekend, in response to the Liberal gathering in Montreal, the Transport Minister had apparently convened his own conference aimed at deciding on the absolute right joke to deliver Monday afternoon. Over two days at some undisclosed location, great minds of stand-up and clowning dealt frankly and, at times, contentiously with the concepts of sarcasm, pun, slapstick and mockery. Various one-liners were proposed, debated and amended. For awhile the conference nearly broke up over a proposal that Mr. Baird merely hand Michael Ignatieff one of those cans that, when opened, sprays a number of cloth snakes. But finally, in the wee hours of Sunday night, a consensus was achieved. And so here, just after 2:15pm today, Mr. Baird stood to reveal what had been accomplished.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, struggling to withhold a smile, “the Liberal Party certainly had a taxing weekend.”

The very foundation of the House seemed to buckle under the weight of such wit.

His political career, perhaps even his entire existence, thus discredited, Mr. Ignatieff might’ve been expected to excuse himself, bid this place adieu and flee, never to be heard from again. Instead, summoning all his courage, he stood to repeat the query that had elicited this withering jest.

“Mr. Speaker, only a Conservative would call pushing the pause button on corporate tax breaks a tax hike,” he said, pointing his finger at the other side dismissively. “It is just not so.”

Steadying himself he went on. “Already Canada’s corporate tax rate is exceedingly competitive,” he said to applause from Conservatives before it became clear he was referring to measures taken by the previous Liberal government.

“Corporate Canada needs much more than tax breaks to get competitive. They need a skilled labour force and we need to make investments in them now,” the Liberal leader concluded. “I repeat the question. Why is the government pushing ahead with corporate tax rate cuts this country cannot afford?”

Mr. Baird was ready for this. For not only had he convened a symposium on hilarity, but within that gathering he had a struck a sub-committee dedicated to digging up things Liberal MPs had said that might be read aloud for the purposes of asserting a contradiction or change-of-mind on the part of the Liberal party.

“Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to answer that question very directly,” the Transport Minister began, a sure sign that he intended to do no such thing. “‘Our leader has stressed the importance of deeper corporate tax cuts as a primary means of achieving the investment, the rising living standards and the jobs, jobs, jobs that we all want for ourselves and our future.’ Do you know who said that, Mr. Speaker? It was the official spokesman on tax matters for the Liberal Party, the member for Markham-Unionville.”

A joyous government side stood to applaud Mr. Baird’s researchers.

John McCallum, the aforementioned member for Markham-Unionville, was eventually sent up to explain himself for himself. Or, at the very least, make accusations of his own. “Only a Conservative could criticize a plan to delay corporate tax cuts until they are affordable while at the same time slamming small business with job-killing EI premium hikes,” he ventured in his nasally way. “Under the minister’s own plan a small business with 10 workers will pay $9,000 more for the privilege of keeping its employees. Will the minister finally admit that his job-killing payroll tax hike will kill 200,000 Canadian jobs?”

The Finance Minister would not take this sitting down and so he stood. “Mr. Speaker, let me try to understand the oxymoronically-named thinkers’ conference,” he said, struggling apparently to understand what constitutes an oxymoron.

He proceeded to accuse the Liberal side of wanting to raise the GST and introduce a carbon tax—across the way Michael Ignatieff audibly objected—and then to act quite frightened by it all. “It is just shocking,” Mr. Flaherty shuddered, “the insensitivity of the Liberal Party, the tax and spend party, to the needs of Canadians, especially small business people in Canada.”

After an intervention from the Bloc Quebecois it was Jack Layton’s turn to stand and take credit for the Liberal party’s position on corporate tax rates. And here it was Mr. Baird’s turn to stand and endorse, and perhaps even pledge himself to, the Liberal-NDP coalition. “Mr. Speaker, my friend, the leader of the third party, the leader of the New Democratic Party, has made quite the conversion. It was not 15 months ago that he signed a coalition agreement to support each and every one of these tax cuts,” the Transport Minister observed. “He was prepared to serve in a government that saw jobs, hope and opportunity as the primary goals, and to do everything we can to ensure more investment in Canada, that we have a Canadian advantage that will allow jobs to come back to this great country.”

It was unclear if Mr. Baird was, by this point, still joking or merely confused and over-tired after what was obviously a productive and fruitful weekend.

The Stats. Taxation, 13 questions. Afghanistan, accountability and foreign affairs, four questions each. Pensions and veterans, three questions each. Immigration, water and agriculture, two questions each. Senate reform and employment, one question each.

John Baird, six answers. Diane Finley, Rob Nicholson, Christian Paradis, Jim Flaherty and Jean-Pierre Blackburn, four answers each. Peter Kent, three answers. Jason Kenney, Jim Prentice, Tony Clement and Gerry Ritz, two answers each. Peter MacKay and Steven Fletcher, one answer each.