The Commons: Stephen Harper requests your patience

Lots to laugh about in the House today—until it got serious

The Scene. Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper were debating the state of the aerospace industry. Suffice it to say, the Liberal leader feels the Prime Minister isn’t doing enough, while the Prime Minister feels the Liberal leader is being silly.

Offering his second reply en francais, the Prime Minister switched in mid-answer to English. A witty retort seemed imminent.

“The Leader of the Opposition cannot support an economic plan earlier in the week and two days later say it is not working yet,” Mr. Harper argued. “That does not really have a lot of credibility.”

Ignatieff smiled.

“Mr. Speaker,” the Liberal replied, “I cannot help it if I am an impatient man.”

The Conservatives laughed and cheered.

“In terms of the leader of the opposition’s patience, he demonstrated a lot of patience in his long, 36 year return to Canada,” the Prime Minister mused at his next opportunity. “I would urge him to show that kind of patience in the future.”

The Conservatives laughed and cheered.

Lost, for the moment, was the brainteaser Ignatieff had snuck in between the chuckles.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “can the Prime Minister assure us that his infrastructure spending will benefit all Canadians, no matter where they live or who they vote for?”

The Prime Minister assured him he could. But Gerard Kennedy came up to double-check. “Can the minister tell us,” he begged of John Baird, “what measures the government is taking to make sure that federal infrastructure funds are being fairly distributed?”

John Baird reassured him there were. But Kennedy was back on his feet, this time with damning statistics. “Mr. Speaker, I hear what the minister says, but the facts say otherwise,” he said. “Of the 26 projects announced so far for the Building Canada fund, totalling over $1 billion, 75 per cent of the money has been diverted to Conservative ridings.”

An hour later, Baird would appear in the foyer with some hastily scribbled notes, but in this moment he had merely his wits about him.

“Mr. Speaker, this is quite remarkable,” Baird observed. “Just last week he was saying there was not one project out the door. Now he is citing 26 of them where he is unhappy with their distribution. The leader of the opposition says he is impatient. We have had quite a week.”

Jack Layton was, as usual, unimpressed. “Mr. Speaker, I will tell you who is impatient,” he said, “it is the 7,000 people who have lost their jobs in the nine days since the government tabled its budget in the House.”

The proceedings grew less hilarious from there.

“Mr. Speaker, TD Bank forecasts 325,000 jobs lost this year and an increase by one-third in the unemployment rate to 8.8 per cent,” John McCallum reported. “At the same time, the Parliamentary Budget Officer says the government is exaggerating the employment impact of its budget.”

“Mr. Speaker, in announcing the public transit tax credit the Conservatives promised 220,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emission reductions,” Martha Hall Findlay noted. “Will the Minister of the Environment please confirm that after $635 million the results have been in fact negligible?”

“Mr. Speaker, according to the child care resource and research unit, since the Conservative government came to power in 2006 child care space expansion has evaporated,” explained Michael Savage. “The government’s plan to create spaces was a dismal failure.”

“Mr. Speaker, this government’s betrayal of women’s equality is now an international issue,” said Anita Neville. “In November, the UN was scathing in its condemnation of Canada’s record. Now it is the UN periodic peer review which cited serious concerns about Canada: failure to address violence against aboriginal women; failure to uphold the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination obligations; no strategy to eliminate poverty and homelessness.”

And that was just the Liberals.

A day that had begun so jovially was now testing one’s ability to carry on. All seemed lost. Doom appeared nearer.

Various Conservative ministers rose to respond, if not quite answer.

Baird opted for mockery. “It is no wonder so much of those results are going to Conservative ridings,” he said. “There is an awful lot of them in B.C.”

Jim Prentice went with humility “Mr. Speaker,” he said of the environment department’s inability to positively affect the environment, “we continue to work on this.”

Lisa Raitt tried scorn “The truth is there,” she said of a report on nuclear safety. “I invite Canadians to read it and not listen to the constant fear mongering from the other side of the House.”

Chuck Strahl chose denial. “I would invite the member to study the statements of someone from her own home town, David Matas, an international human rights lawyer from Winnipeg, who viewed Canada’s presentation,” he told Neville. “He called it exemplary. He went on to say in fact, it is better than any other country in the whole world.”

But it was not until another Conservative asked Gerry Ritz, the agriculture minister, about the pressing matter of poultry inspection that the government confidently asserted itself.

“I can assure the member,” Ritz said, “that this government will not introduce any program that does not meet due diligence and sound scientific facts.”

Hurray for that. Everyone and everything else might be a shambles. But no doubt our ability to scrutinize feathered livestock shall remain the envy of the Western world.

The Stats. Infrastructure, seven questions. Taxation, five questions. Employment, four questions. The environment, three questions. The aerospace industry, child care, nuclear safety, personal debt and food safety, two questions each. Supply management, government contracts, harbours, Sri Lanka, women’s rights, mining, veterans and Aboriginals, one question each.

Stephen Harper and Ted Menzies, six answers each. John Baird, five answers. Jim Prentice and Diane Finley, three answers each. Gerry Ritz, Chuck Strahl and Lisa Raitt, two answers each. Denis Lebel, Tony Clement, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Christian Paradis, Gail Shea, Josee Verner, Bev Oda, Gerald Keddy and Greg Thompson, one answer each.