The Commons: The government remains unapologetic -

The Commons: The government remains unapologetic

If the goal was to avoid sounding defensive, the parliamentary secretary failed miserably


The Scene. “Mr. Speaker, we do not apologize for the fact that Canada is following its laws and policies on procurement in securing replacements for the aging CF-18s,” Chris Alexander declared this afternoon of the F-35 mess.

It is unclear who demanded the Harper government apologize for following proper procurement policy. For that matter, it is unclear who has accused the Harper government of actually following proper procurement policy.

Indeed, the question here, from the NDP’s Jack Harris, the brusque Newf now back on the defence file, was something else entirely. “When,” Mr. Harris asked, “will the government stop making excuses for deceiving Canadians?”

Mr. Alexander’s response to this was to refuse to apologize. Twice.

“There will be an independent review of the costs. The funding envelope is frozen. A new secretariat is being established. We are going to continue to identify opportunities to participate in an important developmental program,” he explained. “We are going to provide annual updates to Parliament, continue to evaluate options and the Treasury Board Secretariat will review the sustainment costs of the F-35 to ensure full compliance with the procurement policies of this government. We make no apologies for any of that.”

If the goal was to avoid sounding defensive, the parliamentary secretary failed miserably, only serving here to remind anyone within earshot why it is now necessary for the Conservatives to swear up and down that they’re going to follow the rules.

For more certain declarations of certainty, there is John Baird’s right hand. It was unfurled this afternoon and made to chop away at Thomas Tom Mulcair’s complaints that the Harper government had made the sort of cuts that might impact the lives of the everyday Canadian.

“Mr. Speaker, this government recently set out a path forward for economic growth for long-term competitiveness, but we realize that we have to return to balanced budgets so that public services can remain affordable for Canadians,” Mr. Baird asserted this afternoon. “That is why we have announced some small reductions of the $280 billion that the government will spend with some $4 billion or $5 billion of reductions over the next three years. However, we are protecting those programs that are most important to Canadians, like health care and education.”

That is undeniably one way to look at it. Another would be to note that the cuts announced so far amount to something more than consolidating computer systems and not replacing civil servants when they retire.

Still one more way would be to question Mr. Baird’s assurance that health care and education would be spared. Crooking his head to the left, Mr. Mulcair admonished Mr. Baird on these grounds.

“Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance announced in December, without discussion or debate, a $31 billion reduction in the health care projected transfer,” he lectured. “Do not talk to us about protecting health care.”

There were grumbles and complaints from the Conservative side, some apparently displeased with this insistence on holding the Finance Minister to his publicly spoken words.

“Every year since this Conservative government has come to power we have increased the transfer to provinces by 6%,” Mr. Baird responded, undaunted. “That is an unparalleled level of commitment to health care in this country and we are very proud of that.”

The Foreign Affairs Minister proceeded to wonder if Mr. Mulcair might explain he had once cut the environment department’s budget in Quebec by $179 million. Mr. Mulcair stood and repeated his version of events.

“Mr. Speaker,” he reminded, “a $31 billion cut in health care, unannounced, no debate, no discussion—”

There were howls now from the government benches. The Speaker was compelled to step in and restore order.

There was an exchange then over the credibility of the government’s desire to change the environmental assessment regime in this country. As a note to Mr. Alexander, we note only that, in responding to Mr. Mulcair, Mr. Baird managed to assert the following sentence.

“I would like the member opposite to stand up,” the minister ventured, “and say why he will not trust the government of Quebec to do a proper environmental assessment.”

The Stats. Ethics and military procurement, seven questions each. The environment, four questions. The budget, three questions. Prisons, search and rescue, food safety, Old Age Security, employment and immigration, two questions each. Crime, aboriginal affairs, natural resources, Katimavik, trade and economic development, one question each.

John Baird, six responses. Peter Van Loan, five responses. Diane Finley, four responses. Peter Kent, three responses. David Anderson, Jason Kenney, Chris Alexander, Keith Ashfield, Rona Ambrose, Vic Toews, Dean Del Mastro and Gerry Ritz, two responses each. Rob Nicholson, Leona Aglukkaq, James Moore, Ed Fast and Tony Clement, response each.