The Commons: The minister's coat - Macleans.ca

The Commons: The minister’s coat

The latest vaguely scandalous twist in the hypothetically scandalous story of Christian Paradis

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The Scene. The Liberal leader opened with two questions about the need to address the looming crisis of pensions in this country. Then he moved on to more relevant matters.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “let me raise another issue. In sworn testimony before a House of Commons committee, explosive allegations were made about how the contract was awarded for the renovation of the West Block. For a year now, we have been trying to get to the bottom of this sorry affair, and now there are lurid allegations about the minister and his cashmere coat, and the question I have is, why is the minister still in his job? When will the Prime Minister tell Canadians the truth about this affair?”

Indeed, this morning had brought another vaguely scandalous twist in the hypothetically scandalous story of Christian Paradis. It seemed the Minister of Natural Resources once owned a $5,000 coat, that he had lost this coat at a fundraising cocktail, and that a construction company owner who had obtained a government contract to renovate West Block and who had been at that party was subsequently asked to buy Mr. Paradis a new coat. Crucially, this coat was allegedly made of cashmere—a word that begs for parody.

With Michael Ignatieff’s question awaiting response, the Prime Minister stood here to address an anxious nation. “Mr. Speaker, the facts are very well known in this particular case,” he assured. “Officials have testified there is absolutely no political interference in the contracts. In fact the individual the leader of the Liberal Party is quoting is an individual who lost the contract.”

But what of the coat? What of this profoundly telling outer-garment?

“As for the minister’s coat,” Mr. Harper continued, “the minister had an $800 coat stolen. He reported that to the police.”

So there. With the price of the coat now downgraded, Mr. Paradis seemed less a dandy than merely an upper-middle-class buyer of menswear—perhaps not in keeping with the party’s double-double image, but not quite so egregious as to warrant his banishment to the backbenches.

Alas, the opposition was unpersuaded. “Mr. Speaker, let’s talk facts,” graciously offered Liberal Denis Coderre. He proceeded to list a number of names and dollar amounts that might at some point amount to something untoward.

The government sent up Rona Ambrose, the Minister of Public Works assuring the House that nothing inappropriate had occurred, then suggesting that if anything untoward had happened it perhaps had something to do with the Liberal member opposite. “What Mr. Sauvé did say today at committee is that the only MP he has met with in the past number of years is the member for Bourassa,” she noted. “I wonder when did those meetings take place? What was the nature of those business meetings?”

“Ohhh!” the Conservative side sang.

Mr. Coderre was duly impressed. “That was a good try, Mr. Speaker,” he said.

After the Bloc and NDP had redirected the House to the matters of climate change, North Korea and Afghanistan, Liberal backbencher Bonnie Crombie rose with a series of declarative sentences. “Mr. Speaker, a Conservative minister attempted to extort a $5,400 designer coat from a contractor,” she cried. “A Conservative riding association president demanded a fundraiser in exchange for a public works contract. A Conservative Senate staffer promised a public works contract in exchange for money, and a Conservative lobbyist has been doling out cash around the party.”

There were noticeable grumbles now from the government side. Then Ms. Crombie unveiled her cleverly worded query. “When,” she begged, “will the Prime Minister hand the minister his designer coat and show him the door?”

Now it was John Baird’s turn to stand and state an interest in the facts. “The minister’s coat was stolen from a restaurant in the city of Montreal,” he reported. “The minister did not buy the coat at Holt Renfrew. He bought it in Thetford Mines. The coat is not worth $5,400. It is worth less than $800.”

In a matter of hours then the coat had depreciated in value from $5,400 to $900 to $800 to less than $800. After Question Period, Mr. Paradis’ office would produce a receipt in the amount, after discount, of $650. And for that price, apparently, the minister had purchased a coat made not of cashmere, but of simple, hard working, everyday wool. Tomorrow we will no doubt learn the coat was woven together by some nice grandmothers in his riding and gifted to the minister so that wherever he goes he may carry the warmth of the common people with him.

“Maybe,” Mr. Baird concluded, impressively managing to maintain a straight face, “the Liberal Party could just stop always blaming the victims of crime.”

Undaunted, Ms. Crombie went for her big finish, the Liberal member moving to ensure this day did not pass without an open question about sexism in the highest ranks of government. “Does the Prime Minister condone this corruption,” Mr. Crombie wondered, “and if not, why has the minister not been fired from cabinet, or is that treatment reserved exclusively for cabinet ministers who are women?”

Mr. Baird was positively besmirched. “Mr. Speaker, that is quite unbelievable,” he lamented. “I would have expected that from other members of her party, but not from this honourable member.”

Then finally, self-righteousness. “With respect to big money in politics, it was this government, this Prime Minister,” Mr. Baird declared, “who finally, once and for all, eliminated the influence of big money in politics.”

Thus for all intents and purposes was the matter closed, both the official opposition and government sides no doubt satisfied that they had successfully achieved what they came to Question Peroid this afternoon to accomplish.

The Stats. Ethics, seven questions. The environment, six questions. The military, four questions. North Korea, Afghanistan, G20, the Quebec City arena, pensions, infrastructure, Edmonton and transport, two questions each. Iran, crime, federal parks, foreign investment and Rights & Democracy, one question each.

Stephen Harper, eight answers. John Baird, five answers. Peter MacKay and Chuck Strahl, four answers each. Gail Shea, Rona Ambrose, Lawrence Cannon and Vic Toews, three answers each. Josee Verner and James Moore, two answers each. Jim Flaherty, Rob Moore and Tony Clement, one answer each.