The Commons: The NDP disappoints John Baird - Macleans.ca

The Commons: The NDP disappoints John Baird

‘I expected better’

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The Scene. In an attempt perhaps to preempt the Prime Minister’s dismissal, Bob Rae attempted a preface. “The Prime Minister is constantly saying that those of us who quote the Auditor General are not telling the truth,” Mr. Rae posited. “So let me simply quote the Auditor General very directly with respect to the activities of the President of the Treasury Board and ask him one simple question.”

With the parameters thus set, the interim Liberal leader proceeded. “The Auditor General said that he found what the government did ‘unusual and troubling,’ ” he reported. “I would like to ask the Prime Minister, is the Auditor General telling the truth when he says those words?”

Would it surprise you to learn that the Prime Minister sidestepped the specifics of this question? If so, you should be commended on the open-hearted naïveté with which you approach the world.

“Mr. Speaker, as the government has said before, we have looked at the Auditor General’s report in its entirety,” Mr. Harper recounted, shrugging both physically and rhetorically. “It does make some interesting recommendations and observations. The government has made very clear that it will take those into account in the future and act on those recommendations.”

If the Prime Minister would not play along, the opposition would have to amuse itself. Indeed, on this note, the NDP has found a novel way around its self-imposed ban on off-the-record outbursts and heckling in the House: namely that all the mockery one might wish to impart can be committed to the official record under the guise of holding the government to account.

First though, a polite enough question from Nycole Turmel on the government’s approach to spending cuts. Duly addressed on a matter related to his portfolio, Tony Clement stood to respond.

This though was mere set-up.

“Mr. Speaker, now that we know that the President of Treasury Board is able to get up,” Alexandre Boulerice said with the next opportunity, “I’d love to give him the chance for a third time to explain himself to Canadians about the use of the Border Infrastructure Fund for projects in his riding, located 300km from the border.”

Alas, Mr. Clement was not interested in the opportunity. Instead, again, it was John Baird, rising this time to rhyme off a few of the projects funded—neglecting, oddly, to mention any of the gazebos, public toilets or bike racks—before returning to the Prime Minister’s carefully chosen platitudes. “The Auditor General raised some legitimate concerns and observations about how the government could do a better job and this government has accepted those recommendations,” he reassured.

Alas, Charlie Angus was not much assuaged. “Mr. Speaker, when Canadians pay their taxes they expect that their hard-earned dollars are going to be treated with respect,” he ventured.

Yesterday, Mr. Angus said that making Mr. Clement responsible for fiscal prudence was “like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank.” Today, he sought to up the metaphorical ante. “If we look at how the President of the Treasury blew through $50 million on glow sticks and gazebos,” he said, “it is as if the three amigos—the mayor, the hotel manager and the minister—stuffed the largest porcine pinata ever conceived and then whacked all those baubles and booty over the hills of Muskoka.”

Even Mr. Clement laughed at this.

“When,” Mr. Angus asked, “will the minister apologize for this abuse of the public trust?”

Mr. Baird stood to pronounce himself quite saddened. “Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest when the new leader of the opposition said that he was going to come to the House of Commons and raise the level of debate,” he sighed. “I am very disappointed by the comments made by the member opposite.”

The New Democrat side guffawed. Several Conservatives joined in.

Mr. Angus was quick to return serve. “While members of the NDP would certainly like to raise the level of debate, to do that we would have to raise up somebody from the dead,” he quipped in apparent reference to the President of the Treasury Board. “He seems to be either hiding in the dog house or he was put in the dog house since he got whacked by the Auditor General.”

Despite having just pronounced Mr. Clement to be both dead and a dog, Mr. Angus felt compelled to add more to the indictment. “When Chuck Guité played around with public funds for partisan gain, he got sent to jail,” he said. “When the minister from Muskoka played around with public funds for partisan gain, he got the keys to the Treasury Board.”

Conservative backbencher Greg Rickford appealed to the Speaker for mercy. “Where’s he going with this Andy?” he begged.

“What kind of message does this send to Canadians?” asked Mr. Angus. “When will this minister stand up in the House and be accountable for his misrepresentation of public funds?”

Mr. Baird was now entirely besmirched. “Mr. Speaker, that, I deeply regret to say, was slanderous and character assassination,” he said. “I expected better from the New Democratic Party.”

The representatives of the New Democratic Party carried on undaunted, asking next about compensation for businesses affected by summit-related messiness in Toronto and then about the use of funds for gazebos and the like that might’ve better been used to ease border congestion in northern Ontario. John Rafferty suggested that Mr. Clement might apologize for this too.

Last week, the Prime Minister offered that the Border Infrastructure Fund is “frequently used for projects that are not in border communities.” And so here came Mr. Baird, apparently willing to acknowledge that the money taken from the Border Infrastructure Fund for gazebos and the like wasn’t going to be spent on border infrastructure anyway.

“I am very pleased to clarify not a single dollar was moved that otherwise would have been spent on border infrastructure for this project,” he explained for Mr. Rafferty’s benefit. “So, I know he will be very pleased with that.”

And so it seems that we might’ve avoided some of this mess if the Border Infrastructure Fund had simply been marked “Miscellaneous.” Indeed, think of the time saved if the entire federal budget was so renamed.

The Stats. The G8 and G20 summits, seven questions. Labour, five questions. Employment, three questions. Poverty, the Department of Fisheries, foreign investment, crime, infrastructure, the Canadian Wheat Board, pharmaceuticals and seniors, two questions each. The Finance Minister, government spending, veterans, Syria, Lebanon and forestry, one question each.

John Baird, seven answers. Stephen Harper, six answers. Diane Finley, four answers. Lisa Raitt and Denis Lebel, three answers each. Keith Ashfield, Christian Paradis, Peter Van Loan, Gerry Ritz, Colin Carrie and Alice Wong, two answers each. Tony Clement, Steven Blaney, Ted Menzies and Diane Ablonczy, one answer each.