The Commons: The space-time continuum and the memory hole

The Speaker called for oral questions and the game of charades was rejoined

The Scene. The Speaker called for oral questions and the game of charades was rejoined. Thomas Mulcair chastised the Harper government over its “cut” to Old Age Security. Stephen Harper stood and referred the Leader of the Opposition to the “changes” to Old Age Security.

Mr. Mulcair then pressed the matter of the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the current impasse with Mr. Harper’s government.

“The Act of the Parliament of Canada guarantees the Parliamentary Budget Officer access to all economic and financial data: $5.2 billion of cuts is economic information. In refusing to disclose such data to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the party of law and order knowingly violate the law,” he declared, a bit more animated now. “I ask the Prime Minister to put an end to legal barriers and disclose all financial data immediately. It’s the law!”

The Prime Minister pleaded his case. “Mr. Speaker, it is the government that created this law,” he clarified.

Indeed. But of what credit is the Prime Minister allowed here for having done so?

It was a month ago now that Mr. Harper’s office attempted to draw a line in the space-time continuum. Of the various statements and positions taken between 2004 and 2009 by Conservatives and officials of the Harper government about cap-and-trade and establishing a price on carbon, the Prime Minister’s Office was clear: “That’s the past.” History was to begin on the day the Conservatives tabled their 2011 election platform. (If not for the fact that that platform mentioned the War of 1812, the Conservatives would assuredly be barred from celebrating it now.)

Here though, Mr. Harper was attempting to claim an event of 2006. Is this not now moot? If what Mr. Harper himself said in 2008 was “the past,” was what Mr. Harper’s government did in 2006 on the order of arcane history?

Mr. Mulcair was unimpressed. “Mr. Speaker, they made the law. What we are doing is asking them to start to respect the law,” he shot back.

“The Conservatives were forced to come clean on their $10-billion cuts to Old Age Security. They have not learned their lesson,” he continued. “They are still trying to avoid oversight by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The law clearly gives the PBO access to all government financial data, but Conservatives are hiding behind excuses worthy of a kindergarten playground, not of the Parliament of Canada. Why will the Prime Minister not co-operate with the Parliamentary Budget Officer? What does the Prime Minister have to hide?”

The NDP leader stared down the Prime Minister as he returned to his seat and the New Democrats around him stood to applaud, but the Prime Minister seemed not to see a problem here.

“Mr. Speaker, it is necessary to remind the opposition that there are no changes to Old Age Security until the year 2023. In fact, of course, seniors’ pensions are being fully protected,” he offered. “In terms of the second question on the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, it was established by this government and we understand that role very well. All information is given to Parliament through the normal channels and all that information is available to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.”

So perhaps the Parliamentary Budget Officer is behaving abnormally. Or maybe he is merely confused.

In fairness, it is often difficult to keep up with things around here. Look away for a moment and what you thought was there might be gone when you look back. Megan Leslie stood in the House just yesterday and pointed out to the government that its webpage on the Navigable Waters Protection Act used the word “environment” some 23 times. Less than 24 hours later, something like 21 of those references were no longer there, disappeared apparently down the memory hole. Ms. Leslie stood today to protest. The Transport Minister attempted to reassure her.

“The Department has reviewed the website,” Denis Lebel informed the House in response, “and misinformation has been removed from our website.”

Mr. Lebel returned to his seat then, without even bothering to thank Ms. Leslie for pointing out the errors.

The Stats. Foreign investment, seven questions. The budget and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, four questions each. Old Age Security, national security, the F-35, ethics, bilingualism, culture, mortgages and food safety, two questions each. Taxation, veterans, credit cards, Israel, immigration, foreign aid, border security and employment insurance, one question.

Stephen Harper, six responses. Jim Flaherty, five responses. Christian Paradis, four responses. Denis Lebel, Ed Fast and Vic Toews, three responses each. Rona Ambrose, Paul Calandra and Jacques Gourde, two responses each. Steven Blaney, Pierre Poilievre, Andrew Saxton, Gerry Ritz, John Baird, Jason Kenney, Leona Aglukkaq, Julian Fantino and Diane Finley, one response each.