The Scene. Furrowing his brow and shaking his head, Thomas Mulcair performed what is apparently his impression of Stephen Harper circa 1994.
“I would argue that the subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles,” Mr. Mulcair read aloud in a slightly different voice than the one he usually uses.
As a piece of performance art this perhaps left something to be desired—a silly wig might’ve aided the illusion—but as a general reminder that Stephen Harper used to oppose legislation of the sort Stephen Harper now employs, this at least seemed to accomplish Mr. Mulcair’s goal.
“What happened to those principles?” Mr. Mulcair wondered, switching to his own baritone to level the question.
Faced with the prospect of what he used to believe, Mr. Harper would use his quiet voice and beg for reason. “Mr. Speaker, the government’s economic action plan is indeed comprehensive,” he offered. “We are operating in a world with a very fragile global economy. The government is determined to take a range of actions necessary to create jobs and growth and to secure our prosperity in the long term.”
Here, then, an attempt to reclaim the high road.
“We have set aside a record amount of time for debate,” the Prime Minister declared. “I would urge the NDP to actually debate the legislation, rather than just trying to obstruct and delay.”
Mr. Mulcair seemed momentarily willing to take Mr. Harper up on the challenge. How much, he wondered, would the government save by pushing back the age of eligibility for Old Age Security? The Prime Minister stood and explained the government’s intention without answering the question asked.
“For the stability and viability of long-term funds, we will make changes, but these will not begin until 2023,” Mr. Harper allowed.
“Mr. Speaker, they will never start because we will replace them long before,” Mr. Mulcair shot back, winning applause from the New Democrat benches. “That’s the problem,” Mr. Mulcair continued, “the Prime Minister claims to want to save money and he cannot even answer one specific question.”
The NDP leader then produced a specific number: $56 million, the amount by which the budget of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was apparently to be reduced. This, Mr. Mulcair ventured, would result in less inspection of food.
Hands folded, voice quiet, Mr. Harper asserted otherwise. “Mr. Speaker, again, as we have said repeatedly, there are no reductions in services,” the Prime Minister assured. “In this, as in so many cases, what the government has done is found modest administrative savings by eliminating duplication, and doing that over a significant period of time. Certainly, in the area of food inspection, we have no intention of cutting the inspection of our food.”
Thus will everything be fine. Unless, of course, everything is doomed. “It is frustrating when the opposition plays games with Canadians’ future,” Ted Menzies was later sent up to lament of the budget bill’s treatment so far.
The discussion eventually came back to the man this Prime Minister used to be.
“There is so much in the bill that would give additional powers to the cabinet, which effectively means giving additional powers to the Prime Minister, particularly with respect to the issues around environment, environmental assessment and environmental regulations,” Bob Rae ventured. “The Prime Minister’s reaction in opposition was so completely different when all of these powers were being accumulated around the office and person of the prime minister. What is the government going to do to resist the inevitable dictatorial tendencies to give power to one person and one person only with respect to public policy issues?”
Mr. Harper’s understanding of the situation was decidedly different. “Mr. Speaker, the leader of the Liberal Party should actually read the sections of the bill in question,” he scolded. “They cannot be adequately categorized in that way whatsoever.”
Taking advantage of the loophole that allows one to use a prop provided that the prop in question is a legislative bill, Mr. Rae stood and theatrically dropped, one-by-one, several stacks of paper to his desk. “Mr. Speaker, yes, I read the law, which is here, and still there,” he reported. Mr. Rae then repeated his analysis. Mr. Harper deemed this reading to be untrue.
“I totally reject the analysis of the Liberal leader,” he said.
On this sentiment at least, the Mr. Harper of 1994 and the Mr. Harper of 2012 likely sound identical.
The Stats. The budget, eight questions. Ethics, five questions. Government spending and search-and-rescue, four questions each. Satellite technology, arts funding, housing, employment and the RCMP, two questions each. France, prisons, the environment, trade, agriculture, aboriginal affairs and the Canadian Forces, one question each.
Stephen Harper, six responses. Tony Clement, Diane Finley and Keith Ashfield, four responses each. Peter Van Loan and Candice Hoeppner, three responses each. Christian Paradis and James Moore, two responses each. Joe Oliver, Pierre Poilievre, Peter Kent, Ed Fast, Gerry Ritz, John Baird, Ted Menzies, John Duncan and Peter MacKay, one response each.