The Commons: Tony Clement does his Maxime Bernier impression

Aaron Wherry makes sense of QP's numbers

The Scene. With the benefit of a few days hindsight, Thomas Mulcair stood to review the week just passed.

One day last week, the NDP leader recalled, the Finance Minister had said a balanced budget would be delayed. But a few days later, Mr. Mulcair noted, the Prime Minister had said the budget would be balanced by 2015.

“So who is right?” he begged, holding out his hands and turning his palms upward.

This business of projecting the government’s future budgetary balance became officially silly somewhere between October 14, 2008 and October 17, 2008. And in that regard, Mr. Mulcair’s question is moot. Who is right? Conceivably, eventually, the Conservatives will be. It simply stands to reason that if you keep making predictions, you will eventually get at least one of them right.

Alas, promising that “the budget will be balanced at some point probably” does not project the sort of certainty we demand in our political leaders. And so here stood Tony Clement to convey the latest version of the official reassurances.

“Our objective is to balance the budget in 2015, and we are on track to do so, to balance the budget over the medium term,” he offered.

“Oh yeah!” mocked a voice from the opposition side.

“We have a clear plan to balance the budget,” Mr. Clement continued. “We are eliminating waste.”

Mr. Clement might’ve stopped there, but he’d apparently just been briefed by the same young man who last week was instructing Maxime Bernier on what to say.

“At the same time, while our plan is clear, is working and we see 820,000 net new jobs,” Mr. Clement declared, “the NDP continues with its risky plans, not only for the $21 billion carbon tax but also the $6 billion in HST taxes.”

If you were not sufficiently entertained by the carbon tax farce, there is now a penny tax monster under your bed apparently.

Mr. Mulcair responded with numbers (the first of them somewhat debatable). “Mr. Speaker, a $50 billion trade deficit, and 350,000 more unemployed today than when the recession hit in 2008. That is the truth,” Mr. Mulcair shot back, jabbing his finger and looking directly at Mr. Clement.

The NDP leader repeated the indictment, chopping his right hand into his left hand for emphasis.

“The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance are openly contradicting one another. The Minister of Finance admits that his plan to balance the budget is two years behind schedule … Yet the Prime Minister insists that the Minister of Finance’s numbers are wrong and that everything is going according to plan,” he ventured. “How can the Minister of Finance expect Canadians to believe his budget numbers when his own Prime Minister rejects them?”

Tony Clement returned to his feet to wave his hands and pump his fist. “Mr. Speaker, here is what Canadians care about when it comes to numbers: 820,000 net new jobs since the depths of the recession, and 90% of them, full-time jobs. That is how our plan is working,” he declared. “However, the NDP persists in its risky plans. Not content with a $21 billion carbon tax plan, now we find them, last week, talking about $6 billion annually in GST hikes.”

On this point, Mr. Clement was right. Ms. Chow was talking about an infrastructure tax last week. Granted, she was talking for the purposes of explaining that she wasn’t advocating for such a thing. But she was talking about it.

The NDP leader shot back with an indirect comparison to Mr. Bernier. “Mr. Speaker, he has been getting his talking points from the Beauce,” he mocked, referring to Mr. Bernier’s riding.

Mr. Clement seemed to feign besmirchment.

“The European economy is now officially back in recession. The U.S. is facing a fiscal cliff that could land the American economy back in recession by the end of year,” Mr. Mulcair went on, now switching topics. “Canadian premiers are working to meet these serious threats head on. They are meeting this week in Halifax to do just that. However, once again, just as in 2008, Conservatives here in Ottawa are asleep at the wheel.”

Mr. Mulcair suggested the Conservatives might awaken and get themselves to Halifax.

Mr. Clement seemed not to hear the question. “Mr. Speaker, we continue to get the accolades from around the world on our treatment of the economy. Canadians agree with those international experts,” he suggested, perhaps overestimating the public’s interest in global financial analysis. “KPMG ranked Canada the most tax competitive economy amongst mature markets, and indeed the numbers speak for themselves. Canadian business investment increased by 9.4% in the last quarter. The numbers are in. Our plan is working. We cannot afford the risky plans of the NDP.”

Be those plans real or imaginary, apparently.

The Stats. Ethics, seven questions. Infrastructure, four questions. The economy, crime and foreign investment, three questions each. The budget, the public service, the F-35 and foreign affairs, two questions each. The Middle East, temporary foreign workers, government spending, pharmaceuticals, aboriginal affairs, employment insurance, natural resources, trade, science, Ukraine and bilingualism, one question each.

Tony Clement and Pierre Poilievre, five responses each. Ted Menzies and Christian Paradis, four responses each. Diane Ablonczy and Candice Bergen, three responses each. Rona Ambrose, Rick Dykstra, Denis Lebel and Diane Finley, two responses each. Peter MacKay, Tim Uppal, Leona Aglukkaq, John Duncan, Joe Oliver, Ed Fast and Gail Shea, one response each.

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