The Commons: What we need right now is an economist - Macleans.ca

The Commons: What we need right now is an economist

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The Scene. John McCallum was up first, sneering as only he can about the government’s plan to run a deficit.

“Our election platform is not full of grandiose, costly promises,” the Prime Minister thundered back across the aisle. “It’s a prudent approach. We can afford it. We’ll never go back into deficit!”

Actually, sorry, that’s what Mr. Harper said in October.

Anyway. Back up came McCallum, now wanting to know about this recession the analysts keep warning us about in altogether insistent tones. The Prime Minister sought immediately to reassure his honourable critic.

“My own belief is if we were going to have some sort of big crash or recession, we probably would have had it by now,” he said with all the calm and foresight of a man with an advanced degree in economics.

Actually, sorry again, that’s what the Prime Minister said in September.

Anyway. In truth, the Prime Minister wasn’t in the House this day. Which is probably just as well, he having only demonstrated with his public comments so far the value of keeping quiet.

Unfortunately, neither was the Finance Minister. And so it fell to Ted Menzies, officially the parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, to offer the government’s latest responses to the greatest global economic crisis in 80 years. And so the opposition delighted in smacking the affable Mr. Menzies around with the pronouncements of his superiors.

“Why, in the Prime Minister’s own words, did the idea of a deficit go all the way from stupid to essential in just a few short weeks?” McCallum wondered.

Menzies mumbled something about a carbon tax.

“The economy is in recession when it shrinks for two quarters in a row, so why does the Prime Minister insist on talking about a technical recession?” McCallum asked. “Does he think a technical recession is less scary? Is he telling a laid-off worker to be happy because he is only technically unemployed? Does the Prime Minister think that misleading Canadians on the economy is a mere technicality?”

Menzies triumphantly announced something or other about reducing “value added tax.”

Scott Brison questioned whether the Conservatives were guilty of “ideology” or “incompetence.” Menzies assured him they were, in actual fact, merely “frugal.”

Next up it was the Bloc Quebecois shouting various outrages at the government side. “Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome those suggestions from the Bloc this morning,” Menzies responded. “The minister and the Prime Minister have been asking for some constructive observations, some suggestions as Bloc members put forward this morning as to what they feel they need in their communities. I would encourage all members in the House to approach the Prime Minister, to approach the finance minister with some suggestions rather than just the heckling we are hearing from the other side.”

Now, you might ask yourself why the Conservatives would so eagerly seek the ideas of those whose ideas they’ve spent the last two years denigrating, often in the most outrageous of terms. But then that would only prove you too well acquainted with the rules of nefarious logic to serve in this place.

Blessedly, Menzies was allowed to sit a few rounds—various other ministers stepping forward to plead their respective cases—before the Speaker called on the NDP’s Glenn Thibeault, the new member for Sudbury. In keeping with his party’s line, Mr. Thibeault wanted to know what the government might do about these interest rates charged by credit card companies, referring to such fees as “punishing.”

Old Man Menzies, who apparently pays for all his suits in silver ducats, would have none of it. “No one is forcing Canadians to use those cards,” he huffed. “If the card charges are too high I would suggest to Canadians that they may lodge that complaint with their financial institutions or actually stop using them.”

Indeed.

For what the economy needs now is obviously less spending. No matter what those hack analysts might tell you about buying opportunities.

***

The Stats. The economy, 16 questions. Omar Khadr, four questions. Securities regulation, arts funding, municipalities, forestry, credit cards, free trade, poverty and voter registration, two questions each. Air travel, product safety and the Arctic, one question each.

Ted Menzies, 18 answers. Lawrence Cannon and John Baird, four answers each. Tony Clement, Lisa Raitt, Stockwell Day, James Moore, Diane Finley and Steven Fletcher, two answers each. Leona Aglukkaq, one answer.

Snarkiness of the Day. The NDP’s Niki Ashton, beginning her second attempt to question Steven Fletcher. “Mr. Speaker, my fellow MPs told me not to expect an adequate answer but I expected at least an attempt.”

Suck-up of the Day. Conservative Gord Brown, with his member’s statement. “Mr. Speaker, it is my distinct privilege, on behalf of every honourable member in this House, to take at least a minute today to recognize an important anniversary that took place on Friday, November 21, for it was on this day in 1988 that you, Mr. Speaker, were first elected to represent the people in the riding of Kingston and the Islands. Twenty years is a long time to serve, indeed. A little research tells me that your first speech in this place was on December 16, 1988, and your first question to the government of the day was regarding procedure. A biographer might call this foreshadowing for the role that you are most well known for today. Along the road, I understand that you served in a number of positions, many of them involving procedure; roles, such as Parliamentary Secretary to the House Leader, Chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole House. On January 29, 2001, you were elected the 34th Speaker of the House of Commons, only the third Speaker in our history to be chosen by a secret ballot cast by fellow members of the House of Commons. In the spirit of cooperation that now rules in this place and on behalf of the members of this House, I wish to offer you congratulations on your 20 years of service to the people of Kingston and the Islands and to the people of Canada.”