The Commons: Young Stephen Harper meets Last Year's Bob Rae

Anything you say can and will be used against you

The Scene. Stephen Harper sat impassively as his former self was once again resurrected right in front of him.

“Mr. Speaker, referring to an earlier omnibus bill, the Prime Minister once said, and I quote, ‘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,’ ” Thomas Mulcair reported. “Yet the Prime Minister now asks his own MPs to blindly vote in favour of a budget without proper study. Where are the Prime Minister’s principles now? Where is the Prime Minister’s respect for the principles of his own members of Parliament?”

The Prime Minister stood here to commend his government on its commitment to transparency. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “the government makes no secret of the fact that it brought forward a budget in March that is very comprehensive in its efforts to ensure that we create jobs and growth for the long term for the Canadian economy.”

Let us rejoice in this era of open government. Never again shall such talking points be locked away or merely whispered.

“We have had a record amount of study of this particular piece of legislation,” Mr. Harper continued. “There has been major work before Parliament for three months. On this side of the House, we are prepared to continue getting on with continuing to produce jobs and growth for the Canadian economy. I encourage the members over there to also do their work and get things passed after a few weeks of work.”

This measure of three months is, in two ways, a stretch. It is nearly correct to say that three months have expired since the Finance Minister tabled the budget plan on March 29. But the matter before the House is the budget implementation act, a bill that was tabled on April 26, a little over six weeks ago. In the 46 days between now and then, the House of Commons has been expected to review and scrutinize 753 clauses that affect some 70 acts of Parliament. Even if the House had been sitting continuously since April 26, even if it had devoted itself solely and entirely to this bill and even if all MPs had found a way to go entirely without sleep for the duration of the last 46 days, each clause would have only received 1.5 hours of consideration.

It is primarily the fault of our scientists that time travel has not yet been mastered so that the Young Stephen Harper of 1994 might be asked what he makes of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s explanation of today. Perhaps at the next opportunity the current version might be asked what the former version would say. In the meantime, there are only taunts.

“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has stated over the years and certainly back in 1994 as a member of the Reform Party that omnibus legislation was in itself bad,” Bob Rae recalled with his first opportunity. “He stated very clearly that this kind of legislation could not be carried out without abusing Parliament. He stated very clearly that this kind of an effort could not be made without causing a serious attack on the privileges and rights of members of Parliament. I would like to ask the Prime Minister, has he simply been corrupted by power?”

Mr. Harper chuckled slightly before standing to respond. “Mr. Speaker, our focus, as we said back in March when we first tabled the budget, is ensuring that we have jobs and growth for Canadians,” the Prime Minister repeated. “The government has been very clear in its plans before Parliament, and those plans have been before Parliament for more than three months.”

As Mr. Rae proceeded with his second question, John Baird passed a note to Mr. Harper down the government’s front row. With his third opportunity, the interim Liberal leader attempted a direct confrontation. Mr. Rae jabbed the air with his finger and even momentarily shook his fist at the Prime Minister.

“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister speaks complacently about his record,” Mr. Rae ventured. “Let us look at the record. The government has increased its net debt by $117 billion; unemployment since 2006, up from 6.4% to 7.3%; 300,000 manufacturing jobs down the table; Bill C-38, unprecedented assault on Parliament; dumping on the provinces; dumping on people; without precedent in the history of our Parliament in terms of its abuse; the way he has acceded power to himself. That is some record. The Prime Minister has no right to boast to other countries about the Canadian record.”

Mr. Harper stood with a slight smile and soon he was jabbing the air in front of him with his own finger.

“Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House, we have 750,000 net new jobs that have been created,” he proclaimed.

The Conservatives applauded.

“On this side of the House, we have the lowest debt ratio in the G7, and by a country mile,” he declared.

The Conservatives applauded again.

“In terms of power and corruption, I notice the man who said he would never run for the permanent leadership of his party is now apparently prepared to accept it,” Mr. Harper finished, “which I guess proves, down in that corner of the House, lack of power can corrupt.”

The Conservatives were delighted. Mr. Baird was ecstatic, standing to mime a homerun swing. Across the way, Mr. Mulcair laughed. Returning to his seat, Mr. Harper seemed thoroughly pleased with himself.

Even Young Stephen Harper probably would have appreciated this.

The Stats. The budget, eight questions. Military procurement and ethics, six questions each. Pensions, four questions. Government spending and health care, three questions each. Fisheries and CSIS, two questions each. National Defence, Nutrition North, the economy, Canada Post and heritage, one question each.

Stephen Harper, Rona Ambrose and Pierre Poilievre, six responses each. Ted Menzies, four responses. Kellie Leitch and Peter Kent, three responses each. Keith Ashfield, Vic Toews and Leona Aglukkaq, two responses each. Peter MacKay, John Duncan, James Moore, Steven Fletcher and Christian Paradis, one response each.