The Commons: A good day spoiled

Asks Layton, "Is Canada's signature initiative at the G8 going to be the 'no condoms for Africa' strategy?"

The Scene. The Prime Minister was having a fine time.

John McCallum asked if the government might commit to ceasing the production of ten-percenters and the Prime Minister took the opportunity to mock Michael Ignatieff’s absence from the House—because, of course, the idea that a political leader would leave Ottawa and travel the country to consult with Canadians is patently hysterical. Asked to account for an increase in employment insurance premiums, he easily mocked the Liberals as reckless and free-spending. Reclining contentedly as he awaited Mr. McCallum’s third question, he tapped out a tune on the arm of his chair.

Gilles Duceppe tried to provoke the Prime Minister on sales tax harmonization and was effortlessly dismissed. Jack Layton wondered if the Prime Minister might commit to a new restriction on prorogation and Mr. Harper thoroughly enjoyed the chance to invoke a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition. All seemed to be going splendidly, the Prime Minister sporting something of a smirk as he sat and listened.

Then though the NDP leader stood and turned the discussion toward sex, specifically the government’s apparent decision to exclude contraception from its commitment to improve maternal health in the developing world. And here, where normally Mr. Harper would be expected to respond another party leader’s question, the Prime Minister leaned forward and looked down his row to the near corner of his frontbench.

“Bev,” he called.

And so, when Mr. Layton had finished, the honourable Beverly J. Oda, minister for international cooperation, stood to respond.

“Mr. Speaker, as we have been very clear since our great announcement, accepted by all countries in the G8, this initiative is about saving the lives of mothers and children,” she stated. “As we know, 500,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year and an estimated 75% of maternal deaths occur 48 hours after delivery. This hard fact is something we can do something about, and that is what we intend to do, at our G8, along with our colleagues.”

Mr. Layton gave it another go. “How can a program aimed at reducing maternal mortality not allow for any contraception as a part of the program?” he wondered. “I ask the Prime Minister, is Canada’s signature initiative at the G8 going to be the ‘no condoms for Africa’ strategy?”

The Prime Minister remained seated. Up again came Ms. Oda, this time attempting to dazzle members opposite with math. “Mr. Speaker, as I just said, 75% of mothers are dying 48 hours after delivery,” she said. “In fact, 17% of those maternal deaths happen during childbirth and 71% happen in the post-partum period. Out of the 75%, 45% of those deaths happen within 24 hours of giving birth.”

Left unaccounted for in this algebra was the 25% of maternal and child deaths that the principle aid agency of the United States figures could be prevented with access to family planning options.

However much fun he’d been having, the Prime Minister’s day was done. The questions, as they tend to do, persisted. But then this is why a Prime Minister employs cabinet ministers.

Liberal Dominic LeBlanc stood and asked the government to account for a prison it had apparently promised the Afghan government. Lawrence Cannon, the minister to Mr. Harper’s immediate right, stood and dutifully reported that this had something to do with some other government—the Foreign Affairs Minister later insisting that Canada was “not in the business of building or running Afghan prisons.”

Mr. LeBlanc stood again and asked the government to explain why it had apparently promised to provide the Afghan government advance notice of any prison inspections. Mr. Cannon stood again and said that no such notice is provided.

Liberal Bryon Wilfert stood here to repeat Mr. LeBlanc’s queries in English. From the far end of the room, the Heritage Minister moaned. “Is this all you’ve got?” James Moore cried.

Wilfert eventually arrived at the inevitable conclusion of this particular narrative arc. “Canadians do not know what to believe from a government that keeps hiding the truth and gets caught hiding the truth,” he ventured. “Why does it not stop the charade and call a public inquiry?”

In his seat, Mr. Harper frowned and shook his head.

The Stats. Afghanistan, six questions. Taxation, five questions. Maternal health, four questions. Science, the environment, Rights & Democracy, employment, Helena Guergis, child care, Haiti and economic development, two questions each. Ten-percenters, prorogation, crime, Internet access and bilingualism, one question each.

Lawrence Cannon, eight answers. Stephen Harper, six answers. Bev Oda and Diane Finley, four answers each. Mark Warawa, Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Helena Guergis, two answers each. Vic Toews, Jason Kenney, Ted Menzies, Keith Ashfield, Peter MacKay, James Moore, Tony Clement and Stockwell Day, one answer each.