The Commons: Of health care promises and marijuana dreams -

The Commons: Of health care promises and marijuana dreams

After a discussion of healthcare pledges of yesteryear, Bob Rae tried to talk drugs–amidst Conservative chuckles


The Scene. Thomas Mulcair wished to pick up where Jack Layton had once left off.

Last June, he reminded, Mr. Layton had stood in this place and asked the Prime Minister to identify the government services that would soon be cut. The Prime Minister, Mr. Mulcair recounted, had then stood in this place and said the government had been “very clear” that it would not cut pensions or transfers to the provinces for programs such as health care.

“Our question is also clear,” Mr. Mulcair finished. “Tomorrow, will the Prime Minister meet or betray his word in this House?”

Though returned to the country, the Prime Minister was not returned to the House. Today’s stand-in was John Baird, who proceeded to chop his hand and jab his finger and speak very assuredly of all that is good and unsullied about his government.

“Mr. Speaker, this government, every year since taking office, has increased support for the provinces for health care, which is a huge priority for middle-class families,” he declared.

“Every single time we have stood in this House to raise funding for health care, the NDP has voted against it,” he lamented.

“We are not doing what the previous Liberal government did. We are increasing support for health care,” he clarified.

Mr. Mulcair returned to June. “Mr. Speaker, the very next day, June 8, 2011, Jack Layton asked this question of the Conservative Prime Minister, ‘Will the Prime Minister commit today not to cut services that are key to Canadian families?’ The Prime Minister’s answer was again categorical, ‘Mr. Speaker, of course we will not cut such services,’  ” the opposition leader recounted. “Would the government tell us whether or not the Prime Minister’s word will be respected tomorrow, yes or no?”

Mr. Baird stood and managed to use the phrase “middle-class families” no less than four times in the space of five sentences.

Mr. Mulcair now wished to lecture. “Mr. Speaker, the whole pyramid of public administration exists to do one thing: deliver services to the public. That is the last thing that should be touched, especially when people need help as of now,” he explained. “These cuts will hurt Canadians by denying them the services they need. They will hurt the economy, especially in regions where public servants have a huge impact on the local economy. Does the Conservative government not understand? Or is that it just does not care?”

Mr. Baird had apparently done his homework and was now eager to show off for the class. “Mr. Speaker, this is the member of this House of Commons who, when he was minister of the environment of Quebec, cut spending, slashed spending by more than 15 per cent,” the Foreign Affairs Minister reported. “Now he is going to lecture this government.”

So, apparently, the government’s argument will be that Mr. Mulcair was once more fiscally conservative than it is. But if it is the past we must now argue about, the NDP seems eager to insist that the government should be doing what the government once said it would do.

“The Prime Minister made a single health care promise in the last election: to protect federal transfers. Yet, it took him just eight months to break that promise,” Libby Davies explained once again for the House’s benefit. “Why should Canadians trust a Prime Minister who cannot even keep such a basic promise? Why is he turning his back on Canada’s most cherished institution? Why is he abandoning medicare?”

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq first retreated to her adjectives: Long-term! Stable! Historic! Then to a simplified reading of yesteryear. “Let me just list a few things that the NDP voted against in the last budget,” Ms. Aglukkaq offered, “significant funding to assist the homeless; mental health program funding that would increase health infrastructure for first nations; funding to help treat and prevent those with drug addictions—”

Her time expired, the Speaker cut her off there.

Ms. Davies repeated her concern (“The Conservative plan shortchanges provinces by a whopping $31 billion”). Ms. Aglukkaq returned to her list (“Significant funding to assist homeless people and mental health programs; funding for the Rick Hansen Foundation…”).

It was at this point, of course, that Bob Rae attempted to engage the government in a discussion of 21st century drug policy. The House went quiet as he proceeded through his concerns and the recent findings of various experts.

John Baird duly stood and lamented the Liberal party’s  new desire to legalize marijuana. Mr. Rae protested. “Mr. Speaker, let us have an honest conversation on this issue,” he begged.

There were chuckles on the government side.

The Stats. The budget, 11 questions. Ethics, six questions. Health care, five questions. Military procurement, three questions. Employment, seniors and immigration, two questions each. The environment, natural resources, fisheries, Canada Post and Omar Khadr, one question each.

John Baird, six answers. Ted Menzies and Christian Paradis, five answers each. Denis Lebel, four answers. Leona Aglukkaq, Kellie Leitch and Julian Fantino, three answers each. Jason Kenney, two answers. Dean Del Mastro, Peter MacKay, Peter Kent, Joe Oliver, James Moore, Keith Ashfield, Steven Fletcher and Vic Toews, one answer each.