The Commons: The NDP starts the budget debate a bit early -

The Commons: The NDP starts the budget debate a bit early

On the second question of his second day, Mulcair seemed to find the right key of indignation


The Scene. On the second question of his second day, the new leader of the opposition seemed to find the right key of indignation.

“Mr. Speaker, if the Conservatives are so confident that the F-35s meet the operational requirements, they should be willing to table the full list in the House today,” he ventured. “Even when they are rigging the process, they cannot get a plane that meets Canada’s needs. It is way over budget, and they do not even have any guarantee of proper industrial benefits for Canada, one of the leading aerospace countries in the world.”

The indictment thus read—and today Mr. Mulcair opted to use the House’s small, portable lecterns—the question was then tabled.

“When are the Conservatives going to show some basic competence with public money,” Mr. Mulcair wondered, “and have an open, transparent, public competition to replace the CF-18s?”

The New Democrat members felt strongly enough about this to stand and cheer. Standing in for the Prime Minister, Jason Kenney rose and offered a rambling, somewhat hesitant, series of sentences, a rhetorical smorgasbord of the government’s finest charges and assurances.

“Mr. Speaker, let us be clear, if the NDP had its way there would be no replacement for the CF-18,” he declared. “We do need a replacement for our men and women in uniform. As a country, as a responsible ally, we need a replacement for that fleet. We have pursued that for 15 years now under two different governments. There was a selection process. We have already outlined enormous industrial benefits right across Canada. Thousands of jobs will be created through this important acquisition. We do commit, of course, to doing this within budget, maintaining the flexibility that we require to achieve that objective.”

Steadfast, yet flexible. Solid, but also malleable. Standing Up For Canada, subject to a range of potential eventualities to be determined at an unspecified later date.

The NDP pressed on. Indeed, they seemed an emboldened bunch this day. Even before they got around to quizzing the government side on Christian Paradis’ ethical compass.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives said nothing to Canadians about their attack on OAS in the last election,” Libby Davies reminded. “In fact, the Prime Minister promised a ‘steady as it goes’ approach. Instead, the Conservatives are slashing retirement security for families, and downloading billions to provinces. Seniors are going to have to work years longer. That is not what the Prime Minister campaigned on. Why are Conservatives targeting future seniors with their attack on OAS? Why did they not come clean about it with Canadians in the last election?”

Kellie Leitch, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Human Resources, stood and begged off. “Mr. Speaker, I am not going to speculate on the budget,” she demurred.

And yet. “Let us be very clear, we are trying to make sure that OAS is sustainable for the future, and that future generations of Canadians have an opportunity to access OAS,” Ms. Leitch continued. “Old age security will become unsustainable on its current path.”

Except, of course, that’s not what the Parliamentary Budget Officer says.

Ms. Davies moved on. “OAS is not their only target,” the NDP deputy reported. “During the last campaign, the Prime Minister said: ‘We are planning on a six percent ongoing increase to health transfers. We’ve been very consistent on this.’ However, after the election the Conservatives decided to break this promise and short-change provinces by $31 billion. This will hurt our health care services. Why are they breaking their promise and downloading billions of new costs onto the provinces?”

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was compelled to lament for the Liberal budgets of the mid-90s. “Unlike the previous Liberal government, which gutted health care transfers, we have actually increased funding to record levels,” she celebrated. “We have announced a long-term stable arrangement with the provinces and the territories that will see transfers reach historic levels, up $40 billion by the end of the decade.”

Except, however historic, those transfers still don’t amount to what the Finance Minister promised.

A while later, David Christopherson was shaking and shouting and not bothering to draw breath as he turned red in the face on the matter of benefits for members of the Canadian Forces (specifically the post-living differential). “Mr. Speaker, Canadian armed forces and their families should not have to wait for the budget on Thursday to hear whether or not the promise that was made to them will be kept or not,” he protested. “A government member said that there will be no change in the amount of PLD that is being administered under the Conservative government and that there will be no decrease in anyone’s paycheque. Who said that? The Minister of National Defence in the last election.”

He pointed furiously at the government frontbench, never minding the Defence Minister’s absence.

“The minister owes it to the Canadian people and the Canadian armed forces to stand up today and say there will be no cut to the PLD that our armed forces count on,” Mr. Christopherson finished.

There was not a question here, but Julian Fantino stood anyway.

“Mr. Speaker, I admire the passion of the member opposite. However, we will not be speculating,” he sighed. “We will have to wait and see how things unfold in the next little while.”

The budget is still two sleeps away. But the NDP seems eager to get on with the inevitable harangue.

The Stats. Employment, 10 questions. Ethics, eight questions. Military procurement and search-and-rescue, six questions. Canadian Forces and pensions, two questions each. Health care, violence against women, nuclear weapons, aboriginal affairs, Syria and the Arctic, one question each.

Julian Fantino, 10 answers. Jason Kenney, seven answers. Denis Lebel, six answers. Christian Paradis, four answers. Kellie Leitch, three answers. Dean Del Mastro and Keith Ashfield, two answers each. Leona Aglukkaq, Pierre Poilievre, Deepak Obhrai, John Duncan and Vic Toews, one answer each.