The Commons: Working hard at working hard

"That's the thing about government. We're actually doing things on behalf of Canadians."

For the second day in a row, Tony Clement paused briefly from recalibrating to tell us what he could.

“What I can tell you is the Prime Minister, and indeed all ministers, have been at work since the beginning of January, meeting with Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast,” the Industry Minister revealed. “They have sought and they have received a lot of advice on the priorities of working families, business, both large and small, and, indeed, from leading economists.”

So enlightened, the Prime Minister and his most-trusted ministers have retreated to Chelsea, Quebec, a small town north of the capital, where they might think deeply about what they have heard. From the official photos released so far we know that at one point the Prime Minister furrowed his brow and listened closely to something Jim Flaherty was saying. Later, Mr. Flaherty smiled and Lawrence Cannon napped happily.

“Today, at the priorities and planning retreat, the Prime Minister led a discussion on how the budget and our longer-term planning will reflect the expressed priorities of Canadians,” Mr. Clement enthused.

And under Mr. Harper’s steady guidance, the discussion apparently settled on a bold and courageous way forward.

“Let me be clear,” Mr. Clement clarified, “we are not a government that raises taxes and spends recklessly … Going forward our government will implement fiscally responsible initiatives to generate economic growth. Our goal is to ensure that all Canadians benefit from a strengthening economy with good jobs and rising family incomes.”

The budget, he said, “will start to develop the policies we need to lead Canada into the economy of tomorrow.”

“But,” he reassured, “working to ensure we capture new opportunities, does not mean abandoning yesterday’s successes.”

He waxed philosophic. “I believe that the dichotomy between the knowledge economy and the manufacturing economy is a false dichotomy,” he ventured.

He waxed metaphoric. “When the train comes in,” he declared, “Canadians will be able to ride it.”

He suddenly started sounding like Jack Layton. “The year ahead is one where those who understand the economics of the kitchen table,” he said, “will understand what drives and informs the federal government.”

So moved by his own words was Mr. Clement that he momentarily lost track of himself. “With well-conceived and affordable policies,” he said, “we shall grow the economy and deliver to Canadians what they have been told—what they have told us that they actually want. They want growth. They want opportunity. And, of course, the promise of a better tomorrow.”

On that note, it seemed preposterous that the assembled members of the press gallery would even dare speak. And yet the shouting was quick and furious. What, one scribe wondered, would the government be doing to create green jobs? Would this involve more spending? Tax credits? Regulations?

“This was a very important topic at our cabinet retreat, as you can imagine. There were lots of great ideas that were discussed,” Mr. Clement replied, failing to reveal any of them. “We’re trying to think a little bit outside the box as well.”

Why, asked a TV reporter, does the minister feel it necessary to tell us how much he and his colleagues are working?

“Well, listen, I think we do this all the time. We do it by our actions as well as our words. That’s the thing about government,” Mr. Clement mused. “We’re actually doing things on behalf of Canadians.”

It was unclear if this was intended as a boast or merely an explanation of why government exists.

Someone raised the government side’s newly discovered intent to add sitting days to Parliament’s spring schedule.

“There’s no question that when we reviewed the situation there is a lot of work to be done. We’re doing work right now,” he explained. “When the session does convene there’s no question that there’ll be a lot of work for Parliamentarians to do. And just as we’ve been working hard in our constituencies and throughout Canada, there’ll be a lot of work for Parliament to do after March 3.”

A meddlesome reporter asked the minister if perhaps he had erred in suggesting only the chattering classes were particularly interested in the business of Parliament.

“I guess what I can tell you, again, is we’re working hard,” Mr. Clement explained. “We’re working hard on behalf of Canadians. On behalf of their hopes and aspirations. It is important for a government to not only work in Ottawa, but also work around the country, get the views of Canadians and make sure that those are transferred from their kitchen table to the speech from the throne and to the budget.”

Standing before the ornate, and resolutely closed, wooden doors of the House of Commons, Mr. Clement spoke loftily of the appropriateness of it all.

“So we’ve used the intersession quite strategically to make sure that we are connected to Canadians’ concerns, their hopes, their aspirations,” he said. “That’s a perfectly appropriate thing for a government to do. Then there will be a time for Parliament. And this time will occur starting March the 3rd. And at that time people will see and be able to judge both our speech from the throne and our budget. And that’s entirely appropriate.”

With a wave, the Industry Minister retreated shortly thereafter, his work for the day well done.