QP: Orwell was not a how-to manual

With the NDP now out to turn public opinion to their side on the omnibus budget bill, one wondered if this was going to lead off QP for the day. And in a sort of tangential sense it did, as Thomas Mulcair asked about Jim Flaherty’s comments that OAS changes could save $10 to $12 billion. Harper insisted there would be no actual pension reductions. Mulcair then turned to Flaherty’s “there are no bad jobs” comments with regards to EI changes – and several times was drowned out by Conservative applause when he repeated Flaherty’s statement. (And yet he kept repeating it and kept getting drowned out). After a warning from the Speaker, Mulcair finished and between that and two follow-up questions about how that also applied to seniors and the disabled, Harper insisted that Canada has a superior job creation record, and hey, they have a disabled member in the cabinet, so there’s nothing that disabled people can’t do. Bob Rae was up next, and brought up George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and how it shouldn’t be a how-to manual for governments, and he related this to the kind of silencing of critics the government has been engaged in, whether it is with the National Round Table on Environment and the Economy, or any other number of NGOs or data-gathering organisations. Harper insisted that they were interested in administrative savings and doing away with duplication where the information these groups provide could be found elsewhere. For his final supplemental, Rae gave a nod to the Auditor General’s return to the Public Accounts committee and his assertion that the government wasn’t giving accurate numbers on the F-35s. Harper turned to his rote talking points about no contracts signed and no purchase having been made, and left it at that.

Round two saw Peggy Nash return to the question of OAS changes (Finley: There will be no cuts to benefits), Megan Leslie asked about Baird’s comments on NRTEE (Kent: Their services are no longer required, even though they advocate for a carbon tax like the Liberals, and oh, Baird is entitled to his opinion – which was an interesting caveat to throw in there), Matthew Kellway and Hélène Laverdière asked about the AG’s report on the F-35s (Fantino: We have a Seven-Step Action Plan™ and a secretariat!), before Laverdière moved onto the topic of a possible Afghan extension with the NATO meeting coming up, and Jack Harris picked up on the very same question (MacKay: There have been no decisions; Baird: We promised we’d consult parliament on these kinds of things). Roger Cuzner, Judy Foote and Wayne Easter each asked about the proposed EI changes, especially as they related to Atlantic Canadians and the problems of seasonal employment and lack of access to things like transit (Finley: We’re facing unprecedented labour and skill shortages across the country and these measures will help employers). Sylvain Chicoine and Peter Stoffer asked about those travel plans the Veterans tribunal chair charged to taxpayers, Stoffer extending it to the need to abolish the tribunal (Blaney: There have been no cuts to veterans services and we’re not going to abolish the tribunal), and Pierre Nantel and Andrew Cash asked about the chairman of the National Gallery needing to be a friend of the minister’s (Moore: This is based on a ridiculous story).

Normally the Conservatives would get a softball question from the backbenches here, but Speaker Scheer decided that since the government benches kept ignoring his ruling on applauding during a question when they kept drowning out Mulcair that he was going to skip over their first question to make up time. An NDP staffer was talking to me in the Foyer after QP, crowing that people said their idea of having the Speaker take away questions would never work and here it happened. Well yes, but Scheer has long since warned the government about these applause outbursts to drown out questions, so he’s now enforcing it. I’m not sure it signals anything broader about his enforcing the rather nebulous definition of decorum.

Round three saw questions on an increase in prisoners in Quebec, already dead animals making it to slaughterhouses, housing in Quebec, failure with fisheries governance, delays with residential schools compensation claims, cuts to an aboriginal youth programme in Thunder Bay, and a local airport issue.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Justin Trudeau for a light grey spring suit with a white shirt and pale green striped tie, and to Judy Foote for a khaki dress with a wrap top, and a wide black belt. Style citations – and there were a lot of them, but I’m narrowing them down to Sadia Groguhé for a blue and green jacket and skirt whose patterns resembled the map from an 8-bit RPG, and to Sylvain Chicoine for a light grey suit with a blueberry shirt and grey tie. Dishonourable mention to Olivia Chow for an otherwise lovely black dress with a draped neckline that she unfortunately chose to wear with a lemon yellow sweater.