Senate QP: Baird’s vacation habits

After Senators’ Statements and Routine Proceedings, Senator Jane Cordy led-off Question Period with the question of John Baird’s stay with six friends in London. Senator Marjory LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate and answerer of questions, insisted that Baird saves taxpayer’s money, and that the government would soon be putting said official residence up for sale in order to save even more money. Cordy was not impressed with the response, and noted that the chief of staff of Minister Oliver was among the six friends vacationing. LeBreton responded that Baird stayed at the personal apartment of the High Commissioner, who pays for it himself. Cordy noted that it seems that Baird vacationed in the official residence of the New York consul general in 2011. LeBreton continued to insist that no taxpayer money was used. Cordy was not satisfied, and said that it was a question of whether or not it was appropriate, especially since he is the boss of the High Commissioner. When LeBreton still repeated her answer, Cordy asked if the stay was registered as a gift, considering that it was valued well over $500. LeBreton decided to take this as an excuse to take a swipe at the Liberals, dredging up the Sponsorship scandal.

Senator Mercer was up next and mentioned that he has friends coming up to stay for Canada Day, and could they stay at 24 Sussex. LeBreton responded that she has room at her house in Manotik if they don’t mind her cats and her husband snoring. Mercer responded with a gentle jibe before asking if there was a website where taxpayers could go to in order to book a stay at an official residence. LeBreton carried on the joking about his friends staying with her, but when Mercer turned more serious and wondered who paid for the cleaning and maintenance of the official residence if it wasn’t taxpayers, LeBreton returned to her talking points that Baird’s stay didn’t cost any taxpayer money.

Senator Callbeck was up next, and brought up the loss of student loan data from HRSDC, and how it was revealed that it could have been prevented. LeBreton referred to statements made by Minister Finley, and that the department was making changes to prevent future occurrences. When Callbeck pressed about other breaches for the department, LeBreton insisted that there are changes being made in the department, from IT changes, improved training and security procedures.

Senator Downe asked for an update on when he was going to get answers on his questions sitting on the Order Paper for two years. LeBreton assured him that she would make inquiries as to where it is, and when Downe asked if the Senate should update its rules to ensure that written questions get a response with 45-days, LeBreton thought it was an interesting idea to consider.

Senator Jaffer was up next, and asked about a programme to give assistance to women refugees without other means. LeBreton said that she would take the question on notice in order to get specific numbers, but wanted it to be known that Canada accepts one of every ten resettled refugees in the world.

And that was it. Overall it was once again a reminder of how much of a superior exercise Senate QP is when compared to its Commons counterpart. Senator Cordy’s line of questioning, with unlimited supplementals and the ability to press for answers in a free-flowing and unscripted manner (even if Senator LeBreton didn’t deliver them) was a reminder of how things should operate in the Commons. Senator Mercer’s questions also showed that wit and good humour go over well in this kind of an exercise, and it’s something that is sorely lacking in the Commons, where “wit” is thinly veiled insults being played to one’s own backbenches.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator Mobina Jaffer for a deep brown jacket and skirt with a subtle animal print and a fascinating gold creature attached to one of the shoulders, and to Senator Irving Gerstein for a dark grey pinstriped suit with a pink shirt and navy tie. Style citations go out to Senator Gerald Comeau for a brown chesterfield-esque jacket with a blue shirt and a beige-and-black striped tie, and to Senator Rose-May Poirier for a slightly shiny tan jacket with a black sleeveless dress with brown, gold and red florals. Dishonourable mention goes out to Senator Jane Cordy for a yellow jacket with a black dress with white dots.