Wednesday, caucus day, and the benches were mostly full. Thomas Mulcair started off by reading a pair of questions about the improperly reported $3.1 billion in anti-terror funds, and showed just how with it he is by making an Arrested Development reference, asking if the money was in the banana stand. Harper ignored it and once again assured him that the Auditor General said that the money was not misspent. Mulcair then turned to the issue of Treasury Board taking an active hand in the collective bargaining of Crown Corporations. Harper reminded him that the government backstops these Crown Corporations, and with some of them in financial difficulty, they had an obligation to ensure that taxpayer’s money was being treated responsibly. For his final question, Mulcair brought up the demise of the mandatory long-form census, as the National Household Survey data was released today. Harper responded with congratulations to Statistics Canada for the data release and praise for how high quality the data was. Justin Trudeau was then up, and after paying mention to the long-form census, he turned to the question of those Economic Action Plan™ ads, and how each spot they run during the playoffs, it costs the same as 32 student summer jobs. Harper first repeated his congratulations to Statistics Canada, before he moved onto the necessity of informing Canadians of how well the economy is doing by way of those ads.
The day after a major terror bust in Canada, it was a question as to how this would play out in the Grand Inquest of the Nation. And so, when QP got underway, Thomas Mulcair began by reading off a congratulations to the RCMP and the members of the Muslim community who tipped them off. Harper got up to similarly offer his thanks and congratulations for those who helped to foil the plot. Mulcair then moved onto the testimony of the Bank of Canada at committee, where they were told that there was little else they could do to stimulate the economy, and the warnings about household debt. Harper responded by saying that they have been urging caution on debt levels and to try take what measures they can. Peggy Nash was up next, and asked a rambling question that ended up on the topic of the possible border fee the Americans are considering charging, to which Maxime Bernier assured her that they were going to vigorously oppose it. Nash was back up and returned to another rambling question that ended up on the increases in tariffs. Jim Flaherty was up to respond, and while he got sidetracked by heckles a couple of times, and pointed to the many tax hikes the NDP supported. Justin Trudeau was up next for the Liberals, and asked about the decline in youth summer employment. Harper responded that the Liberals voted against their plans to help them. And yes, Trudeau was still half-reading his questions, but could ad lib a little.
The galleries were packed, including the press gallery, which was something of a rarity. Even more rare was Peter Mansbridge showing up for the festivities. Every leader was present — also a rarity for a Monday, but as Harper is travelling later in the week, he’s making up the day. And so, when things kicked off, Thomas Mulcair read off five questions about RBC and the use of temporary foreign workers, and called on Jason Kenney to apologise. Harper stood up to say that the programme was not intended to take jobs away of Canadians, and they would be investigating, but for his third supplemental, pointed out that eight NDP MPs wrote letters to the department asking for more temporary foreign worker approvals for their regions, which were regions with high unemployment. This set Mulcair off, and he got red-faced as he leaned over his mini-lectern as he yelled back at Harper. And then it was Trudeau’s turn. After a snag with translation, he asked a trio of questions about the increases in tariffs in the budget — not so much reading his questions but checking his notes on his desk occasionally. Harper, after congratulating Trudeau on his win, said that it didn’t make sense to give tax breaks to countries like China, which were no longer developing — to which Scott Andrews heckled “so you’re raising taxes on Canadians!”
Monday afternoon, and the Chamber was still a bit sleepy after the weekend. Only one leader was in the House today, being Thomas Mulcair, and he began things by reading off a litany of condemnations against Senators Brazeau and Duffy, and demanded the whole institution be abolished — because a) that’s helpful, and b) two or three bad apples out of 105 detracts from the good work of the rest of the Senate, including when they pick up the ball when MPs drop it, as with the sports betting and royal succession bills. James Moore, the designated back-up PM du jour, assured him that the Senate’s Internal Economy Board was investigating these senators. For his final question, Mulcair read a question about EI reforms, to which Moore assured him that the reforms were helping get people working. Peggy Nash was up next and said that it was false that there was no mechanism to extend Kevin Page’s term as PBO, pointing to his term being renewable. Tony Clement said that there was a process in place to find his replacement. (On a related note, the PBO is not the only accountability mechanism available — it just happens that accountability is the actual role of MPs). Ralph Goodale was up for the Liberals, warning of a weakening economy while everyone was worrying about other distraction issues, and wanted the budget tabled by the end of February. In response, Moore read off a number of good news talking points. Stéphane Dion was up last, and demanded that the government undo its “job-killing” EI reforms.
It ended up being a week without the two main leaders facing off in QP, where Mulcair was again absent while Harper was back in the Chamber today. And despite there being three NDP deputy leaders in the House, they nevertheless decided to have Nycole Turmel read off the scripted question about a memo at CFIA about ignoring contaminated meat for non-Japan markets. Harper responded by saying that they ensure that meat is just as safe for Canadians as for the export market. Turmel then asked about cuts to inspections, to which Gerry Ritz responded this time, saying that they were enhancing the regulatory powers, and that the NDP voted against it. Malcolm Allen followed up with more of the same, this time in English, and got much the same from Ritz in response. When Bob Rae got up for the Liberals, he hammered away on the CFIA memo, not that Harper and Ritz responded any differently.
In the afterglow of the by-elections, and with Thomas Mulcair still absent – having celebrated his party’s win in Victoria last night – it was up to Libby Davies to lead off QP for the NDP today, and she started off with a question on budget choices. Harper indulged her, and spoke about preserving essential services while still eliminating the deficit in the medium term and growing the economy. So far so good. But then Davies painted a rather odd picture about Mark Carney making an abrupt departure for England, and getting out of Canada in a hurry before our economy cratered again – apparently. Roars of laughter went across the Conservative and Liberal benches, and when Harper did get up, he reminded Davies that their definitions of “abrupt” may be different as Carney is sticking around until June, and that he doesn’t take his new position until July. Oops. Nycole Turmel was up next to wonder about what the government’s fiscal contingency plan was, considering that Europe was back in recession. In response, Jim Flaherty touted the OECD’s projections that Canada would be the second-fastest growing economy in the next two years, behind only the US, which is starting from a much worse position than we are. Bob Rae was then up for the Liberals, asking about the coming 2014 health accords and whether there would be provisions for drug coverage, as it is the fastest-growing portion of healthcare costs. Harper reminded him that healthcare is a provincial responsibility, and that the government sends plenty of health transfer dollars to the provinces.
The day was not off to a promising start as more statements condemning David McGuinty and the Liberals continued to make the rounds during the QP warm-up, because hey, there’s a by-election four days away, and there’s nothing like cheap political hay to be made. Thomas Mulcair started off by reading a pair of questions on why Harper wasn’t attending the First Ministers’ meeting in Halifax to talk about the economy, to which Harper assured him that he meets with the premiers regularly, and he’s focused on the economy. For his last question, Mulcair asked about the court case against the Parliamentary Budget Officer, but Harper didn’t answer about that, only offered to “correct” Mulcair’s preamble aside about how job numbers weren’t really that great, and so on. Libby Davies was up next asking about child poverty rates, to which Diane Finley assured her that they were less than half of what they were under the Liberals because of the government’s good work. Bob Rae returned to the question of Harper not speaking to the premiers, and Harper said that he not only met with premiers regularly, but members of the business community and ordinary Canadians too!
Thomas Mulcair started off today’s QP by reading a question about how Harper, while over in India, spoke about how the fragility of the economic recovery, to which Mulcair wondered why Harper could only tell the truth about our economy while abroad. John Baird, yet again the back-up PM du jour rather than passing the baton to someone else along the front bench, first gave a shout out to Barack Obama’s win, and then extolled Harper’s economic leadership. Mulcair, however, decided that our economy was in crisis, and we were all headed for doom. Doom! Baird sighed and chastised Mulcair for “talking down the economy.” Rosane Doré Lefebvre was up next, demanding an apology from Vic Toews for his Ashley Smith comments yesterday, but Toews was very obviously sticking to his script, and spoke about how they were cooperating with the coroner’s inquest. Bob Rae, however, was unimpressed, and pressed on, wondering about other videos that hadn’t yet been released publicly, and whether those materials would be turned over, which eventually led to a call for a public inquiry. Baird and Toews both answered, each going back to the “cooperating” talking point, though Toews did consider the coroner’s inquiry to already be a public inquiry. Problem solved, apparently.
On the anniversary of the very first sitting of the Canadian parliament in 1867, it was a somewhat heated day in the Commons today during QP, and Vic Toews gave another gob-smacking performance. When the PM’s away, the ministers will balls everything up – or something like that. Thomas Mulcair started off by reading out a question on our impending nuclear agreement with India would include independent verification that the materials were used only for peaceful purposes. John Baird, once again acting as back-up PM du jour, assured him that the government takes nuclear non-proliferation seriously. Mulcair then asked why China was getting better briefings on agreements than Canadians were, to which Baird talked about how the FIPA was signed on the margins of another trade conference, and for his final question, Mulcair recounted his doomsday scenario of China buying up Alberta’s natural resources with nobody to stop them. Baird suggested that Mulcair was wearing his tinfoil hat, and touted the safe environment for Canadian investment that the FIPA would create. Peggy Nash was up next, trying to wrap the PBO’s latest report on spending cuts with the issue of Harper’s armoured limousines in India, but Baird deflected it with a defence of the RCMP’s recommendations. Bob Rae was up next, asking a pair of questions on whether Harper would meet with provincial premiers, given how he likes to travel abroad to meet other world leaders. Baird responded that he regularly meets with premiers of all stripes, and hey, look at all the good work they did together with the Economic Action Plan™! For his final question, Rae quoted the trade minister about the “opaque investment climate” in India, and wondered what we told them about the opaque climate in Canada, given that there is no clarity on what constitutes “net benefit.” Baird instead used the opportunity to recite a bunch of trite talking points about the jobs and the economy, and the fictional NDP “carbon tax.”
With Harper off in India, and a number of other MPs back in their riding for Veterans’ Week activities, the Commons was a pretty sparse place, albeit not quite Friday sparse. Undeterred, Thomas Mulcair read off his first question about the extension of the deadline for the Nexen decision, to which John Baird, in his capacity as back-up PM du jour, mentioned that there were consultations going on as part of the complex decision making. Mulcair was up next, and asked quite simply who Baird would be consulting – but the cadence of the question was off, like he was still reading it off of a script he hadn’t previously read (though it was one of the rare moments when he spoke off-the-cuff in QP while not red-faced in anger). Baird, however, returned to his usual talking points about the “net benefit” test, and so on. Peggy Nash was up next and asked a pair of questions, in English and in French, about how in this time of fiscal austerity, Harper could have deigned to fly his own armoured limousines over to India. Toews responded that this was a judgement call by the RCMP, and he respected their decision. Bob Rae was then up for the Liberals, and in a rather impassioned display, wondered just what exactly changed on Friday that the government, which had been sitting on those Ashley Smith videos for five years, decided they now wanted to allow the investigation to proceed. Three times he tried to get the government to say something, to admit that they had been publicly embarrassed by those videos and had no choice but to let the investigation proceed unimpeded – but Baird simply resorted to the talking points about how they needed to do a better job of keeping people with mental illness out of prisons.