Xtra
3 min

A contracting economy and a contradiction on Afghanistan

The government front bench was full of vacancies, even though Harper was present. Jim Prentice was off in Washington, starting the new “environmental dialogue” with the Obama administration. Lawrence Cannon, Jim Flaherty, and Peter MacKay were also absent – but then again, so was Ignatieff.

Members’ Statements began innocuously enough, with the likes of Megan Leslie (in a pink dress and grey jacket that was one of her least offensive choices to date) talking about the upcoming International Women’s Day, but quickly moved over to more partisan blows. Scott Brison (in a gingham shirt) launched a blistering attack on the $3 billion “slush fund” while Conservative backbencher Tim Uppal tried to attack Ignatieff on his views on a carbon tax. But most offensive was the way Uppal’s blue turban clashed with his bright orange tie.

With Ignatieff away, John McCallum took the first question of the day, citing the bad economic news of how much the Canadian economy contracted in the last quarter of 2008. Harper replied that everyone else contracted at least twice as fast. And thus was one of two major themes of the day, picked up by Jack Layton and others, though in Layton’s case, Harper seemed to be phoning in his attacks on the NDP leader.

Liberal industry critic Marc Garneau brought up this incident, reported on the front page of Monday’s Globe and Mail, which told of how the Minister of State for Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear, got into a screaming match with officials from the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Goodyear claimed that everyone was happy with the budget, except for people listening to their lies. And when Garneau brought up the article, Goodyear stood up and not only listed all the new funding for science and technology (neglecting to mention that while overall funding may have gone up, they cut many of the granting bodies’ funds), and then claimed that CAUT was just trying to get attention. Riiiight

The other major theme of the day in Question Period were Harper’s comments about the Afghan mission that he made on CNN over the weekend – that we would never win militarily, but that we were just there to build up Afghanistan’s ability to manage the insurgency on their own. Huh, said the opposition. What about all the times you called us “Taliban Lovers” and other despicable things because we questioned your military policy? Indeed, these were the questions of the likes of Gilles Duceppe, Denis Coderre, and Bob Rae among others, and every time, either Harper or the Peter MacKay’s Parliamentary Secretary, Laurie Hawn, would get up and tout their “whole of government” approach to the mission, which seemed like news to most of us.

There were a few other questions of note – the Bloc’s Réal Ménard talked about how a certain person could gain a tobacco license considering fraud charges against him in the States, (answer: we have a rigorous screening process), Mike Savage on the increasing delays for people getting EI claims processed (Diane Finley’s answer: we’re processing 50% more claims than a year ago, and by the way, doesn’t this yellow-gold jacket make me look like a realtor?), and Marina Minna demanded to know exact ways that the pay equity legislation was like the models in Ontario and Manitoba (Vic Toews: women used to have to wait fifteen years…)

(Shameless plug: I have a piece on pay equity on the national page here).

Sartorial snaps go out to Lisa Raitt for her properly tailored black jacket over a crisp, collared pink shirt. Also, I do love Rob Oliphant’s purple tie, and Maxime Bernier’s lavender shirt and tie were rather suave. Style citations go out to two more abuses of orange, in this case to the return of Marlene Jennings’ orange leather jacket, but also Fisheries Minister Gail Shea’s boxy orange jacket.  And then there was poor, sweet Kristy Duncan. *sighs* Is there no one who can give this poor ensembley-challenged woman a Queer Eye makeover?

Elsewhere on the Hill, Bill Siksay was at the Ethics Committee this afternoon, asking the Ethics Commissioner about the complaint system, and the kinds of fancy dinners that members have been invited to of late. When the Lobbying Commissioner later appeared before the committee, he asked about open investigations and about the definitions of “public office holders,” which is how most of the ethics legislation seems to be worded.

Incidentally, the budget implementation bill’s report stage had 86 proposed amendments. Yikes! As well, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Liberal senator Joseph Day, is threatening to take his time examining such an omnibus bill, perhaps even sending off portions to other committees for proper study. And if the government moans that they need this to pass quickly to get money flowing? Well, they had all that unspent infrastructure money, and a lot of the stimulus spending is earmarked to go out in the “Supplementary Estimates A,” which aren’t due out for another month.

What’s that I hear? Chants of “unelected Liberal Senate” soon to be echoing through the House, quite probably…