3 min

A failure to engage

I arrived at the House a few minutes before two, and saw Mario Silva standing up for the debates to the Ways and Means Motion that is part of the budget implementation. He was mostly talking infrastructure for Toronto, but it was the tail end of the debates before Members’ Statements began in the lead-up to Question Period. Oh, and I’ll say one thing about Silva – he always has the most exquisitely tailored suits. The man knows how to dress.

The issue of protectionist measures in the American stimulus package continued to dominate Question Period today, from the Liberals questioning the government’s competence when the best they seemingly have managed to do so far was have our Ambassador in Washington send a strongly-worded letter (so very Canadian) to the senior leaders in the US Senate, to the NDP pushing for a “Buy Canadian” policy instead. Because everyone has agreed that a trade war has the historical precedent of turning a recession into a depression.

Scott Brison also raised the issue in Question Period, and elaborated more on the issue in the scrums in the foyer afterward.

On Minister Day’s performance on the file, he had this to say:

In the House of Commons, he practically admitted that he has not met any Democratic Congressmen or Senators on this issue. At the same time, Prime Minister Harper today said that they’ve been aware of the issue for weeks, and were aware of it long before the opposition, whereas yesterday Minister Day said we just learned of it last week. So there’s a complete incompetence and lack of consistency on this issue and it’s costing Canadians dearly. The fact is the Harper government’s focus only on Republicans in Washington has put Canada in a very bad position. Their ignoring of the relationship with Democrats hurts us now as Democrats are now in power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. We’re in a very bad position because of Mr. Harper’s narrow ideological focus in Washington. Beyond that, there are examples in the past – in 2002, the Chrétien government successfully negotiated with the Bush administration, a Republican administration, and exemption for Canadian steel.

Minister Day today was unable to answer a very simple question: how many Democratic congressmen have you met with since you became Minister of International Trade? He couldn’t answer that question because the fact is he doesn’t have sound relationships with the Democrats in Congress, and this is no time during a crisis to try and build relationships. The Harper government has neglected the Democrats, the Democrats have created a sea change in American politics, and Canada is the victim of Harper’s narrow ideological focus in Washington.

There were a few other issues raised – Carolyn Bennett brought up the supply of medical isotopes, and the security of our production given new problems at the Chalk River facility. Lisa Raitt responded by talking about meetings that Canada has participated in over in France about the issue. And when David McGuinty asked about the heavy water leaks at Chalk River, Raitt now denies the leaks were happening, but reiterated that she’s asked for a report into the incident. (Raitt, by the way, was wearing a jacket that was a better fit today and less boxy, but she had a great red wrap-top underneath. She’s trying, folks, really).

The Bloc’s Carole Lavallée (whom one other political blogger has dubbed the Voice of Reason on certain committees), who has been continually bringing up the issue of cuts to programmes that help artists promote their work abroad, raised the issue today that there is now a programme to attract foreign artists – and yet none to help us promote our own. James Moore, the Heritage Minister, said that she didn’t read the budget, and called the programme a “victory” for our artists. Huh?

Also after Question Period, I spoke to Joe Comartin, the NDP’s justice critic, about the justice committee’s motion to examine Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Comartin was absent yesterday (Libby Davies was filling in for him, but she didn’t head into the foyer after Question Period), but this is what he had to say:

It’s basically using the human rights legislation to deal with issues of hate propaganda, and speech that’s anti-whatever group. I think that they’re just laying the groundwork for whatever they’re doing. It’s interesting because – I’m not sure where they’re going from it. I expected we might hear something from the government, but this is something from a Private Member, so it’ll be somewhere down the road before it gets to it.

This is something we’ll be following once movement starts to happen on it.

(Incidentally: Marlene Jennings’ wardrobe choices were much more appropriate today, after a couple of very bad days, and snaps go out to Newfoundland MP Scott Simms for his black suit with an orange shirt and tie. Both suited his red hair very well).