3 min

Government on probation

The Coalition is dead. The dream of so many progressive voters died yesterday morning when Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said that despite its many problems, he would support the budget on the provision that they adopt an amendment to provide the House regular reports on its implementation – reports that would be voted upon as confidence measures.

“I’m not in a coalition with Mr. Harper,” Ignatieff said at his press conference. “He’s on probation.”

It was a move that, in many respects, was unexpected. Instead of the usual demands for more spending, or the humiliation of abstaining in order to avoid the fourth snap election in five years, Ignatieff charted a different course – one of holding the government to account. The way an opposition party is supposed to. The Conservatives later agreed to the demand.

Not that Jack Layton was happy. He was downright surly, complaining that there was a new coalition in the House – one between Harper and Ignatieff. Gilles Duceppe wasn’t happy either, saying that these reports were just a smokescreen to avoid actually voting down the government for another year (who wants an election in summer or over the holidays?), and that Ignatieff had done the unforgivable sin of putting Canada’s national interests ahead of Quebec’s.

With all of this having taken place, you’d think that Question Period would have been back to its legendary raucousness. But instead, it was actually one of the most quiet and civil Question Periods that I’ve personally witnessed since I started paying attention to them. In fact, there were actually times when the House was quiet and attentive during question and answers, and heckling and catcalls were at a minimum.

That doesn’t mean that there weren’t a few fashion faux pas in the House. The most egregious was Marlene Jennings’ dusky rose jacket overtop a blue-grey turtleneck. Not her most flattering look. As well, Diane Finley is back to wearing those eighties dress shirts with the high collar and pleated fronts. Really? Can you maybe, oh, burn those? Pretty please? Also, Josée Verner needs to cut back on the tanning. Girl is starting to look a bit orange.

Snaps went to Ruby Dhalla for the most eye-catching ensemble, with the black-patterned cream jacket, and Ralph Goodale’s brilliant purple tie. Also, Rona Ambrose was more tailored and less drowning-in-shawl yesterday, which was a vast improvement, and Lisa Raitt proved that she does have a waistline by going jacketless, but she chose to wear some knitted shawl, which wasn’t as bad as her usual boxy jackets, but she needs to get out of that mindset.

After Question Period, I ended up scrumming with Scott Brison, as he talked about the plan for government asset sales, which remains in the budget, and is just as problematic now as it was when it was in the fall economic update. He’s asked Jim Flaherty for a list of assets, and hasn’t been given one. He asked the Department of Finance for a list – they told him that there wasn’t one.

“To sell assets during a tough buyer’s market is bad economics,” Brison said. “To book asset sales for the next fiscal year when they don’t even have a list of assets they want to sell yet is ludicrous, and it’s the same accounting practices used by the Harris and Eves governments in Ontario. Minister Flaherty, in an interview earlier this fall, told a reporter that he disagreed with that approach. He thought it was wishful thinking and bad accounting to book assets sales before you have a plan and a list to execute the plan, so he’s actually pursuing the same kind of bad accounting practices here in Ottawa that he condemned while he was in Queen’s Park.”

“Minister Flaherty tells us that government’s not good at business. He’s proving that he’s right.”

When Brison was Public Works Minister in the Martin government, they had been considering selling some non-strategic office space during a seller’s market, but he also points to a plan in place at the time.

“We also focused our efforts – we were going to use the revenues to green Government of Canada office spaces. We were actually using it as part of an overall greening of government approach. We have a five billion dollar deferred-maintenance deficit in Government of Canada buildings, and we were going to use external capital to help green those buildings, so it actually had an element of lowering our carbon footprint as a government, greening government operations, and reducing our energy costs as well. There’s no such vision in the Conservative plan.”

(PS – It looks like Iceland is getting a lesbian Prime Minister. Way to go Iceland! If your country wasn't in an economic meltdown, it might be more reason to celebrate).