It may as well have been a Friday in the Commons, as there were a number of notable absences – Harper, Ignatieff and Layton were all gone, leaving the b-team in charge.
Harper was off in Vancouver, talking about the spate of gang violence there after handing over infrastructure money for rapid transit. Never mind that the Conservatives’ “tough on crime” legislation they unveiled that morning is pretty much a re-packaging of existing laws, and is unlikely to actually deter crime. Never mind that all of the moneys allocated toward crime prevention haven’t actually been spent by this government. It was all about making them look tough.
Also an attempt at looking tough was the way Harper defended a $3 billion slush fund unveiled in the main estimates that morning either. The spending provisions had the fund buried within them under a nebulous term of “budget initiatives” – money the Conservatives said they need to spend right away in order toe stimulate the economy, but rather than saying what they’ll spend it on, they say they’ll get ministers to come up with projects over the next three or four months and then inform Parliament afterward, so please approve this now. Harper threatened to make it an election issue. Wait – the government of “transparency” and “accountability” is asking Parliament to just trust them with $3 billion in spending, no questions asked. Oh, like that’s going to end well…
This fact, along with an admission from Jim Flaherty in the media that “mistakes” would likely be made in unrolling the fiscal stimulus, set much of the tone in the House, from John McCallum’s lead question for the Liberals (with his fetching pink tie), to Thomas Mulcair’s lead question for the NDP (where he accused the Conservatives of learning the Liberals’ old tricks now that they were in bed together).
Only Gilles Duceppe – the only party leader in the House for the day – dared to ask anything different, which was about the now-infamous article on the Alberta tar sands in National Geographic.
There was some other bits of excitement – Vic Toews blaming the public service for the poor Access to Information report card, Tony Clement inviting Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre to repeat allegations that Clement’s chief of staff was from the lobby firm that represented certain defence contractors, outside of the House and away from Parliamentary privilege so that a lawsuit could be filed. (Coderre did). Two Bloc MPs got in a shouting match with Josée Verner over the Plains of Abraham issue, while Verner’s hand shook as she thrust out some document in her answer.
When Bill Siksay asked about the Information Commissioner’s report and all of the failing grades contained therein, Vic Toews touted the fact that crown corporations were now subject to those laws. When Nicole Demers said pay equity was not a family issue, but an issue about women able to be autonomous, Toews only talked about the stimulus bill.
There were no sartorial snaps to be had either. It seemed like everyone was off their game. Of note were items like Government House Leader Jay Hill’s rainbow-striped tie, and Lisa Raitt’s short-waisted tailored jacket (which was a commendable choice). But the style citation would have to go out to NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis’ rather unfortunate shiny shirt that looked like it should perhaps belong in an 80s discotheque, and not the House of Commons.