Approaching Parliament Hill, one was confronted by two different demonstrating groups. Lining Wellington Street were the Tamil protesters, who have been a near-permanent presence for nearly two weeks now, while on the west side of the lawn were the 4/20 demonstrators. Barricades had been erected all along the perimeter of the lawn, and there were RCMP everywhere. Standing around and chatting with one another, mind you, and not arresting or harassing the pot-smokers as they treated Parliament Hill like a big grassy knoll, certain that they wouldn’t be showing up to class to say boneheaded things, and we’d all laugh.
Inside the House, the meme of the day from Conservatives was that “the Liberal leader said he wants to raise taxes!” including a really klassy (with a k) move by MP Ron Cannan, who followed up on Maurizio Bevilacqua’s statement on the recent earthquakes in Italy – in the region of Bevilacqua’s birth – by stating that there was an earthquake happening in this country, which was the Liberal leader wanting us to be the most taxed country in the world! Seriously. Wow. And you can bet that there were cries of “Shame!” being hurled from the opposition benches at such a crass move.
Michael Ignatieff began Question Period with questions about the unemployment situation, and in the absence of Harper or Flaherty, or Flaherty’s Parliamentary Secretary, it fell to John Baird to articulate the government’s answers, which were about how Michael Ignatieff wants to raise taxes, and oh by the way, since the Conservatives came to power, the so-called “Tax Freedom Day” has moved up by twelve days.
Loan guarantees for the collapsing forestry industry was another popular topic, but it seems that we are trying to negotiate with the Americans as to whether or not this is even legal under the terms of the Softwood Lumber Agreement, so bailing out the forestry sector looks unlikely.
Both Justin Trudeau (who is now sporting a nattily-trimmed beard) and Rob Oliphant got up to ask about the situation in Sri Lanka. While Trudeau asked about high-level engagement with the Sri Lankan and other governments (which Peter MacKay assured us had taken place), Oliphant asked about the fact that we only give them $3 million in aid (to which Bev Oda assured us that they were monitoring the situation, and that she had announced increased support for Sri Lanka in February).
When Anita Neville asked about First Nations people affected by the flooding in Manitoba, Vic Toews stood up to pretty much say “wasn’t the Prime Minister the greatest for taking the time to survey the damage? That was really great of him.” That’s barely a paraphrase too.
Sartorially, the House was a bit curious today – like someone had dropped a pack of highlighters into the crowd. Hedy Fry wore fluorescent pink jacket, while Judy Wasylycia-Leis wore fluorescent orange. Add to that the near-fluorescent yellow of Chris Charlton and blue of Candice Hoeppner, all that was missing was green, and Gail Shea’s jacket was only a couple of shades off.
Meanwhile, Jack Layton’s early-morning rallying of his troops dropped a few clues as to what changes in NDP strategy might be coming down the pipeline. Layton talked about EI being his priority for the next ten weeks, and not about defeating the government – even though he’s been lambasting the Liberals for not bringing down the government thus far. It has been suggested that Layton has read the polls, and he knows that the Liberal numbers are looking good and that they’re feeling emboldened, and perhaps he’d better not try to topple the government just yet, as his own numbers have flatlined. I guess we’ll see how this new strategy unfolds in the coming weeks.