University of Toronto
3 min

Prelude to a budget

Once upon a time, budget leaks were a reason to call in the RCMP. Apparently, the same doesn't hold true when it’s part of the government’s cynical communications strategy; yesterday it was leaked that the government wants to forgive student debt for rural doctors and nurses and to renew the ecoEnergy home retrofit program – big sops to the NDP. (Unfortunately, debt forgiveness won’t help with the doctor shortage – adding more residency spaces seems to be the more logical step, particularly for integrating foreign-trained doctors.) This now becomes part of the tactic of putting the screws to the NDP. Will this be enough to buy their support? Will they vote to hold the government in contempt? How can they square the two? That’s all part of this week’s drama.

Incidentally, here is the final wording of the finding of contempt on the government's refusing to turn over costing figures, which could be voted on as early as Wednesday.

Back in the House, question period kicked off with Michael Ignatieff hammering hard on ethical issues: H2Ho, the contempt finding and various RCMP investigations. John Baird responded by extolling the virtues of the Federal Accountability Act. Dominic LeBlanc carried on with questions about how Bruce Carson had inside knowledge about the last cabinet shuffle; Baird repeated talking points that were eerily similar to those of the Helena Guergis and Rahim Jaffer issue. (Remember that “scandal” of yore?) Gilles Duceppe went after tax harmonization and Christiane Gagnon asked why a Quebec shipyard was being excluded from a potential shipbuilding contract. (Apparently, the government requires the yard to be solvent.) Jack Layton took an entirely different direction, asking about Japan and the Libya mission.

I'll pause for a moment to make observations about the various narratives the three leaders are setting up in advance of the budget. With Ignatieff (as bolstered by Scott Brison later in QP), the narrative is ethics and accountability. How can we trust that this government is giving us the real numbers in the budget? For the Bloc, it’s about how Conservative MPs in Quebec can’t deliver results for the province, so it’s up to them to do so. Layton seems to be trying to play statesman so that he can address the “issues of the day” and appear to be the reasonable one who's not playing political games (while leaving the attacks to other MPs later in QP). Expect more of these messages as the week progresses.

Back to QP, round two began with Ralph Goodale piling on the H2Ho issue (John Duncan answered the first question, while Baird took over for the rest of QP). Bob Rae continued the attack by bringing up Carson’s own shady past; although he's been disbarred and jailed for fraud, he managed to get a high enough security clearance to be Harper’s right-hand man. Josée Beaudin detoured to questions of the Champlain Bridge before Carole Freeman returned to H2Ho. Siobhan Coady and Marc Garneau teamed up next to ask about the information commissioner’s report and the various access-to-information violations being investigated by the RCMP.

Round three saw questions on H2Ho, EI for forestry workers, Quebec tax harmonization, the Champlain Bridge, Rights & Democracy and a London, Ontario, aerospace company. Scott Brison also asked about the hidden costs behind his contempt motion.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Scott Simms for his charcoal pinstripe suit with a white shirt and light-aqua tie and Marlene Jennings for her green jacket and smart blue-collared shirt. Style citations go out to Jacques Gourde for a fluorescent-blue shirt violation and Claude DeBellefeuille for her green, yellow and brown leaf-patterned top, which was a bit '70s.

After QP there was a take-note debate on the Libya mission. We should remember that this is how these things should happen in our system of responsible government. By keeping decisions as part of crown prerogative and not with the House of Commons, the government can be held accountable. The opposition asks relevant questions but doesn’t vote. (If they did, they would assume responsibility and relieve the government of its accountability.) With the opposition parties – particularly the NDP – demanding votes on the Libya mission, we should demand MPs fill their actual roles and functions, not those they imagine themselves to have.

Jason Kenney’s former staffer apologized for the fundraising letter on parliamentary letterhead and his “very ethnic” descriptors.

Raymond Lavigne resigned from the Senate yesterday following his fraud conviction. By doing so, Lavigne is able to protect his pension before the Senate votes to suspend his right to use his office and parliamentary resources.

The H2Ho story gets more intense as it's been revealed that Bruce Carson met with the environment minister without registering as a lobbyist. The Conservatives continue to insist that “no contracts were signed” and no members of the government are under investigation. It’s all good.
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