3 min

Shovels at the ready

Nearly all of the heavy-hitters on the Conservative front bench were absent as the first Question Period of the final stretch got underway. A couple of minutes into Members’ Statements, Conservative John Weston stood up to explain the gift box sitting on ever desk in the Commons – part of a programme called “20:10” which encourages Parliamentarians to take twenty minutes and ten seconds of exercise twice a week to help keep fit and healthy, themed to tie in with the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Inside the box were a pair of swimming goggles, athletic socks, and maps of the local walking and bike paths along the Ottawa river, should any of them be interested. But several MPs only seemed interested in trying on the goggles.

Ignatieff kicked off Question Period proper by wondering why only six percent of stimulus funds were actually flowing by this point – the rest of those funds missing the June construction season. John Baird – today’s designated answer man for the Conservatives – assured Ignatieff that they were “working cooperatively” with provinces and municipalities. And when questions turned to EI, Baird re-announced the funds that Diane Finley spent the morning re-announcing from the budget, designed to help retrain older workers (while also trying to pass it off as new money, which it is not).

When the Bloc tried to bring up EI reform, they were told that it would cost the public too much, and when the NDP brought it up, they were reminded that they didn’t vote for the budget. It wasn’t until Mike Savage, the Liberal Human Resources critic stood up to address the topic once again that the bon mot of the day was dropped.

“The only thing in this House that is shovel-ready are the answers of this Minister,” Savage quipped to rousing applause – from both sides of the House.

All of this aside, Michael Ignatieff is raising the prospect of having a confidence vote on the topic of EI reform. “I can foresee it, and I can foresee it in the near future. But I repeat the word: foresee. Let me say it again so it's perfectly clear. I am trying to make Parliament work for Canadians.”

When the medical isotope shortage was brought up, Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt assured Parliament that they were working to manage the current supply, and that they have implemented the five-step shortage plan they announced back in December. Also, that there were alternatives to using isotopes to testing, so they would look into using those instead. And when that didn’t convince anyone, Raitt resorted to the tired old line of the previous give Liberal ministers did nothing. Err, neither did the previous two Conservative ones (Raitt included), and if I seem to recall, the Liberals did commission the MAPLE project to replace the NRU before Raitt’s predecessor mothballed the project after continued design problems – without any consideration for a replacement. So in other words, it seems that those Liberal ministers did try to do something.

(Incidentally, AECL’s main competitor, the French company Areva, wants to help out with the Chalk River shutdown, both in sourcing European reactors capable of creating needed isotopes and in assisting with repairs – something Raitt’s department says they are taking under consideration).

Also amusing for the day – in response to a question by Bob Rae, Lawrence Cannon first referred to Rae as an “honourable minister,” then “Prime Minister” before settling of “former Premier.” Rae accepted the promotions with much grace.

Sartorially speaking, there was nothing particularly deserving of snaps, but there were a few problematic outfits to beheld. Marlene Jennings was dressed in a questionable summer outfit, with a pink and green floral top (collarless, three-quarter-length sleeves) and pale green trousers that didn’t seem suited to the House of Commons. Josée Verner was wearing a white turtleneck under a too-tight white sweater, matched with a white-spotted pink skirt that was none too flattering. But the biggest style citation goes out to Lynne Yelich, for the high-collared boxy white jacket with three-quarter length sleeves. It wasn’t a good look.

Elsewhere, Her Excellency the Governor General is taking a trip up to Nunavut, and as part of it she gutted a freshly slaughtered seal, and then ate the raw heart – all to show her solidarity for the seal hunt. Jean also got a bit political when she called on the government to create an Inuit university – something they have no intention of doing.

Up today: much wailing and gnashing of teeth after news that the deficit will be much higher than previously forecast.