I showed up on the Hill about fifteen minutes before Question Period was due to start, and promptly got lost trying to find my way into the Press Gallery. Hey, it was my first time being up there unescorted, and it wasn't my fault that it didn't say "Press Gallery" on the correct door!
The latter part of the Members' Statements saw several statements of condemnation and consolation for the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, first with Conservative Nina Grewal, followed by a Bloc MP whose name I didn't catch (it's different watching it live, when you don't have CPAC subtitling the names and riding names), then Liberal Navdeep Bains, and finally Deepak Obhrai, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. All of them received a standing ovation.
Question Period got started with a rare moment of civility when Stéphane Dion asked about what the government was doing regarding said attacks in Mumbai. But then it went off back to questions of the economy, and addressing the rumours about just what was coming up in the Fiscal Update. Questions for which the answer was usually "wait until it gets delivered at four."
Bill Siksay did get up and ask a question regarding the election of directors to the Canadian Wheat Board. It seems that some Conservative MPs have allegedly been using their influence as public office holders to try and get candidates they favour elected. Wait, since when is Siksay a critic for agriculture? He's not – but he is a critic for ethics, and this issue is unethical, and it sounds like it's going to be under investigation by the Ethics Commissioner. And even though he asked the Government House Leader whether the member alleged to have been involved in such matters would be suspended pending the examination of the Ethics Commissioner, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Agriculture stood up, skirted the issue, and gave the usual disingenuous Conservative talking points about the Wheat Board. But then again, we've come to expect nothing less.
About forty-five minutes after Question Period came the Fiscal Update (by which time I had left the Hill as I had deadlines to meet) – and it wasn't pretty. Despite two weeks of deficit talk, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty claimed that we would see balanced budgets over the next five years – but apparently promised that based on rather optimistic growth figures and included numbers Scott Brison later termed as "dishonest," listing revenues from the sale of government assets – assets which have not yet been named or even sold yet. But it got better.
On top of such "belt-tightening" measures such as capping public service salary increases (and removing their right to strike until 2010), he also said that as of April 1st, the government will end the public subsidy of political parties. You know, the $1.95 that each party gets per year for every vote they got in the last general election? Yeah, he wants to take that away.
Cue the opposition outrage.
While it's true the Conservatives would lose the most funding – some $10 million per year, it only accounts for 37% of their overall funding. Contrast that to $7.7 million for the Liberals (at 63% of their funding), $4.9 million for the NDP (at 57%), $2.6 million for the Bloc (at 60%) and $1.8 million for the Greens (at 65%). In other words, this measure could cripple the opposition parties.
Some opposition members called this an attack on democracy. Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay said that it was an attempt by the government to change the channel on their poor economic performance, especially in an update that contained no economic stimulus measures. But what is clear is that all opposition parties are going to oppose it.
So what does that mean? Well, the government will put forward a Ways and Means motion either tomorrow or Monday (which is a confidence measure), and if that passes, a bill containing these fiscal measures will be tabled (also a confidence matter). And if it gets defeated, which looks likely, then the government will fall. If the opposition parties can cobble together a workable coalition (for which the talk is now that they're in negotiation), then they could be invited to form a government. And if that fails?
Then my friends, we'll be back on the campaign trail.