3 min

The slush fund cometh

If you believe the “attack” Members’ Statements made by Conservatives that usually precede Question Period this week, the anti-sealing bill of a lone Liberal Senator (that couldn’t even find someone to second it) and the now defunct carbon tax ruminations are proof—proof!—that Michael Ignatieff is out of touch with Canadians, and most especially rural Canadians. And for as many times as these attacks have come this way, Ignatieff has rolled his eyes in apparent disbelief. Yes, these are the previews for the attack ads to come, apparently.

Rather, it was the $3 billion “slush fund” in the estimates currently before the Commons that Ignatieff is most concerned with. While he may have seen to it that the Bill C-10, the budget implementation bill, passed the Commons last evening, with all of its poison pills intact, Ignatieff is really worked up about the fact that there is no proactive accountability built into this fund.

His round of questions today revolved around the fact that in the 2007 budget, some $4 billion in spending for infrastructure projects were approved, but only $1 billion was actually spent. The rest of that $3 billion is still sitting there, about to lapse at the end of March – so why isn’t the government using that pot of money right away, since it’s so urgently needed, instead of demanding a slush fund with no itemised list of spending measures be passed, no questions asked? Could it be that the government is actually withholding the funds in order to hide the size of their deficit? Why indeed.

When Jack Layton asked about the very same slush fund, Treasury Board President Vic Toews said that the Auditor General herself was not opposed to this measure, and he then proceeded to call Layton a “hypocrite” for demanding stimulus spending but not approving his fund to speed it up (Toews got admonished by the Speaker for his un-parliamentary language), and referred to Ignatieff as the government’s “parole officer” – which got a laugh from said “officer.” In the scrums after Question Period, Layton announced that he’d asked the AG about this nod she had apparently given, and lo, the answer was that none had in fact been given.

Renewed reports of Afghan detainees turned over by Canadian soldiers being tortured was the focus of Gilles Duceppe’s question, and Harper chose to use the deaths of three Canadian soldiers the day before to divert the attention, and to say that our soldiers honour their international commitments.

Ken Dryden rose to point out that child care in this country costs parents an average of $8000 per year, and yet a university tuition is only $5000, and even then, students often work to help defray the costs – something most three year-olds are unable to do. While it may have elicited a laugh from the Opposition benches, Diane Finley clings to the fact that she gets parents thanking her for their $100 a month “Universal Child Care Benefit.” She also thinks that her monochromatic outfit in a shade of greenish-yellow was an acceptable style choice as well, so take her policy assurances for what you will.

When questions were asked about the report into the death of a teenaged girl who strangled herself in a correctional facility were raised, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan spoke plainly about the challenges that mental health issues pose to our correctional systems, and he didn’t turn it into a partisan attack, which is utterly unlike him.

One of the government’s suck-up questions came from Dona Cadman, who asked about date-rape drugs, for which the Justice Minister assured Canadians that in the new crime bills they’re introducing, roofies will be classified the same as cocaine and heroin in the eyes of the law. Because that’s sending a message to would-be criminals!

There wasn’t a lot of inspiring style in the Commons, but I do need to give snaps to Kristy Duncan for not only wearing that jacket that actually works for her, and for actually doing something good with her hair for a change. Please, keep it up.

I headed off to the Heritage Committee after Question Period ended, and heard testimony from arts groups who said how the relatively small amounts of money that the government had previously spent on the PromArts and Trade Routes programmes – which helped cover the costs of taking Canadian arts and artists abroad – was almost always a means of generating far greater returns, as well as helped to bring foreign buyers to Canada to get our products into their markets. But with those programmes cut, our cultural industries have been dealt a pretty huge blow, the full effect of which may not even be felt for another two or three years.

Elsewhere, Bill Siksay was over in the Ethics Committee, continuing to question the Information Commissioner on the state of Access to Information in this country.