The Scene. The Conservative government has, to whatever credit should be assigned for such things, recently decided upon a straightforward appeal to you, the well-meaning voter. Vote for us, they now say, or risk the complete and total annihilation of your country. Do as we say, or face the end of everything you hold dear. Don’t even think of quibbling, unless you are willing to be remembered by your children as the monsters who bequeathed them a broken wasteland of despair. Give us a majority, or Michael Ignatieff will shoot this dog.
“Under an Ignatieff-NDP-Bloc Québécois government, nothing would be safe,” the Finance Minister told an audience at a posh Ottawa hotel this afternoon.
“They want to throw it all away. They want to cancel the contract or review the contract,” Industry Minister Tony Clement cried out to the House a short while after, putting scary finger quotes around the word ‘review’ as he responded to a Liberal suggestion that the government had moved too hastily to commit $16 billion to new fighter jets. “The minute they do that, all of those contracts—and there are 60 contracts already extant for this plane for Canadian companies—all of those contracts go on hold, too. That is irresponsible. They are threatening Canadian jobs.”
“Mr. Speaker, it probably should not surprise me, but it still does, to hear how quickly and easily members of the opposition, including the NDP, are approving of jail time or large fines for their fellow Canadians who refuse, out of good conscience, to fill out a 40-page questionnaire with very personal information,” Mr. Clement said later when presented with the possibility that his government had erred in its decision to replace the long-form census. “It is incredible how they will sacrifice Canadians’ rights on this matter.”
“The choice is clear,” Mr. Flaherty finally declared for the benefit of the House. “A Conservative government that creates jobs or a coalition government that will kill jobs.”
In fact, that would seem to put it mildly—Mr. Flaherty declining here to mention previous warnings about the criminal gangs that would rule our streets and the Russian hordes that would be clamouring over our borders were it not for this government’s courageous administration.
The official opposition does not yet have much of a response for all this. But they do have questions. And a suggestion. Which they would get to this afternoon. Eventually. Sort of.
Michael Ignatieff went first, wondering aloud if perhaps this government’s advertising expenses—some $130-million during the last fiscal year—were somewhat exorbitant. Were Stephen Harper here, he surely would have been disappointed to learn any government of his had spent so much for its own benefit. Luckily, the Prime Minister was out of town today, so up stood John Baird, grinning happily, to dismiss the Liberal leader’s concerns.
“Mr. Speaker, I say to my friend, the leader of the official opposition, that this government, as part of our economic action plan, has had an important responsibility to be open and to be transparent about the various programs that are part of the economic action plan,” Mr. Baird reported. “And I can say very directly to the leader of the Liberal Party that one of the reasons why advertising expenses did rise is because we had to spend some $24 million on the H1N1 vaccine campaign, something that was not just important, but was a huge success thanks to the hard work of the Minister of Health.”
The Liberal leader rose then to demonstrate a firm grasp of simple addition. “Mr. Speaker, that does not get us to $130 million, number one,” he declared.
Then he ventured into the unexplained. “And number two, 94 per cent of Canadians thought that was a total waste of money,” he proclaimed.
The government side howled at this and indeed it would be awhile longer before Liberal Judy Foote was sent up to explain that this had something to do with a survey of public responses to the adverts.
Mr. Ignatieff kept on, pushing forward with some alliteration. “It is not just a waste of money, it is a question of priorities,” he continued. “The government’s priorities are prisons, planes and publicity. The priorities of Canadians are education, health care and retirement security. How is it that the priorities of this government have gotten so out of touch with the majority of Canadians?”
Back up came Mr. Baird, grinning all the more, to sing of hope and opportunity and all the goodness his government has wrought.
Still, after Dominic LeBlanc had been lectured on the disaster that would occur in the event anyone paused to think about the government’s purchase of new fighter jets, and after several questions from Jack Layton on the government’s advertising expenditures had produced only repetition from Mr. Baird, the aforementioned Ms. Foote tried to press the government side further. This time the opposition was met with the sotto voce of Stockwell Day, the Treasury Board President barely whispering that when the cost of H1N1 adverts were removed from the expense line, this government’s spending was slightly less—$5-million to be exact—than what it was eight years ago under the Liberal government. At this, Mr. Day’s teammates seemed delighted—no doubt proud to hear that they had achieved their ultimate goal of being somewhat less profligate in their spending of public money than their much despised predecessors.
Undaunted, and with day’s tenth question on this file, John McCallum took his turn to stand and heap ridicule on the government’s marketing of itself. “The ads were so confusing that some respondents thought they were being told to wear hard hats at work,” he chided.
As a counter to the Conservative side’s fear-mongering, this was a start (“Vote Liberal or Stephen Harper will make you wear a hard hat all the time! Think of how silly you’ll look!”). But however withering, it was not quite apocalyptic, and somewhat lacking in mushroom cloud imagery.
And unable to summon such doom, Mr. McCallum instead concluded with a rhetorical plea and something like an idea. ”What more will it take to get these Conservatives to do the right thing and agree to arms-length oversight of government advertising?” he begged.
Mr. Day stood to dismiss the Liberal’s concerns, seeming not to have heard this particular bit. Mind you, when all around is fearful shrieking it can be a bit hard to hear much of anything.
The Stats. Government spending, 10 questions. Taxation and gun control, four questions each. The military, foreign aid, equality, Quebec, the environment, securities regulation, veterans and aboriginal affairs, two questions each. The economy, agriculture, border crossings and the census, one question each.
Jim Flaherty, seven answers. John Baird and Christian Paradis, six answers each. Stockwell Day and Vic Toews, four answers each. Tony Clement, Rona Ambrose, Jean-Pierre Blackburn and John Duncan, two answers each. Peter MacKay, Josee Verner and Gerry Ritz, one answer each.