By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 0 Comments
Like most everything interesting that Michael Ignatieff ever said, he probably should not have said it.
“I never want to raise your taxes; I pay them (the same way) as you do,” the former Liberal leader told a crowd in Mississauga on a July day in 2010. “But we pay them to express fundamental social solidarity, one with the other. This is the contract that holds us together.”
He had actually gone on at some length about this in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in the fall of 2009. “Back in July, after the G8 Summit in Italy, Mr. Harper gave an interview to The Globe and Mail, in which he said, and I quote: ‘I don’t believe that any taxes are good taxes.’ Think about that for a moment,” Mr. Ignatieff begged. “It’s an astonishing statement for a prime minister to make. We pay taxes, Mr. Harper, so that premature infants get nursing care when they’re born; so that policemen will be there to keep our streets safe; so that we have teachers to give our kids a good education. We pay taxes, Mr. Harper, because we’re all in this together. It costs us something, but it makes Canada the place it is: a place where we look out for each other. But Stephen Harper doesn’t think that way. Stephen Harper thinks no taxes are good taxes because he believes that the only good government is no government at all.”
In fairness, Mr. Harper does not appear to be an anarchist. And even Ron Paul allows that the government might be of some use. And for all Mr. Ignatieff’s willingness to defend the social contract, he would move to loudly proclaim his opposition to raising the GST after being caught musing about the possibility.
Even if one does not accept Mr. Ignatieff’s larger premise, rare is anyone willing to suggest that taxes might be applied in larger quantities to anyone other than the wealthy or the faceless (corporations). Because even if no one is seriously calling for taxes to be eliminated—even if the debate is basically, if quietly, about the size, shape and execution of our fundamental social solidarity, or at least the precise number of services we would lament if they suddenly disappeared—we have generally come to Mr. Harper’s position. Taxes are bad. Mr. Harper has sworn that, so long as he is prime minister, there will be no new taxes. Thomas Mulcair has said no to increasing taxes (even if he also advocates for a price on carbon). Justin Trudeau has said he would not increase the GST, nor the corporate tax rate and he would not implement a tax on the rich. Taxing the earnings of corporations is a tax on job creators. Taxing pollution is a tax on everything. Tax Freedom Day is something that is proudly celebrated.
Possibly this is all Bev Oda’s fault, she and her $16 glass of orange juice. And at least so long as we are never in need of more general revenue, perhaps we will be fine. But this now drives us to distraction. The abject awfulness of taxes apparently now so deeply felt that one cannot even bring oneself to admit that one is responsible for the imposition of such suffering. Continue…
By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 4:46 PM - 0 Comments
This week, Question Period has been consumed largely by questions about the government’s move to make changes to the General Preferential Tariff Regime. The opposition charges that the feds are hiking tariffs across the board on consumer goods, and they say it’ll cost Canadians $300 million a year.
The Liberals, led by new leader Justin Trudeau, have pushed hardest on the issue, relentless in their condemnation of the tariff changes. Today, the NDP’s John Rafferty, an MP from northern Ontario, got in on the action. He called the new tariffs, which could raise prices on fishing gear, a “bass tax.” Ted Menzies, the minister of state for finance, replied that Rafferty had it all “bass ackwards.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 5:53 PM - 0 Comments
Megan Leslie stood to plead confusion. Within the budget, she said, were tax increases. But the Prime Minister, she recalled, had promised not to raise taxes. So why, she wondered aloud, had the Prime Minister allowed the Finance Minister to contradict him?
“Mr. Speaker,” declared the Prime Minister, “it is quite the opposite.”
Mr. Harper did not then explain how so. Instead, he alleged a number of tax increases that the NDP was apparently proposing.
Ms. Leslie tried again. “Why,” she wondered, “did the Prime Minister not keep his promise?”
The Prime Minister again insisted on talking about the NDP. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I know very well that the NDP favors higher taxes and taxes to finance larger deficits and higher expenses.”
Ms. Leslie was unimpressed. “Mr. Speaker, I understand why the government’s backbench is frustrated,” she responded. “Answers like that have been frustrating me for quite some time.”
The New Democrats laughed.
This is, most immediately, Ted Menzies’ fault. It was the minister of state for finance who yesterday pronounced that there were no tax increases to be found in last week’s budget. More specifically, he said “no one would find” tax increases in this budget. As a wager, this was a poor one. As a challenge, it had the unfortunate quality of having already been met—Mr. Menzies making it in response to a question about tax increases that had been found in the budget. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 6:13 PM - 0 Comments
“You know, there’s two schools in economics on this,” Mr. Harper once said, “One is that there are some good taxes and the other is that no taxes are good taxes. I’m in the latter category. I don’t believe any taxes are good taxes.”
“I give you my word: As long as I will be prime minister … there will be no new taxes,” Mr. Harper had said two years before that.
Perhaps that was merely a commitment to refrain from inventing entirely new taxes that had not previously existed. But otherwise it is to wonder if the Prime Minister was a touch disappointment when he opened the budget book last Thursday and found that, not only hadn’t the Finance Minister eliminated all taxes, but he’d seen fit to budget for several increases in the cost of civil society. If he was heartbroken to read as much, it is surely a testament to Mr. Harper’s commitment to party loyalty that he has not yet gone rogue and pronounced the budget to be unworthy of his support.
As it is, it must have been rather odd for the Prime Minister to have to stand in his place this afternoon and defend such a document.
First for the opposition this afternoon was David (Furious D) Christopherson, the NDP deputy whose floppy hair has a way of bouncing in time to his indignation. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 1, 2013 at 3:13 PM - 0 Comments
An exchange between Conservative MP Harold Albrecht and Minister of State Ted Menzies from this morning’s QP.
There are at two problems here.
First, the Speaker—in this case, Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin—should have interjected to rule the question out of order. It has nothing to do with the administrative responsibility of government. (It doesn’t even pretend to have anything to do with the administrative responsibility of government. I argued on Tuesday that the moment Mr. Albrecht starts talking about the NDP, the Speaker should intervene. But even if you think it is somehow too overbearing to interject based on the preamble of a question, even the actual question here isn’t about government business—it’s about NDP policy, or at least the version of NDP that Mr. Albrecht has been sent up to read.)
Second, shouldn’t Harold Albrecht have something better to do? Mr. Albrecht is a backbench MP. He could be asking about something to do with his riding. He could be conveying a concern that has been raised with him by his constituents. He could be asking the government to account for something that he is curious about. He could be expressing a concern he has about the government’s actions in some regard. He could be anywhere else doing just about anything other than this. Mr. Albrecht is a former school board trustee, pastor and dentist who has contributed to relief efforts in Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, Zambia, Nepal, India and the Dominican Republic. He has won three elections in Kitchener-Conestoga. He owns a hobby farm. He is wearing a suit. Why would we ever want such an adult, as part of their duty as an elected representative of their fellow citizens, to stand in the House of Commons, home to the 308 individuals elected to serve and represent us, and read such stuff into the record?
We shouldn’t (as, again, I wrote on Tuesday). Free Harold Albrecht, I say.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 5:52 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. The Finance Minister should at least feel chuffed that the Leader of the Opposition feels it important to pay very close attention to what he has to say.
“Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Finance Minister said that Canada is ‘not in need of a contingency plan’ to deal with the threats facing our economy,” Thomas Mulcair recounted this afternoon. “That was quite a surprise because just two weeks ago the same finance minister said, ‘we have contingency plans not only with respect to the fiscal cliff, but with respect to the European situation.’ Which is it? Facing the real threat of another recession, do the Conservatives have a contingency plan or not? Canadians deserve a straight answer.”
Perhaps Jim Flaherty was merely a bit too cute with his response yesterday. But he surely couldn’t say so now. And anyway, he was elsewhere, so here came Jason Kenney to offer the government side’s official explanation.
“Mr. Speaker, of course, this government is and will continue to be prudent in our fiscal and economic planning,” Mr. Kenney explained. “That is why we have the best fiscal position in the G7. It is why we have the best job creation record among the major developed economies. It is why the OECD says we will have the best economic growth for many years to come.”
With that much sort of clarified, Mr. Kenney moved to segue. Continue…
By Mitchel Raphael - Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 6:30 AM - 0 Comments
Speaker Andrew Scheer hosted his second annual Hilloween party for MPs, staffers and all…
Speaker Andrew Scheer hosted his second annual Hilloween party for MPs, staffers and all their children.
By macleans.ca - Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 5:00 PM - 0 Comments
The political workweek of Sept. 17-21 churned up five stories the endings of which have yet to be written.
- Treasury Board President Tony Clement promised reforms to the lobbying laws. More public servants will be covered, Clement said on Sept. 17, not just the top echelon of mandarins. But he seems unwilling to close a key loophole: in-house arm-twisters for companies and interest groups who spend less than 20 per cent of their time lobbying still won’t have to publicly disclose their contacts with government. So, will Clement’s reform package, still months from being tabled, draw more critical attention to such gaps than positive reviews for any improvements?
- Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s about-face on China—from tough-on-human-rights to wide-open-for-business—arguably has been the key foreign-policy maneuver of his six years in power. And that shift seemed to pave the way for federal approval of a Chinese state-owned corporation’s bid to buy Canadian oil company Nexen. But on Sept. 18, Ted Menzies, a Tory MP well worth listening to as junior finance minister, bluntly stated that he’s heard “many concerns” about the deal. Does Menzies’ remark signal that rejection of the deal is more likely than many previously thought?
- The Conservatives have made enhancing Canada’s Arctic sovereignty a pillar of their political image-making efforts. Funding the search for Franklin’s lost ships fits the bill. But news on Feb. 19 from U.S. scientists of what one researcher called “a stunning loss of sea ice” in the Arctic this past summer, to record low ice and snow cover, should raise the stakes. After all, the Tories canceled funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. If the Far North really matters, they may need to rethink their commitment to understanding climate change.
- Also on Sept. 19, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he would appeal an Ontario court ruling that struck down a Conservative criminal law reform from 2008, which put the onus on certain criminals to prove they should not be designated dangerous offenders, rather than requiring the Crown to prove they should be. This latest in a string of clashes between the Conservative government and the courts comes just after the Tories said they’d appeal a Quebec judge’s ruling that the province’s government should be able to keep the data from the scrapped gun registry. It’s a pattern of growing interest; battling the courts, rather than the parliamentary opposition, could emerge as the defining dynamic of Harper’s tough-on-crime agenda.
- The workweek ends with Statistics Canada reporting that inflation slowed more than expected last month, a sign of the economy’s worrying lack of vigor. This comes after recent news that factory sales are down, the trade deficit it up, and building permits—a key indicator of housing-market action—have slumped. Politically, the question is, Does Stephen Harper benefit by selling his Conservatives as reliable managers for uneasy economic times, or does Thomas Mulcair capitalize if voters decide things aren’t going all that well under current management? The politics of party brand strengths will matter if the economy doesn’t pick up in the months ahead.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 25, 2012 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
A short history of Conservatives speaking excitedly about the creation of a parliamentary budget officer.
Stephen Harper, October 6, 2004. We believe that an independent, non-partisan parliamentary budget office should produce forecasts of revenues and spending which are universally available and accepted by all parties and experts of all stripes. Such a body would ensure that the government is genuinely accountable for taxpayers’ dollars and that we maintain fiscal discipline at the federal level.
Monte Solberg, October 7, 2004. We want to argue very strongly that this independent parliamentary budgeting office be established much in the same way that the Auditor General’s office is established. It would be an independent body that would answer to Parliament and would not be part of the government. It would not be a situation where the government could manipulate the figures to its own ends. Independent officers of Parliament would make these determinations so that in the end the public, the markets and all concerned could have confidence in these numbers and know that this was not some great manipulation that was going on for the political benefit of the government. Surely, in a modern democracy I do not think that is an unreasonable request. In fact it makes eminent sense. This is nothing new. It happens in other countries. It happens certainly to the south of us, our closest trading partner. We have the congressional budgeting office where political parties really cannot play political games with the numbers because they come from an independent body. That is what we want to see, and it is reasonable.
Ted Menzies, November 15, 2005. The need for an open flow of information to Canadians can be secured by establishing a parliamentary budget office and the immediate need to provide Canadians strong, more transparent auditing and accountability laws for the federal government.
John Baird, April 6, 2006. One of the most important roles of Parliament is to hold the Government of Canada to account for the use of taxpayers’ dollars. To do this effectively, parliamentarians need objective and fact-based information on how the government spends funds. That will be an important part to the parliamentary budget authority that we will propose next week.
Diane Ablonczy, April 26, 2006. There would also be an independent parliamentary budget authority that would provide a financial reality check on the nation’s finances. This individual would also provide a reality check on proposals by House of Commons committees and proposals in private members’ bills. Again, because numbers that have been given to the House in different other settings have been, shall we say, not as reliable as they should be, we will put another reality check and another balance in place.
Peter Van Loan, February 15, 2008. In an e-mailed statement, Tory House Leader Peter Van Loan said the parliamentary budget officer will be free to provide “objective analysis” of budget and economic issues as they see fit. The budget officer reports to the Speakers of the Commons and Senate, not the government, he said. ”The government is committed to respecting the independence of the [position], and to providing this office with whatever information and assistance it requires to fulfill its important mandate.”
Peter Van Loan, March 14, 2008. “As promised in the Federal Accountability Act, the Parliamentary Budget Officer will provide independent analysis to Canadians on the state of the nation’s finances,” said Minister Van Loan. “With his expertise in economics, Mr. Page is a fine choice to fill this position.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 5:39 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. The Honourable Thomas Edward Siddon, our 36th minister of fisheries, he haunts us still.
“Mr. Speaker, former Conservative fisheries minister Thomas Siddon is again sounding the alarm on the Conservatives’ Trojan Horse bill,” the NDP’s Nathan Cullen reported this afternoon. “Last night he testified that he deplored this attack on environmental protection and that rushing these changes through is ‘not becoming of a Conservative government.’ His message to the Prime Minister was clear, ‘Take your time, get it right.’ Will the Prime Minister take the advice of his Conservative colleague? Will he split this reckless bill and allow for proper study?”
The government would eventually take to quoting something Mr. Siddon had said in 1986 in an attempt to cancel out what Mr. Siddon said last night, but the Prime Minister opted here to boast only of his own government’s magnanimousness. “Mr. Speaker, in fact, the particular set of changes in the economic action plan will have more committee study than any budget bill in recent history by quite a magnitude,” Mr. Harper claimed.
This much would likely not have satisfied the a certain former Reform MP and it did not seem to satisfy the current New Democrat MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley. ”Mr. Speaker, it is somewhat ironic for New Democrats to have to defend the environmental record of a former Mulroney Conservative government against this very new and different breed of Conservatives,” Mr. Cullen sighed while wagging his finger at the government side. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 1:44 PM - 0 Comments
It seems of late that nearly everything the opposition says reminds Ted Menzies of something.
Yesterday. “Speaking of divides…”
March 28. “Speaking of change…”
March 7. “Speaking of irresponsible…”
February 16. “Speaking of seniors…”
February 16. “Speaking of responsibility…”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 5:50 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. Peggy Nash was very nearly pleading. ”Will someone in the government,” she asked, “please outline right now what constitutes suitable employment?”
In Ms. Nash’s moment of need it was Ted Menzies, minister of state for finance, who stood. ”Mr. Speaker, I actually have some examples here of what constitutes suitable employment,” he reported.
At last, clarity seemed at hand. ”A mining company in Newfoundland is looking to hire 1,500 people in St. John’s, Newfoundland, through the temporary foreign worker program,” Mr. Menzies explained. “There are 32,500 people looking for work right now. That is why we are trying to make EI more effective to help these mining companies get people to employ.”
What precisely was the minister of state suggesting here? That if you are presently looking for work you might soon be expected to strap on a helmet lamp and make for St. John’s? And are there really only 32,500 people in this country presently looking for work?
There were chuckles of incredulity from the opposition side. Continue…
By Mitchel Raphael - Monday, February 27, 2012 at 9:05 AM - 0 Comments
The recipe for billion-dollar decisions
The folks in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty…’s office
The recipe for billion-dollar decisions
The folks in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s office are starting the late nights to prepare for the upcoming budget. Binders have been sent in from all government departments to be reviewed and assessed. Last year one of the biggest beneficiaries of the late nights was Gabriel Pizza, whose slogan is, “Bigger, better pizza.” When the minister has lunchtime meetings with staff, it’s usually over cold cuts that the billion-dollar decisions get made.
Cupboard out, Bloc in
The Bloc Québécois have finally got a small place to call their own in the House of Commons opposition lobby. A free-standing cupboard was moved to create a space. The Bloc has only four MPs and no official party status. As independents they don’t get a designated area in the opposition lobby. New Bloc Leader Daniel Paillé lost his seat in the last election, but since he is a former MP he is allowed to enter the lobby area. Green Leader Elizabeth May is also technically an independent MP, but the Liberals let her use a chair near the phones in their designated area. May says she appreciates the gesture very much, especially when she had problems with her hip and needed a place to sit.
A room with a view
Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan has one of the nicer offices in the Centre Block. She was appointed to the job in 2010 and managed to get the office because the senator who was supposed to move in was allergic to carpet and a new one had just been laid. It has become one of the warmer offices to visit because the senator has hung several of the watercolours she painted herself. Ataullahjan laments the lack of colour she sees around so much of the Hill. She wasn’t permitted to hang the pictures herself because of asbestos issues in the Centre Block. She even had to wait for government officials to move two pictures closer together after they were not hung quite properly the first time.
Liberals plan to supersize
As part of the Liberals’ Valentine’s strategy, they had bilingual buttons made that stated: “Have a heart. Save the OAS.” Currently the Liberal party has two button machines that allow them to crank out instant messages, like the one about Old Age Security, with the help of party volunteers working the machines. Liberal strategist Kevin Bosch says he wants to go bigger and get a two-inch button machine.
A top Tory critic
Rona Ambrose, minister of public works and government services, was recently wearing a huge button that said, “Warning: Old fart’s birthday in progress.” It was part of a surprise 60th birthday party for Ted Menzies, minister of state for finance, at hip Ottawa restaurant Play. Menzies was legitimately surprised, which impressed many considering the difficulty keeping secrets in the capital. He was surrounded by many colleagues and family members, including his wife, Sandy Menzies, a jovial ﬁxture on the Hill. “Who needs an opposition when you are married?” joked the minister. “Actually, they are your best critic.” Also in attendance was former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay and Treasury Board President Tony Clement. Menzies is seen by many as less partisan than most Tories, especially his boss, Jim Flaherty. If Flaherty seeks out other political pastures, Menzies is seen a strong candidate to take his place.
Hear the one about the comic and his MP?
Vancouver comedian Charlie Demers was recently in Ottawa to be on an episode of CBC Radio’s The Debaters. Demers lives in the riding of NDP MP Libby Davies and is a big supporter. When asked what jokes he tells about Davies, he confesses he has not incorporated her into his stand-up routine: “You know you have a good MP when they don’t provide any comedy material.”
By Mitchel Raphael - Saturday, February 25, 2012 at 9:05 AM - 0 Comments
A surprise 60th birthday party was held for Ted Menzies, minister of state for…
A surprise 60th birthday party was held for Ted Menzies, minister of state for finance, at Ottawa’s hip restaurant Play.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 17, 2012 at 1:18 PM - 0 Comments
Seven times during QP this morning—six times by John Baird, once by Ted Menzies—the government alleged the NDP was behind a “sleazy, dirty” Internet campaign. (Note: the evidence in this regard is decidedly flimsy.) Vic Toews is apparently seeking an investigation.
In an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CBC Radio’s The House, to air Saturday, Toews says he’s going to send a letter to Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to request an investigation.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 27, 2012 at 4:59 PM - 0 Comments
The Harper government explains how its supporters and spokespeople should be explaining potential changes to Old Age Security.
To be clear: there will be no changes to the benefits seniors currently receive. We will ensure any changes are done with substantial notice and adjustment period and in a way that does not affect current retirees or those close to retirement, and gives others plenty of time to adjust and plan for their retirement.
CBC has an interview with Ted Menzies. NDP finance critic Peter Julian says asking people to work until they are 67 years old before receiving OAS is “completely unacceptable.” The Liberals are promising a fight. And they’d like you to sign a petition.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 7:14 PM - 16 Comments
The Scene. It began with a rousing cheer for Nycole Turmel. The official opposition was perhaps behooved to loudly endorse their interim leader after a Conservative backbencher had used the House’s preceding minute to read aloud some scripted bit about how disgraceful Turmel had behaved on some matter or another.
“Mr. Speaker, over the past few months we have witnessed a protest movement on a scale never seen before,” she ventured. “The Occupy movement is denouncing economic disparity.”
There were grumbles and groans from the government side. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 5:55 PM - 30 Comments
The Scene. These are awkward times. Various people are marching in the streets and camping in the parks, shouting various things about various concerns. No one is quite sure what it means or if it means anything except to say that some people are somehow unhappy about something. And that they may have some cause to be somehow disenchanted.
Our elected leaders are thus put in variously awkward positions. And so increases the likelihood that they will say awkward things.
Witness Ted Menzies, affable-seeming minister of state for finance. Yesterday he was presented with the spectre of said protests and the suggestion that perhaps said protestors were on to something.
“Mr. Speaker, it is fortunate that all Canadians have the right to peacefully express their views,” he said, as if this were some kind of profound observation.
“Canada does not, by the way,” he continued, “have the degree of economic inequality that we are seeing in other countries that have perhaps started this movement.”
Two sentences in, Mr. Menzies had already gone wobbly. For while we can indeed boast a level of inequality less crushing than that of the United States, our gini coefficient is still on par with that of riotous Greece. Which is to say that the sea of troubles is lapping from inside the house. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 12:35 PM - 12 Comments
An NDP source says party finance critic Thomas Mulcair and deputy critic Chris Charlton have been invited to meet early this afternoon with junior finance minister Ted Menzies. The meeting was described as important by the Tories and was to take place at the beginning of the traditional briefing the political parties get on the budget details starting at 1pm. Neither the Liberals nor the Bloc Quebecois had been called to similar meetings and sources says that for the first time the parties have been allotted separate rooms to receive their usual budget briefings.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 6:55 PM - 101 Comments
The Scene. At the risk of giving away the surprise ending, let us start with this afternoon’s profound revelation. You may wish to sit down first and are advised to put on a helmet or some other kind of cranial reinforcement to prepare for the fact that what was revealed here today may well blow your precious mind. Moments of such insight into the meaning and workings of the world that surrounds us are so rare. Indeed, it is possible that some of you may not yet be prepared to process and accept what was made clear to those of us in the House this afternoon.
But let us now say and hear what needs to be said and heard. Let us be honest with ourselves and each other. And, specifically, let us know this: according to a national organization whose stated purpose is to advocate on behalf of independent business owners, most of this country’s business owners would prefer to pay less in taxes on the revenues their businesses generate. Not more, less. Surely not since the Canadian Federation of Independent Little Girls announced in 1925 that its members would not, if offered, be adverse to accepting the gift of a pony has our understanding of human behaviour been so fundamentally altered.
And let the record show that it was Pierre Poilievre—a man they call “Skippy”—who brought this reckoning upon us. Continue…
By Mitchel Raphael - Friday, February 4, 2011 at 2:00 PM - 3 Comments
Plus: the scene in Ottawa on Parliament’s first day back
Was it Gerard Kennedy’s cologne?
Illness and injuries seemed to be the theme of the day as the House of Commons resumed last Monday. Treasury Board President Stockwell Day was on crutches. “There was a puppy on a railroad… ” Day quipped. The truth, he confessed, was that a giant Labrador retriever came out of nowhere and knocked him down while he was on a run. Day now has a severe ankle injury. The dog didn’t just run him down: as he was running, Day was holding his shirt in his hand; after the fall, the dog grabbed the shirt and ran off with it.
Ontario NDP MP Glenn Thibeault slipped on some ice over the break, fracturing his arm and suffering severe hand injuries. Which meant, he says, that he could no longer do his hair. At one point it was looking like a comb-over, so he decided to just shave his head. He returned to Ottawa with a short buzz.
Quebec Liberal MP Alexandra Mendes showed up to question period wearing a medical mask. She was on day six of pneumonia. (It looks like the post-H1N1 trend of not coming to work on the Hill if you are sick is now officially over.) Her seatmate Gerard Kennedy asked whether she was trying to save him or was allergic to him. Later, Ted Menzies, the minister of state for finance, quipped to Mendes: “We thought Gerard just had strong cologne.” Other Conservatives joked about how the Liberals are literally muzzling their MPs.
Why’s Peter Kent so far away?
The House’s first day back for 2011 saw Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff ask the first five questions in question period, as opposed to just the first three. He has done this before, but Liberal MPs say watch for more QPs with Ignatieff piling on the first questions. Since this Prime Minister’s press conferences are few and far between, at least Stephen Harper now has to answer more questions in a public forum. Also on the first day back, Green party Leader Elizabeth May says she was not impressed with the remote seating position assigned the new environment minister. Peter Kent is now on the front bench, but is the second-last Conservative seat from the Speaker, down where the NDP sit. “We’ve never had an environment minister way down there,” says May.
Much ado over size
The first day of Parliament saw Speaker Peter Milliken throw his annual Robbie Burns dinner. This year, Ontario Conservative MP Ed Holder had the honour of addressing the haggis. When he pulled out a small knife to cut the Scottish delicacy, there were many chuckles. One MP shouted out, “Bill Blaikie‘s was bigger.” (The former NDP MP addressed the haggis with a sword.) Holder then pulled out a larger knife, to the delight of the crowd. This was Milliken’s 10th Robbie Burns dinner and likely his last as Speaker, since he does not plan to run in the next election. In honour of Milliken, a set of bagpipes was donated to the Rob Roy Pipe Band in Kingston, Ont., the city Milliken represents, for young people who want to learn to play the expensive instrument.
The tartan bazaar
The Cape Breton Highlanders were recently reinstated. (Formed in 1871, in 1954 they were combined with two other Nova Scotia battalions and renamed the Nova Scotia Highlanders.) Cape Breton Liberal MP Mark Eyking helped the brigade get reinstated, and for that he was made an honorary member. He says he now needs to get a kilt, but quips, “Can a Dutchman be a Highlander?” He says his wife, Pamela Eyking, is half-Scottish, so he is going to use her family tartan (the Gordon). Coincidentally, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, through his mother’s side of the family, already has a Gordon family tartan kilt, which he wore to Peter Milliken’s Robbie Burns dinner. MacKay said he would give Eyking his Gordon tartan kilt if Eyking would have a MacKay tartan kilt made up for the defence minister.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 12:55 PM - 60 Comments
The Conservatives have launched a feature on their website called “Canada Talks.” So far the conversation one might expect from a title like that mostly involves newly minted minister of state Ted Menzies looking off camera and reading a series of exhortations to donate money to the Conservative party, while tinkly music plays in the background.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 3:23 PM - 25 Comments
In his first news conference as a minister of state, Ted Menzies is asked to explain why the ministry is so much larger than it was when the current government first took office and proceeds to offer a number of words in response. For the sake of saving readers some time, I’ll bold the words that seem most relevant to the question.
Well, first of all, I’m honored to be part of this cabinet. Many of us have played a role, a pivotal role, many parliamentary secretaries that don’t have a seat at the cabinet table. We are in some very unique and challenging times right now and the more shoulders behind the wheel that we have, I think, will help us. There has been some many – many challenges we faced. We feel that we have done a good job. We need to stay the course and keep moving towards what Canadians have asked us to do and that is get back to balanced budgets and whether, you know, the numbers at the cabinet table — we have seen more historically in the past. I don’t think that is as big an issue as the quality that we have there, the strength in this cabinet that are working in unison, as recognized by some of the papers in the U.S. just in the last couple of days. Canada is the envy at getting our fiscal house in order, encouraging new businesses to invest. That is the important thing. We are talking about jobs here today. The more we can do to encourage jobs in Canada, I think the better off we will all be.
Our Andrew Coyne notes that Mackenzie King made it through his challenging times with a ministry of 17. More recently, when Mr. Harper became Prime Minister he named a 27-member ministry (with 26 parliamentary secretaries). He now has a 38-member ministry (with 25 parliamentary secretaries).
By John Geddes - Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 7:42 PM - 53 Comments
The key move is Peter Kent taking over as environment minister. That job, in Stephen Harper’s government, places two demands on the minister: 1) bat back Opposition questions about the government’s elusive climate change policy; 2) advance that policy, whatever it may be, in bilateral talks with the U.S. and ongoing international negotiations under the complex interim deal hammered out last month in Cancun, Mexico.