Brian Jean’s million-dollar question

Tease the day: Documents show government spent $1.2 million answering MPs’ written questions

MP Brian Jean and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2007. (CP/John Ulan)

Brian Jean should crack a smile when he reads this morning’s papers. He’s behind the story you’ll read about the $1.2 million dollars—my god!—the government spent answering opposition questions on the order paper. It’s a masterpiece, one among countless examples perfected by the governing Conservatives over the last seven years, that’s designed to raise the hackles of opposition politicians who simply can’t help but take the bait. No matter their argument, the opposition will lose every single time on stories like these.

So what’s the story, anyway?

Members of Parliament, as they’ve always done, ask questions of government every single day. You’ll have witnessed the televised spectacle of Question Period, the forum for oral questions. MPs also pose hundreds of written questions on the order paper, which are often complex and asked in several parts. The government must respond substantively with within 45 days. Brian Jean, the Conservative MP for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, asked his own question on the order paper about the taxpayer hit of the whole undertaking. Today’s story reveals that cost: three months worth of government responses earlier this year racked up $1.2 million in fees.

The opposition dutifully defended its parliamentary privileges, which it certainly should do. If the government answered more questions more faithfully during Question Period, much of the expense of written questions could be spared. That argument has virtually no rebuttal. But few people who aren’t already among the government’s critics will even listen to those opposition gripes. But what readers will notice, almost without exception, is that the opposition spent over a million bucks of taxpayer money that could have contributed to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. And why don’t they support that?

What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with a potential—but by no means assured—“new attitude” towards gun control in the United States. The National Post fronts the Pickton report in British Columbia that columnist Brian Hutchinson says “misses the mark.” The Toronto Star goes above the fold with controversial arm bands Ontario teachers are wearing to pay respect to the Connecticut school shooting, a gesture eviscerated by columnist Heather Mallick. The Ottawa Citizen leads with funerals for some of the children murdered in Newtown, Conn. iPolitics fronts Ontario Liberal leadership contender Charles Sousa’s campaign strategy. leads with the continued closure of Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown. National Newswatch showcases Postmedia‘s look at the cost of the federal government’s responses to opposition questions on the order paper.

Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Union transparency. Ontario Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey told a Senate committee yesterday that a bill that would force transparency on unions could harm future negotiations. 2. Gun control. The feds may consider accepting some “common sense” proposals suggested by a controversial firearms committee, including extending licenses from five to 10 years.
3. Tainted meat. A small E. Coli outbreak that made five people in Ontario and Alberta sick has been linked to recalled meat from Brampton, Ont.–based Cardinal Meat Specialists. 4. Robocalls. Arguments concluded at federal court, where eight voters, along with the Council of Canadians, allege thousands of Canadians were misdirected on Election Day in 2011.

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