Harper responds to Ignatieff

Liveblogging the prime minister at the National Press Theatre

3:35:58 PM
Well, hi there, fans of wildly spontaneous prime ministerial media availabilities! ITQ is somewhat unexpectedly back in the very same seat she was filling during this morning’s possibly historic at least for the next day or so press conference by Michael Ignatieff, awaiting the arrival of the one and only Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper. This was, to put it mildly, an unexpected development in the day — the rumour started to spread through the Foyer during the usual post-QP scrums that the PM was going to convene a real, live press conference — at which he would take questions from reporters who *aren’t* members of his Senate caucus — but nobody knew when or where, but at approximately 3:28 p.m., the notice hit the wire, giving us a leisurely seven minutes to make a mad dash across the street, despite the fact that the guest of honour will almost certainly be late.

Anyway, now you’re all caught up, although don’t worry if you still feel utterly at a loss to know what’s going on; that’s pretty much how the rest of us feel.

3:41:28 PM
Oh! There’s Kory! Kory Teneycke, that is, who looks downright cherubic as he explains to Colleague Wells that they were *kind of* expecting to get a question from, you know, the opposition during QP. What about that report that they were saving it for a plant from a lucky Tory backbencher? “Our backbenchers aren’t threatening to bring down the government,” Teneycke points out, in his quintessentially non-butter-melting-mouthed style. “Not yet,” Colleague Wells agrees.


3:45:26 PM
So, how late will he be? I’m going to say — fifteen minutes, which by his standards, is practically yesterday. The other reporters, meanwhile, are trying to figure out what the shortest and longest possible campaigns would be, which involves far too much math for ITQ’s comfort.

Well, we’ve fallen momentarily quiet. That could mean the PM is in the building, or that we have worked through the denial stage, and are now collectively plunged into a state of deep ennui.

Wait, no, the cameras just stormed the theatre, so I think it’s the former.

One minute warning! Oh, this is so exciting.

3:48:36 PM
I just realized that Kory didn’t give us a heads up on how many questions he’ll take. Odd. But it’s been one of those days.

3:49:15 PM
And here he is — with a “brief statement”, and then taking our questions, he says, before repeating Kory’s line that he was expecting a question from Ignatieff. At which point some thankfully unidentified reporter’s blackberry bursts into a cacophony of feedback, interrupting the PM, who controls his reflexive glare with ease.

Anyway, Harper thinks if Ignatieff wants to avoid an election, he should vote for the main estimates on Friday. So – uh, yeah. Your move, Liberals!

3:51:33 PM
First question — yes, we’re already at the Q&A portion of the press conference, because the PM didn’t actually have that much in the way of specific responses to Ignatieff’s four questions — from CFRB’s Brian Lilley. He asks about those promised changes to employment insurance, and Harper takes a moment to heap coal upon the very notion of a 360 hour qualification period; as far as what *his* government is considering for the fall, he reminds us of his campaign promise to open up the system to cover self-employed workers. Anything else? He would ‘discourage’ that kind of back of the envelope policy-making.

3:54:29 PM
Next question, still from Lilley – how much of the stimulus money is still in limbo, as far as parliamentary approval? The PM, interestingly, doesn’t have any specific numbers — well, not that he’s going to drop on us at the moment — and talks about how it’s a “combination of things”. Governments introduce estimates in June because they need money for lots of things. That’s about as detailed as he’s willing to get.

3:56:26 PM
Onto another reporter — didn’t catch the name — whose question gives the PM – who looks, if possible, even more serene than Ignatieff – to run down the list of demands; he doesn’t provide any new information, of course, but repeatedly points out that they’ve been “clear” on all of these issues, from isotopes to infrastructure payments.

As for whether he thinks there’s going to be a summer election, he just doesn’t know – but Canadians don’t want them.

3:59:20 PM
NewSpiritOfCooperationWatch: He’d be “happy” (his word, I swear) to meet with Ignatieff at any point over the next few weeks to discuss his plans for the fall.

4:00:41 PM
The government, the PM explains to us, in his most patient and reasonable tone of voice, wants a mandate to spend money during construction season. Is that actually true? I mean, wouldn’t most of the projects underway this summer have applied for funding back in February? I really should call Treasury Board — it’s one of those constantly repeated points that we reporters have been obediently reciting when giving the government’s position, but I’m not sure if it’s quite as simple as he makes it sound.

Oh, and Harper doesn’t like being “or elsed” – he points out that usually, negotiations involve actually *proposing* something “or else” – not just the last bit. Which earns him a chuckle from the gallery, despite the sense of quiet but growing panic.

4:03:49 PM
Once again, he offers to talk to Ignatieff about all these issues over the summer — if, that is, the Liberals come up with something more than “vague” ideas.

4:04:24 PM
And – that’s it, as it turns out. Short, and civil, at least, if not actually *sweet*. I guess the ball’s back in Ignatieff’s court now, huh? Anyone else getting dizzy, or is it just ITQ?