The Commons: Aboard this tiny ship

On the G8 bill: a vintage steamboat with a $400,000 price tag

The Scene. As Dominic LeBlanc proceeded with his opening statement, a general denunciation of the government’s spending on this month’s meeting of the G20, a young man from the opposition research department made his way along press row, passing out photos of what appeared to be a rundown tugboat. The vessel in question would turn out to be a steamboat, but this would take a moment to become clear.

“Mr. Speaker,” proclaimed John Baird when Mr. LeBlanc finished, “we have brought in Canada’s economic action plan designed to encourage job creation, more hope, more opportunity, and the good news is the plan is working.”

Mr. LeBlanc made his second intervention, wondering aloud how security costs had so dramatically multiplied. Mr. Baird returned to his feet to explain that this was somehow Michael Ignatieff’s fault (“Who also supported the location of Huntsville for the G8 summit? In fact, it was the Liberal leader.”).

Here, finally, did Mr. LeBlanc turn to the small matter of this mysterious marine vessel.

“Mr. Speaker, let us look at one example of uncontrolled spending,” Mr. LeBlanc presaged the big reveal. “The industry minister is using $400,000 in G8 money to restore a vintage steamboat named, wait for it, the Bigwin. A vintage steamboat for what? To taxi the leaders from Muskoka to Toronto? Wait, it gets better.”

That seemed inconceivable, but Mr. LeBlanc apparently had still something more.

“The steamboat will not even be in the water until after the G8 is over,” he reported.

There was relative silence from the government side.

“Why,” Mr. LeBlanc finished, “are Canadians paying for Steamboat Tony’s latest ride?”

Mr. LeBlanc returned to his seat and, surely with some satisfaction, sipped from his glass of water. Alas, Steamboat Tony, otherwise known as Industry Minister and Chinese infomercial star Tony Clement was not present. And Mr. Baird’s briefers had not prepared him for this revelation, so here the Transport Minister was left to weakly repeat his ambitious assertion that somehow Mr. Ignatieff was complicit in whatever this has become.

On most days it is the government that delights in acting like the opposition, but, for today at least, it was the opposition that seemed intent on delighting in indignation.

Mr. LeBlanc was followed by Michael Savage, another linebacker-shaped Maritimer with a natural ability to project his oratory. Years ago, he reported, the country had hosted a G7 meeting for a mere $28-million. Then, he recalled, it was a young dreamer named Jason Kenney, the current Minister of Immigration, who fumed publicly about the expense. “Woahh!” the Liberals cried at the revelation, sounding not unlike Mr. Baird’s usual chorus.

“Where is the outrage now?” Mr. Savage wondered.

“Security costs money. It is expensive,” Mr. Baird pleaded. “We do not want to spend this money, we have to spend this money.”

Mr. Savage was undaunted, remarking on the $20-million spent on “dancers, flowers and meals” as part of this “$1 billion plus spendapalooza.” “With poverty rates rising and food bank usage skyrocketing,” Mr. Savage finished, reaching back for relevancy, “how can the morally corrupt government justify over $1 billion on this summit?”

“We will spend what is necessary,” Mr. Baird assured in response, “and nothing more.”

Those words would go uncountered for a half hour, the House moving on to other matters, until the NDP’s Charlie Angus got up in a garish shirt and tie combination to fume colourfully.

“Let us look at the G8,” he began. “Canadians are justifiably outraged that our tax dollars are being blown by drunken sailors on a binge. Now we know where the money is going. The industry minister has been siphoning off money to build gazebos at rural intersections in his riding under the pretense of G8 infrastructure. Will the minister explain why the billion boondoggle is picking up the tab for pork barrel projects for ShamWow Tony?”

Mr. Baird did not have a specific defence of the gazebo as a functional and attractive work of backyard architecture, but he did have some platitudes to mouth. “We have literally thousands of journalists and thousands of delegates from around the world visiting one of the most beautiful places in Canada, the Muskoka region,” he said. “They will fan out in the entire region, and not just in Huntsville. We are spending some resources on public infrastructure to help spruce the area up so that a beautiful part of Canada will that much nicer.”

In fact, the choice for delegates would seem only to be made more difficult by the government’s efforts: should they come this year and enjoy our wonderful gazebos, or come back next year when, with any luck, that vintage steamboat will be ready? Perhaps we can convince delegates to make the trip twice.

The Stats. The G20, six questions. Parliament and the oil industry, five questions each. Copyright, three questions. Brian Mulroney, ethics, securities regulation, crime, taxation and bulk water exports, two questions each. Ship building, Aboriginal affairs, firearms, infrastructure, bilingualism, food safety, science and Helena Guergis, one question each.

John Baird, nine answers. Jay Hill and Christian Paradis, five answers each. Ted Menzies and Rob Nicholson, four answers each. James Moore, three answers. Peter Kent, two answers. Rona Ambrose, Dave MacKenzie, Keith Ashfield, Peter MacKay, Gerry Ritz, Gary Goodyear and John Duncan, one answer each.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.