The Commons: 'Canadians deserve better'

These are complex issues. Perhaps at some point they will be discussed as such.

The Scene. Conservative MP Robert Goguen, the duly elected member for Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, stood just before Question Period and neatly enunciated the absurdity.

“Over government campaigned against the NDP plan for a carbon tax in 2011,” he declared, “and we campaigned against the carbon tax from the Liberals in 2008.”

Precisely. In 2008, the Conservatives proudly condemned a carbon tax while proposing cap-and-trade. In 2011, the Conservatives proudly condemned cap-and-trade as the equivalent of a carbon tax. (And even so, now, in 2012, the Conservatives can’t promise they won’t pursue cap-and-trade if the United States decides to do so.)

It is an elaborate joke. And the Conservatives are very committed to the bit (and unabashedly so). And so Thomas Mulcair is now stuck between laughing at, admonishing and ignoring the gag.

“Mr. Speaker, when the Conservatives took office, Canada had a $26 billion trade surplus,” the NDP leader reported at the outset of QP this day. “Today, Canada has a $50 billion trade deficit, which is an all-time high. How can the Prime Minister explain this failure to Canadians?”

“Mr. Speaker,” the Prime Minister begged in response, “the reasons that trade balances fluctuate are extremely complex.”

“Ahh!” came the mocking cry from the opposition side.

On this though the Prime Minister is surely right. These are complex issues. Perhaps at some point they will be discussed as such.

“With hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs lost, productivity growth at an all-time low, Canadian businesses sitting on over half a trillion dollars in dead money because they see no place to invest, and the record trade deficit, does the Prime Minister really expect Canadians to believe everything is going just fine?” Mr. Mulcair asked with his second opportunity.

“Mr. Speaker, we all know that we live in a challenging global environment,” Mr. Harper responded. “What all serious analysts also understand is that the Canadian economy continues to outperform our peers, both in growth and employment, with some of the best records in the developed worlds. Those are the facts.”

Facts are indeed good. They often assist us in the process of understanding complex issues.

“What the leader of the NDP asked me to do, cancel NAFTA, block all kinds of trade,” Mr. Harper continued, gesturing at Mr. Mulcair, “he even sent a trade mission to Washington to argue against Canadian exports, are the things that destroy Canadian jobs.”

“Shame!” various Conservatives cried.

Mr. Mulcair was ready with a rejoinder. “Mr. Speaker, I know the Prime Minister prefers making things up about the NDP instead of answering the questions,” the NDP leader shot back, “but Canadians deserve better.”

Mr. Mulcair proceeded en francais and Mr. Harper did likewise, at least at first. “What I also have to say is,” he said, switching to English, no doubt for the sake of a soundbite, “since the leader of the NDP wants to talk about the facts, on his party’s policies, it is very clear in the NDP platform, they call for $20 billion in carbon taxes on the Canadian economy. Manufacturers and consumers are saying this will destroy job creation and destroy their economic prospects. We will not endorse and adopt such foolish policies.”

The Prime Minister was perhaps half right here. He and his Conservatives have endorsed such policies, repeatedly. They just never got around to implementing them. And they might not ever get around to doing so. Unless the United States does. In which case this satire on modern politics might be taken to another level.

After a fourth try, Mr. Mulcair attempted a kind of summation. “Mr. Speaker, here is their alchemy,” he offered, testing the limits of everyone’s vocabulary. “The Conservatives took a trade surplus of $26 billion and they turned it into a trade deficit of $50 billion. The Conservatives took a budget surplus of $14 billion and they turned a budget deficit of $56 billion. During this time, the Conservatives have presided over the loss of hundreds of thousands of good manufacturing jobs, and all that the Prime Minister does is blame the NDP? People deserve better.”

He stared down the Prime Minister and shook his fist.  “Will the Prime Minister opens his eyes,” he asked, “realize the problems he has caused and for once assumes his responsibilities?”

The New Democrats stood to applaud.

Mr. Harper stood with conciliatory hand gestures. “Mr. Speaker, the Canadians are well aware that we are in a very uncertain global economy, with many difficulties,” he offered. “Despite this, if we talk about job creation, economic growth, debt, deficits, Canada’s record is far superior to that of others.”

Switching to English, Mr. Harper now referred to a piece of paper he held in his left hand, on which was apparently written a list. “The leader of the opposition asked me to name some specific things we have done on these measures,” the Prime Minister explained. “Even just recently, there was extension of accelerated capital cost allowances…”

The Prime Minister proceeded through a half dozen measures, cut off as his time ran out and the Conservatives stood to cheer.

With so many of his own policies to brag about, it is to wonder why Mr. Harper is so concerned with a convoluted complaint about someone else’s policies.

The Stats. The economy, eight questions. Ethics, four questions. Foreign investment and the Canadian Forces, three questions. Trade, firearms, border security, fisheries, seniors, aboriginal affairs and employment insurance, two questions each. The F-35, the environment, veterans, foreign aid, Iran and temporary foreign workers, one question each.

Stephen Harper, eight responses. Diane Finley, four responses. Christian Paradis, Peter MacKay and Tony Clement, three responses each. Vic Toews, Peter Van Loan, Ed Fast, Maxime Bernier and Keith Ashfield, two responses each. Rona Ambrose, Peter Kent, Pierre Poilievre, Gerry Ritz, Steven Blaney, Julian Fantino, John Baird and Jason Kenney, one response each.

Looking for more?

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