The Commons: Diane Finley’s words are used against her

Let us now debate who are the "bad guys" here

David Christopherson, in furious form, stood to recount the events of Friday morning.

“Last week, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, who once described EI as… ‘lucrative‘ defended her new quota system by describing the unemployed as… the bad guys.’ ”

At least in so far as Diane Finley had in fact spoken the phrase “bad guys,” Mr. Christopherson was correct. It is merely in the entire context of those words that the New Democrat led the House astray.

The official opposition had been pestering the minister on Friday morning about a report that quotas had established for inspectors charged with rooting out fraud of the employment insurance system. In the midst of this, Ms. Finley—on two occasions—suggested the New Democrats were on the wrong side of this matter. “Mr. Speaker, with respect to the employment insurance program,” she said, “it is very important to note that, once again, the NDP is supporting the bad guys.”

Perhaps this was a prepared line—an attempt to turn an attack around. Perhaps Ms. Finley came up with this in the moment in a fit of frustration. Either way, the New Democrats have apparently decided to see Ms. Finley’s oversimplification and raise her a distortion.

“Law-abiding out of work Canadians deserve better than to be treated like criminals,” Mr. Christopherson declared. “Why is the government cutting EI just when people need it to the most?”

Here John Baird was provided an opportunity to be reasonable. “Mr. Speaker, my friend from the NDP has it all wrong,” he scolded. “The minister made no such statements. He is flat-out wrong.”

A few moments later, Nycole Turmel stood to read the charges against Ms. Finley en francais. “Tell the truth!” protested a voice from the government side.

Perhaps for the sake of not being too blatant about all this, each of the men and women on the opposition resisted the urge to yell back, “you first!”

Context, of course, has become something of a secondary consideration in this realm. (Though, as a concept, it at least matters more than nuance.)

Somewhere on the campus of Harvard right now, Michael Ignatieff is, for instance, still picking bits and pieces of things he once said out of his rear end. By the time he was defeated, he likely wished he’d never written or spoken a word before being anointed Liberal leader.

Mr. Ignatieff’s successor, Thomas Mulcair, is presently mocked for proposing a “carbon tax” he opposes (or, rather, a “carbon tax” the Conservatives once proposed).

What distinguishes the New Democrats from their Victorian predecessors as official opposition is a willingness to engage in this stuff—a certain shamelessness with which they approach this business. The Liberals, for instance, would never have even conceived of presenting the Harper government’s change to the health care funding formula as a $36 billion cut. Mind you, that at least has some basis in what the Finance Minister actually conveyed during the last election campaign. Ms. Finley, on the other hand, is innocent of this specific insinuation—the New Democrats attempting a particularly ungraceful leap of the imagination to pretend otherwise.

“Mr. Speaker, it is rather that member who should apologize to Canadians,” the Human Resources Minister scolded, “because I did not say that.”

(And now having felt the sting of this sort of nonsense, Ms. Finley will no doubt be issuing an apology to Mark Holland.)

The New Democrats were on somewhat surer ground when they stopped pretending that Ms. Finley had attempted to insult anyone but New Democrats. “Mr. Speaker, when Canadians questioned Conservative legislation on privacy concerns, we were accused of standing with child pornographers. Now the Conservatives are resorting to name-calling again, accusing anyone who opposes their EI cuts and quotas of defending fraudsters. Canadians who have lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, deserve better than a minister who calls EI too lucrative and who guts it at every turn,” Chris Charlton explained to the House this afternoon.

Her question then veered back to the day’s opening gambit. “When will the minister stop demonizing the EI recipients and admit that the vast majority are hard-working people who simply want to access the benefits that they themselves paid for?”

Ms. Finley offered her response. “Mr. Speaker, I am totally in support of making sure that EI is there for those who need it when they are eligible for it. That is the whole purpose of it,” she said. “But to do that, we have to maintain the integrity of the system. That means rooting out fraud. That means going after people who are cheating the system and claiming taxpayer dollars to which they are not entitled. We do wish that the NDP would support us in rooting out these people so that those who are entitled to EI, who are eligible, will have the funds there for them when they need it.”

And so we were back to the pre-Friday disagreement over how exactly to go about administering and officiating employment insurance.

Half a dozen questions later, the discussion turned to crime prevention. The New Democrats were generally displeased with the approach of the government side. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews rose to restate the traditional response.

“What the federal government does do is provide the laws that allow the officers to arrest dangerous individuals and put them into custody,” he explained. “Unfortunately, we have not received support from the NDP to do that. At every turn those members have opposed measures to keep violent and dangerous criminals off the street.”

And so, again, the New Democrats were apparently on the side of the bad guys.