The Commons: Iggy’s sharp right hook

Ignatieff's "warm and fuzzy" message seems to stagger Harper

The Scene. Michael Ignatieff stood first to express his concern for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in the wake of hurricane Igor, second to lament for the Finance Minister’s speech the other day.

“Yesterday the Minister of Finance delivered a wild partisan rant,” Mr. Ignatieff. “I assume that the Prime Minister approved this speech because, after all, he makes the rules, but what I wanted to know is whether the Prime Minister understands that this was a classic example of the politics of fear, division, envy and resentment at a time when Canadians need to hear a message of hope and unity.”

There were several bursts of laughter from the government side.

Stephen Harper stood next, first to express his concern for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in the wake of hurricane Igor, second to half-heartedly dismiss the Liberal leader’s lament.

“As for the government’s economic policy, we are, of course, providing hope and opportunity through the economic action plan,” he ventured, “and stand strongly against the tax and spend policies of the Liberal Party.”

Various Conservatives stood to applaud.

Mr. Ignatieff rose and gave it another go, this time en francais. Mr. Harper rose and whined to the Speaker. “The leader of the opposition always makes partisan attacks in the House of Commons,” he tattled. Furthermore, said Mr. Harper, the Liberal leader wants to impose all sorts of taxes and they have opposed every attempt by this government to lower taxes. “It is his policy,” Mr. Harper huffed, “and he should be ready to defend it.”

And so here Mr. Ignatieff seemed, for a third consecutive day, to be soundly slapped down—in this case, very nearly emasculated. And so what followed was something of a surprise.

“Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance yesterday used an extraordinary phrase to describe the real preoccupations of Canadians,” Mr. Ignatieff began, simply enough, with his third try. “Canadians are concerned with child care, with pensions, with the problem of getting student loans and the Minister of Finance dismissed all of that as warm and fuzzy.”

Then, the question.

“Since when did compassion, decency and a commitment to equality become warm and fuzzy in this country?”

When Mr. Ignatieff is not tentatively jabbing at his opponent, he often swings wildly—sweeping overhand rights that finish a foot or two off the mark and leave the Liberal leader off balance and prone for a counterattack. Here, though, was a sharp right hook, a tight, finely aimed blow to the chin.

And, lo and behold, it seemed legitimately to stagger Mr. Harper.

“Of course, Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition cannot pretend to be concerned about those things when the real effect of the things he proposes are deep and high tax increases on the Canadian economy,” the Prime Minister offered, seeming a bit lost in response.

The Prime Minister ventured a bit into the taxes he says Mr. Ignatieff would raise, but could only close with the vaguest of retorts. “He should have been doing what we have been doing,” Mr. Harper said of the Liberal leader, “which is making sure there are projects across this country that will help the Canadian people.”

The government side jumped up to cheer, but this was not nearly the sort of uppercut Mr. Harper typically finishes with. This was very nearly defensive, the response of a man who had been taken by surprise.

And here came Mr. Ignatieff again, breaking from the normal habit to have a fourth round. Turning to the matter of the long-gun registry, wondered why the Prime Minister had chosen to be so divisive in this regard. After Mr. Harper had dismissed this suggestion, the Liberal took a fifth turn, pushing the registry debate into a discussion of domestic violence and mocking a government backbencher’s recent verbal stumblings in this regard. “Why,” Mr. Ignatieff wondered aloud, “will the Prime Minister not work with the opposition to save the gun registry and improve it for the benefit of all Canadians?”

The Conservatives were no longer laughing, but howling, now quite angry with the opposition leader. And here came Mr. Harper, chopping his hand and raising his voice and declaring that the Liberals were only interested in harassing the innocent.

Mr. Harper was clearly now in quite a mood and as he answered questions next from Gilles Duceppe, he gestured and shook about. Here, indeed, he had come to embody precisely the sort of leader Mr. Ignatieff had just been lamenting.

The Stats. The economy, 11 questions. Gun control, nine questions. Veterans, three questions. Government spending, the military and the census, two questions each. Taxation, seniors, foreign ownership, credit cards, Newfoundland and the Quebec City arena, one question each.

Stephen Harper, 10 answers. Vic Toews, eight answers. Chuck Strahl and Tony Clement, four answers each. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Diane Finley, Jim Flaherty and John Baird, two answers each. Peter MacKay, one answer.

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