The Commons: Jim Flaherty against the world

The Finance Minister promises to do everything or nothing or both or neither to save the Canadian economy

The Scene. Once more Jim Flaherty finds himself with so much to answer for.

“Mr. Speaker, more bad economic news,” lamented Nycole Turmel this afternoon. “The Conference Board of Canada dropped Canada’s rating on income equality. The middle class is falling further behind. Inequality has increased in the past 10 years. Surprise, surprise. It is the same 10 years of the big tax cuts for the big corporations. Is this not another example of the Conservatives’ economic inaction plan?”

She drew out this bit about it being an inaction plan, lest anyone miss the wordplay.

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Flaherty responded, “our Conservative government is focused on what actually matters to Canadians, creating jobs and economic growth.”

For sure, Canadian families are likely not meeting around the dinner table each night to discuss inequality coefficients and peruse the latest line graphs. But surely those at the poorer end of the equation are at least vaguely aware of this issue.

Given a moment to think about it, Mr. Flaherty decided he might at least venture an answer to this concern. “Mr. Speaker,” he said in response to a question from the NDP’s Peggy Nash, “the most important equality plan for Canadians is a job.”

In this regard, the opposition remains insistent that the government do something or other. Mr. Flaherty remains unmoved. Or at least unwilling to be pinned down to any position that might be held against him at a later date.

“The way to go is not what the member opposite suggests,” he said of Ms. Nash. “It is not to run up more deficits and more debt. We see clearly around the world what that brings down on countries which follow that course, including the course recommended by the official opposition of a $10 billion tax hike in Canada.”

He waved his arms above his head here to better convey the ominousness of it all.

“Canadian households have never been so deeply in debt, never,” Ms. Nash shot back. “Scotiabank says Canada will likely be the first country to go back into a recession. Now the International Monetary Fund projects Canada’s unemployment rate will keep rising and is downgrading Canada’s economic prospects.”

Mr. Flaherty was profoundly saddened. “Mr. Speaker,” he sighed, “there the member goes again, bad mouthing our country and trying to reduce confidence in our economy.”

The Finance Minister went on to quote some of the IMF’s more flattering adjectives, but then Bob Rae was up noting that the same report had suggested this country had some flexibility to deal with economic malaise. And now Mr. Flaherty was growling and snarling about Mr. Rae’s handling of the Ontario government in the early 1990s.

“What we would not do is run the Government of Canada like the member opposite ran the government of Ontario,” Mr. Flaherty declared. “He ran the province of Ontario into massive debt and deficits from which that province is still trying to recover.”

Mr. Rae came back to wonder why a government so interested in budgetary balance was so committed to expensive justice policy and then the Finance Minister was back on his feet, apparently eager to rerun the 1995 Ontario election.

In between the growls, Mr. Flaherty had promised to do either or both of two things.

“Mr. Speaker, we have indicated that if we are faced with a large external shock to our economy from Europe or elsewhere that we would, of course, be pragmatic and flexible,” he said in his second response to Mr. Rae. “We have said that before and I say it again here today. We would act as we have acted before.”

“We are going to stay the course and go back to a balanced budget,” he said with this next response.

He seemed thus to have mastered the situation, saying everything or nothing or both or neither, but now the opposition was interested to know why the government had decided to pay a private firm something like $90,000 per day to advise the government on how it might reduce its spending.

“With respect to spending, we certainly are opposed to reckless spending and I think Canadians expect us to be prudent in the way we look at spending in Canada, so we are through the deficit-reduction action plan,” Mr. Flaherty explained. “Private sector advice is valuable, important and essential.”

As if global economic turmoil was not enough of a burden, now Mr. Flaherty must fight the debilitating menace of irony.

The Stats. The economy, 10 questions. Government spending, six questions. Taxation, five questions. Infrastructure, four questions. Air Canada, three questions. The environment, the G8 summit and exports, two questions each. Libya, railways, aboriginal affairs, the Canadian Wheat Board, transportation and crime, one question each.

Jim Flaherty, 13 answers. Denis Lebel, six answers. Christian Paradis, five answers. Diane Finley and Deepak Obhrai, three answers each. Peter Kent, Gerry Ritz and Lisa Raitt, two answers each. Ted Menzies, Rona Ambrose, Ed Fast and Vic Toews, one answer each.

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