The Commons: Jim Flaherty challenges everyone to a reading contest

The Scene. Thomas Mulcair agreed with Stephen Harper. Just not now. Or at least not the version of Stephen Harper that was now in front of the NDP leader.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are trying to shove another 450-page budget bill down the throats of Canadians,” Mr. Mulcair reported. “The finance minister once again showed total disregard for our democratic institutions, choosing photo ops rather than Parliament, 450 pages. The Prime Minister once criticized the Liberals for their omnibus approach. He was right then, he is wrong now.”

Staring down the Prime Minister, Mr. Mulcair chopped his hands from one side and then to the other to demonstrate the difference between this and that.

“Will the Prime Minister respect Canadians, respect the role of Parliament and split this omnibus bill to allow for proper study?” the NDP leader asked.

Alas, Mr. Harper was not inclined to agree with his earlier view.

“Mr. Speaker, Canadians’ priorities are focused on the economy. They remain jobs and growth,” the Prime Minister reported. “This government continues to move forward with the latest version of the plan presented in March to promote jobs and growth across this country and to continue the relatively superior performance of the Canadian economy.”

You needn’t read the budget yourself, you see, because it is mostly just the words “jobs” and “growth” written over and over again for 450 pages.

“What we, of course, will not do in all of our proposals is propose tax hikes and, more specifically, a carbon tax,” Mr. Harper continued. “Our goal is not to kill jobs, our goal is to create jobs.”

At least that’s the plan now. These things tend to be subject to change. (A few budgets ago, for instance, Mr. Harper’s government committed $66 million to “lay the foundation for market based mechanisms that will establish a price for carbon and support the development of carbon trading in Canada.”  It was written down in the budget and everything.)

A few moments later, the NDP’s Peggy Nash dared suggest that the budget implementation act tabled before the House this morning included “non-budgetary measures.” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was apparently displeased to hear such aspersions cast upon the document.

“Mr. Speaker, we have a real plan for jobs. We had it in the first budget bill. It is in the second budget bill. The budget is a wonderful document. We delivered it in March. There is nothing new. What is in the bill today is in the budget,” he grumbled and lectured. “If they have not read the budget, I would say to my honourable friends on the other side, I do not know what you did all summer. You got paid. You had a good pension plan. So, do your work; do your job.”

Understanding their jobs, the government backbenchers sprang up to applaud.

The New Democrats persisted though and Mr. Flaherty was very short of patience.

“Mr. Speaker, as I said a moment ago, there are no surprises. The budget was delivered on March 29. The budget document itself is almost 500 pages. It is the economic action plan of the Government of Canada for our country, not only for this year but for the ensuing years,” he waved the budget in his hand and then slammed it down on his desk. “This is the plan. This is the creation of jobs, growth and prosperity for our country. I urge the honourable members to read it for their own edification.”

The Finance Minister was apparently inviting everyone to play spotthedifference. This game promises to entertain everyone for at least a few days. Even if the current farce would seem to render the written word relatively moot.

The larger game at play will go for at least a few more years. That game was revealed a little later when Mr. Flaherty was set up with a planted question from the backbench.

“Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for the very informed question,” the Finance Minister said of Conservative MP Blake Richards. “Our government is supporting the economy. Of course we are, with jobs, growth and prosperity. The New Democrats need to explain why they are against that. Why is the NDP against extending the hiring credit for small businesses to create jobs; against promoting interprovincial trade; against improving the registered disability savings plan; against new tax relief for clean energy generation equipment; and against closing tax loopholes? Why is the NDP against all of this and against growing the Canadian economy?”

It’s just that simple. Never mind those 450 pages and whatever they amount to. If you don’t support C-45, you don’t support further help for the disabled and their families.

The Stats. The budget, 12 questions. Ethics, seven questions. Food safety, four questions. The environment, three questions. National security, foreign investment, trade and health care, two questions each. Aboriginal affairs, affordable housing, airports, small business and border security, one question each.

Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty, six responses each. Pierre Poilievre, five responses. Gerry Ritz, Vic Toews and Christian Paradis, three responses each. Ed Fast, Peter Kent and Leona Aglukkaq, two responses each. Joe Oliver, John Duncan, Diane Finley, Steven Fletcher, Maxime Bernier, Bernard Valcourt and Peter Van Loan, one response each.