The Commons: Let he who is not full of it cast the first aspersion

The Conservatives, New Democrats and Liberals exchange charges of hypocrisy

To Joe Momma then, where Murray Rankin, the bespectacled and button-downed national revenue critic for the official opposition, stepped before the cameras this morning to pose beside the proprietor of this bike shop, a tattooed young man in a white t-shirt and newsboy cap.

“We would like the hypocrisy to be exposed,” Mr. Rankin explained. “They said they wouldn’t raise taxes and here we are, a little bit later, in this very same store, pointing out that they are.”

This is most certainly fair play. It was Jim Flaherty who used this establishment for a photo op last fall. And it was Jim Flaherty who stood in the House less than a month ago and said he would not raise taxes. And it is the budget Mr. Flaherty tabled that day that raises taxes on the importation of hundreds of products from dozens of countries. And it was this government that championed the few tariffs it decreased as “supporting Canadian families and communities.” And it was this government that once screamed and cried about the very idea of a tax on iPods. And it was this Prime Minister who gave his word that, so long as he was prime minister, there would be “no new taxes.” And it was this Prime Minister who once mused that “I don’t believe any taxes are good taxes.”

“I feel misled more than anything,” offered the bike shop owner.

Fair enough.

So are New Democrats committed to repealing all these tariffs once in office? Mr. Rankin seems to think so. His party leader seems less definite. But to these charges of hypocrisy and raising taxes, the Conservatives respond with charges of hypocrisy and allegations of a desire to raise taxes. “Mr. Speaker, for seven years now, we have been reducing taxes for Canadians. The NDP has voted against that, tooth and nail, every time,” Ted Menzies lamented this afternoon in the House. “We continue to reduce taxes for Canadians, but at the same time, unbelievably, the NDP is promoting cheap products coming in from other countries. Competition for Canadian companies, companies in China, are getting the support of the NDP.”

But are the Conservatives not on the side of trade liberalization? Do they not wish to reduce costs for consumers? Do they mean to argue now that it is necessary for consumers to pay more so that Canadian companies might be protected from the global market? Is there such a thing as a good tax now? And what about all that hockey equipment from China?

“We will fight against the NDP who want to raise taxes on Canadians through their carbon tax or whatever tax they may come up,” Mr. Menzies declared.

Because raising taxes is bad. Except when it isn’t.

But hypocrisy is not merely limited to the taxation philosophies of the Conservatives and New Democrats. It apparently extends to Justin Trudeau.

Indeed, James Moore was so eager to pronounce this hypocrisy—apparently related to the temporary foreign workers program—that the Heritage Minister did not even wait for Mr. Trudeau to ask a question this afternoon before doing so.

“Mr. Speaker, as I said, on the subject of credibility which was raised by the NDP, my point is this,” Mr. Moore offered, attempting to segue from a question about the shuttering of the Health Council of Canada. “The new leader of the Liberal Party criticized yesterday the temporary foreign worker program, but I have a letter here from the new leader of the Liberal Party asking us to rush new temporary foreign workers from China to work in restaurants in his riding.”

The Conservatives howled and applauded. In attempting to shoo away questions about the temporary foreign worker program, the Immigration Minister’s office has apparently been going through its correspondence file. Yesterday, it produced several letters from NDP MPs advocating on behalf of constituents who wanted to hire foreign workers. Today, it produced a letter from Mr. Trudeau and a few Liberals.

Mr. Trudeau smiled in his seat and then stood to ask a question about the anniversary of the Charter. Mr. Moore attempted a second segue. “Of course, we do believe in the central principles of the charter, not least of which is section 15 in the equality portion of the charter that says all Canadians should be treated equally,” he explained. “The question again to the leader of the Liberal Party is, why will he not defend his constituents in creating jobs for his constituents instead of writing letters to bring in Chinese workers for businesses in his riding?”

Mr. Trudeau attempted to explain the basic premise of Question Period. “For now,” he quipped, “I ask the questions, Mr. Speaker.”

The Conservatives groaned. Mr. Trudeau asked if the Harper government would repeal its tariff increases. “For two days, the government has refused to answer my question, so I will ask it again on behalf of middle-class Canadians,” Mr. Trudeau explained. “Will you cancel this new tax?”

The Speaker was obliged to remind the new Liberal leader of the need to avoid direct reference to anyone else in the chamber.

“Maybe he is in over his head, Mr. Speaker,” quipped Mr. Moore.

The minister now stared down Mr. Trudeau and charged on again.

“On these two questions, they actually work in concert. It is pretty clear in this year’s budget that we are the party of low taxes. The Liberal Party is the party of high taxes. When it comes to employment, it is this government that believes in standing up for creating Canadian jobs for Canadians. It is a pretty simple principle,” Mr. Moore explained. “Again, the question to the leader of the Liberal Party. If there is sincerity behind his question in creating jobs for Canadians, why is he writing letters to bring in Chinese workers in the food industry in Montreal rather than helping us create jobs for Canadians in Montreal?”

Is it the government’s allegation here that Mr. Trudeau did something inappropriate? Apparently not. According to office of Jason Kenney, these letters merely “underscore the fact that both the NDP and the Liberals are being hypocritical and lack transparency on the matter of temporary foreign workers.”

How precisely has Mr. Trudeau been hypocritical here? It is not entirely clear. But if he has somehow been so, he at least has good company. As one Liberal was quick to tweet, if Mr. Moore had read to the second page of that 2009 letter from Mr. Trudeau, he might’ve noticed that the penultimate sentence explains that, “The Department of Human Resources Canada and the Ministry of Immigration of Quebec have already given permission to hire the above-mentioned individuals for an initial period of 2 years.”*

So while Mr. Harper, like Mr. Trudeau, calls for reform of the program, it is Mr. Harper’s government that approved the applications that Mr. Trudeau advocated on behalf of.

In the foyer afterwards, Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc pleaded his leader’s case. “It’s certainly very hypocritical for the Conservative government to say that a member of parliament that advocates on behalf of a business in his or her constituency who advocates in favour of temporary foreign workers who meet the criteria as set out in the program, if somehow that’s illegitimate for a member of parliament to advocate for a temporary foreign worker permit in his constituency,” Mr. LeBlanc explained, “then the Conservatives should ask themselves why under their watch the number of temporary foreign workers has doubled. So they can’t have it both ways.”

Unless, perhaps, they can make it seem like everyone else is trying to have it likewise.

*Clarification: This sentence has been changed to note who pointed this out first.

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