The Commons: Peter Kent promises two hours of enlightenment, delivers only one

The Environment Minister is only so generous with his time

The Scene. The Honourable Thomas Edward Siddon, our 36th minister of fisheries, he haunts us still.

“Mr. Speaker, former Conservative fisheries minister Thomas Siddon is again sounding the alarm on the Conservatives’ Trojan Horse bill,” the NDP’s Nathan Cullen reported this afternoon. “Last night he testified that he deplored this attack on environmental protection and that rushing these changes through is ‘not becoming of a Conservative government.’ His message to the Prime Minister was clear, ‘Take your time, get it right.’ Will the Prime Minister take the advice of his Conservative colleague? Will he split this reckless bill and allow for proper study?”

The government would eventually take to quoting something Mr. Siddon had said in 1986 in an attempt to cancel out what Mr. Siddon said last night, but the Prime Minister opted here to boast only of his own government’s magnanimousness. “Mr. Speaker, in fact, the particular set of changes in the economic action plan will have more committee study than any budget bill in recent history by quite a magnitude,” Mr. Harper claimed.

This much would likely not have satisfied the a certain former Reform MP and it did not seem to satisfy the current New Democrat MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley. “Mr. Speaker, it is somewhat ironic for New Democrats to have to defend the environmental record of a former Mulroney Conservative government against this very new and different breed of Conservatives,” Mr. Cullen sighed while wagging his finger at the government side.

A moment later, it was Peggy Nash’s turn. “Mr. Speaker,” she reported, “Canadians are looking for real leadership on the environment and they are not finding it from the Conservatives.” In this case, Ms. Nash was concerned not with the former fisheries minister, but with the current one, as well as the present ministers of the environment and natural resources.

It would seem, according to Ms. Nash, that Messrs Ashfield, Kent and Oliver are refusing to return to the copious committee study of which Mr. Harper now boasts.

“Mr. Speaker, my colleague forgets that on the first day that the subcommittee met to consider Bill C-38, all three ministers, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Minister of Natural Resources and myself met,” Environment Minister Peter Kent scolded. “We provided two hours of enlightenment to an opposition that was hard challenged to come up with questions material to the subcommittee’s work.”

To account for the amount of enlightenment is subjective, but time can be measured objectively. In this case, the ministers actually appeared for one hour (on short notice). Subtracting the time required for the ministers to make their opening statements, half of that time was allotted for questions. And subtracting the time required for Conservative MPs to pose their friendly queries, less than 20 minutes total was provided for opposition MPs to quiz the three ministers (or less than seven minutes per minister).

But lest that not be enough, Mr. Kent claimed at the time a willingness to return. “If the sub-committee decides to call us again,” he told the Globe, “I would be delighted to come.”

Alas, the Conservatives on the committee are now apparently refusing to let Mr. Kent further enlighten.

“Mr. Speaker, at the C-38 hearings, the Conservative majority is pushing through dozens of pieces of legislation with little study. With 753 clauses, that is just three minutes of study per clause,” Ms. Nash offered with her supplementary. “Now even former Tory ministers are testifying that Conservatives railroading these changes through is wrong. Last night it got even worse. The Conservatives voted to block bringing ministers back to testify. Why will they not come back? Is the Minister of Natural Resources afraid he will be called on his boast about drinking from tailing ponds?”

In a touching gesture, Ms. Nash picked up her glass of water from its perch on her desk and held it aloft in a toast to Mr. Oliver.

For whatever reason, it was decided that Ted Menzies, the minister of state for finance, would handle this.

“Mr. Speaker, I certainly welcome the question because it has just been answered by the Minister of the Environment,” Mr. Menzies confessed, “who actually, along with his two other colleagues, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister of Natural Resources, actually appeared as witnesses. That is the important part. They have provided information. They have answered questions.”

Let the record show that the three ministers did sit and did speak and did respond when presented with questions. On those basic tests of human ability, let their be no doubt that they passed. The rest is details.

“We understand that at the subcommittee last night,” Mr. Menzies continued, “the critics responsible for those two areas did not even show up.”

“Ohhh!” the Conservatives mocked.

Of course, the critics in questions—Megan Leslie and Peter Julian—are right now in Alberta with NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, a trip the Conservatives have been quite keen of late to see Mr. Mulcair take. And, of course, Mr. Menzies surely knew that. But of the basic test of existence that Messrs Kent, Ashfield and Oliver have obviously met, Ms. Leslie and Mr. Julian apparently failed last night.

The Stats. Employment, six questions. The budget and fisheries, five questions each. Military procurement and ethics, four questions each. Mining, the environment, Syria, VIA Rail and regional development, two questions each. Air cargo, the oil industry, terrorism, aboriginal affairs and historical artifacts, one questione ach.

Diane Finley, six responses. Stephen Harper and Randy Kamp, five responses each. John Baird, Peter Van Loan and Peter Kent, three responses each. Gerald Keddy and Steven Fletcher, two responses each. Jacques Gourde, Kellie Leitch, Julian Fantino, Bev Oda, Denis Lebel, Joe Oliver, Gerry Ritz and Vic Toews, one response each.

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