The Commons: Stephen Harper lets it all out

How the Chinook mess, among other things, dates back to a Liberal administration

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The Scene. The Prime Minister is a busy man and so he cannot always attend to the House. His appearance today, for instance, was his first in a week. And this, it seemed, was long overdue—not so much for us, this place and our democracy, but for him. Indeed, judging from his subsequent behavior he arrived quite pent up, needing very much, from a spiritual perspective, to openly air his concerns and grievances.

This is perhaps the best way to understand the man’s outbursts—as a natural and necessary unburdening, a shouty rebalancing of his chakras. So let us think of this as somehow healthy. If only so that we might say these proceedings serve some purpose.

It was Michael Ignatieff who first stepped forward this afternoon, rather selflessly it must be said, and invited the Prime Minister to let it all out.

“First it was the Chinooks, now it is F-35s. The Auditor General is telling Canadians that the procurement policy of the government is an incompetent mess,” the Liberal leader prodded. “Will the Prime Minister listen to the Auditor General, cancel the contract and open up a free, competitive and transparent bid to replace Canada’s CF-18s?”

This was more than enough to start Mr. Harper’s process of enumerating his frustrations. First up, the Liberal government of 1993.

“The reason there are problems with the helicopters is because 17 years ago the Liberal government cancelled the helicopter contract,” he cried, “paid $1 billion to get no helicopters at all and subsequent governments have had to deal with that decision.”

There is, you should understand, no statute of limitations on the Prime Minister’s grievances, at least so far as they apply to Liberal administrations. Give him enough time and he’ll explain how his government’s current budgetary deficit is a direct result of Alexander Mackenzie‘s inability to prepare for the recession of the 1870s.

Having thus explained the Defence Department’s recent inability to properly account for itself on the 17-year-old decision of a prime minister who has been out of office for nearly seven years, Mr. Harper moved on to his fears for the future.

“We will not make the same mistake when it comes to replacing the CF-18s,” he declared. “We are going to buy the best equipment for the Canadian Forces and we already have work going to the aviation sector across the country that the coalition will put in jeopardy, that this government will not.”

He wagged his finger here across the aisle at the theoretical—some might say, imaginary—monster that lurked there.

Obviously not satisfied that the Prime Minister had fully exhausted his anger in this regard, Mr. Ignatieff pushed him to go further.

“Mr. Speaker, there is a pattern in the government of refusing to take responsibility,” the Liberal leader ventured. “Conservatives lose the Security Council vote; they blame someone else. They mess up the helicopter deal; they blame the previous government. When is the government going to take responsibility for its own actions?”

Back up came the Prime Minister, now swiping his right hand variously and jabbing the air with his index finger and generally putting anyone within his immediate vicinity in danger of having their hair ruffled.

“Let me tell everyone about the responsibilities we have here,” he said, a sure sign that what followed would be very informative and enlightening. “We have a responsibility to replace fighter aircraft and not play politics with the lives of our men and women in uniform. We have a responsibility when it is national aeronautics industry day here to make sure we protect the people, the men and women who work in that industry, against the irresponsible behaviour of the Leader of the Opposition and his coalition and that is what we are going to do.”

By the time he was done he was more or less yelling. The Conservatives around him—obviously choosing to set aside the internal contradiction of his words—leapt up to applaud their leader’s willingness to so enthusiastically share.

After a short interruption to allow the Bloc Quebecois and John Baird to debate whose side was most unsavoury—from the gallery it seemed a tie—Jack Layton rose to sacrifice himself for the sake of the Prime Minister’s unburdening.

“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister cannot accept the Auditor General’s recommendations on the one hand and then simply refuse to implement them. That does not make sense,” the NDP leader offered, daring to introduce logic to the proceedings. “The Auditor General warned that the systemic mismanagement that she observed is going to mean cuts in the support and operational support for our Armed Forces. This is a serious matter.”

Indeed this did seem quite serious, which is to say it seemed like a very direct provocation of what the Prime Minister claims to be his core justification for existing. Mr. Harper responded in kind.

“The leader of the NDP should not pretend for a moment that he is raising these concerns on behalf of the military,” he shot back. “The military has been absolutely clear about the need here.”

But if not a genuine expression of concern related to the preparedness of the nation’s military, then what was this? What was this mustachioed bald man up to?

“In fact,” the Prime Minister explained, “this is simply coalition politics playing games with military contracts against what the entire aerospace industry and the entire defence establishment of this country realizes is necessary and the government is going to proceed.”

Ah-ha—the inspector-in-chief had properly sussed out the conspiracy. And not a moment too soon: the deadline for this jet purchasing being a mere two years away.

Unmasked and properly busted, Mr. Layton tried desperately to change the subject, daring now to suggest that the government side did not fully and properly respect the nation’s veterans. Here, apparently, the NDP leader sought to pour a few litres of napalm on the smoldering tire fire. And so here Mr. Harper’s closed fist made an appearance, bobbing assuredly in front of him as the Prime Minister, barely bothering to breathe, turned a nice shade of maroon.

“When it comes to standing up for the men and women in uniform those who are in uniform today, getting them the equipment they need, those people understand there is only one party in this Parliament that supports helping those people,” he proclaimed. “It is this government. When it comes to improving benefits to our veterans there is only one party that has not voted against those things like the NDP. It is this party and we will continue to protect our men and women in uniform today and in the future.”

With this disappointment in all others stated for the record, he returned to his seat. And with his partisan demons thus exorcised, he calmly turned to some paperwork he’d brought with him.

The Stats. The military, nine questions. Ethics, five questions. Crime, the Bank of Canada and government spending, four questions each. The G20, infrastructure, disability benefits, the environment and immigration, two questions each. Newfoundland and the RCMP, one question each.

Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty, seven answers each. Vic Toews, five answers. John Baird, Peter MacKay and Mark Warawa, three answers each. Rob Nicholson, Chuck Strahl, Tony Clement and Jason Kenney, two answers each. Rob Merrifield and Stockwell Day, one answer each.