The Commons: That familiar refrain

The money may be running out, but Ottawa will never lack for things to shout about
Heritage Minister James Moore stands in the House of Commons during Question Period in Ottawa, Thursday, February 9, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

The Scene. Peter Julian, head nodding and bobbing for emphasis, began with a harangue for the government’s F-35 fixation. Heritage Minister James Moore, today’s stand-in for the Prime Minister, enjoyed the opportunity to explain the difference between those who Support The Troops and those who do not.

This though was mere prelude to the matter of Old Age Security. “Everything is about choices and priorities, and the choice of F-35 is a bad choice,” Mr. Julian said by way of segue. “Another bad choice, of course, is the reduction of Old Age Security for Canadians.”

And this was mere prelude to Wayne Marston standing and reviewing, in his quiet, folksy way, the story so far. “Mr. Speaker, first the Conservatives said that OAS was unsustainable and needed to be cut. On Friday, the Finance Minister said that changes to OAS would be delayed until 2020 or 2025. Then a government spokesperson said the finance minister is wrong,” Mr. Marston recounted.

This was merely the short version—leaving out both the Prime Minister’s triumphant speech in Davos at the start of this three-week saga and the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s rebuke this weekend. But, of course, this was mere prelude to the question that still hangs over all of this.

“Seniors and families are worried. Canadians deserve straight answers so that they can plan for their retirement,” Mr. Marston summed up. “Is the government going to change the eligibility for OAS from 65 to 67, yes or no?”

Up for the umpteenth time came Diane Finley. “Mr. Speaker, let us face it,” she demanded, “Old Age Security, if it continues on the current course, will become unsustainable.”

“No!” moaned various voices.

“Not true!” chirped someone on the House’s left side.

Mr. Marston gave it another go. “Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister promised not to touch OAS, then he made up a false crisis and broke his promise. Then the Minister of Finance said OAS changes will not take place till 2020, 2025. Then a government spokesperson says the Minister of Finance is wrong,” he reviewed. “How can Canadians trust the government when it clearly does not what it is doing? One more time: Will the government raise the eligibility for OAS from 65 to 67, yes or no?”

Once more to Ms. Finley. “Mr. Speaker, Canadians do trust that their government will be there to look after them, and that is exactly what we will do. We will not mislead them the way the NDP is doing,” she protested, waving a hand in the general direction of the official opposition. “We will not do that at all.”

Except, of course, for that bit about the system’s unsustainability.

At this point, Bob Rae attempted poetry. There were two Canadas, he said. One that is “doing well” and “prosperous” and succeeding.”

The Conservative side broke into applause. The Speaker admonished them to cut it out. Greg Rickford, parliamentary secretary to the minister of aboriginal affairs and one of the government side’s most enthusiastic clappers, protested. From his seat, he whined that the Speaker did not reprimand the NDP for their collective shouting “yes or no” when demanding answers.

“On the other side,” Mr. Rae continued, “we have a Canada that is falling further behind.”

The interim Liberal leader wondered if the government’s next budget might deal with these matters of employment and insecurity. Mr. Moore took the opportunity to enthuse that this was precisely the sort of thing this government was focused on. Mr. Rae then took the opportunity to wonder why the government had raised employment premiums on January 1. Mr. Moore then took the opportunity to note that the government had cut corporate taxes on January 1. And then Mr. Rae took the opportunity to suggest that this was the problem exactly—cutting taxes for corporations, while raising taxes on individuals. Mr. Moore lamented that Mr. Rae was being “divisive.”

The judges ringside ruled it a draw and with that the proceedings returned to their familiar refrain.

“Why is it that this government continues to sow fear and confusion?” the NDP’s increasingly confident Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe wondered aloud. “Will the government raise the age of retirement from 65 to 67 years, yes or no?”

Mr. Rickford threw up his arms and pleaded with the Speaker for decorum. He may have to be patient. For this is all mere prelude to a budget that is still several weeks away. And then there will be only more things to shout about.

The Stats. Pensions, seven questions. Crime, five questions. Military procurement, patronage and government spending, four questions each. The budget and employment, three questions each. Aboriginal affairs, two questions. The disabled, veterans, firearms, shipbuilding, science, whales and trade, one question each.

Diane Finley, 10 answers. James Moore, six answers. Vic Toews, four answers. Pierre Poilievre, three answers. Julian Fantino, Dean Del Mastro, Rob Nicholson and John Duncan, two answers each. Tony Clement, Jim Flaherty, Bernard Valcourt, Gary Goodyear, Randy Kamp and Gerald Keddy, one answer each.