The Commons: The House of Comedians

The Scene. In the 15 minutes between 2 o’clock and the start of Question Period, three different Conservatives were sent up to demonstrate their loyalty to the cause.

“Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party sure loves taxes,” sang Candice Hoeppner.

“This is a very troubling revelation and it should have Canadians worried,” moaned Bruce Stanton.

“The Liberals want to make Canada the most taxed country in the world,” reported Ron Cannan, who took the opportunity to compare some recently reported remarks of Michael Ignatieff’s to an earthquake in Italy this month that killed nearly 300 people and left tens of thousands homeless.

Ignatieff’s side balked and squawked at this last comment. Then their leader stood and offered the day’s first question. “Mr. Speaker, the government is presiding over the worst collapse in employment on record, 300,000 jobs lost in the first three months of 2009. Mayors and municipal councillors I spoke to in southwestern Ontario last week were promised federal help months ago to create jobs. It has not arrived. When will help arrive?” he wondered. “What additional measures will the minister offer to protect jobs in a recession which the Minister of Finance has finally acknowledged is serious?”

The Prime Minister was away, as were both the Finance Minister and the Finance Minister’s parliamentary secretary. So up came John Baird, who took the opportunity to ignore the question and instead offer a few thoughts on the airplane scare in Montego Bay.

Ignatieff tried again. “Mr. Speaker, in town hall meetings across southwestern Ontario last week, people told me they are frightened by the cascade of job losses,” he said. “Closetmaid in Cambridge, 3M in London, Sterling Truck in St. Thomas, Navistar in Chatham, Ingersoll Fasteners in Ingersoll, 300,000 jobs in every region, in every province, in every sector in the country. What is the government prepared to do to help Canadians face the tsunami of job loss sweeping across the country?”

Back came Baird, this time with both an announcement and some questions of his own. “Mr. Speaker, this government is the one that brought forward a massive stimulus package to help stimulate growth in the economy. The leader of the Liberal Party talked about his trip to southwestern Ontario. The Liberal leader said, on that trip to southwestern Ontario, on April 14, just last week, ‘We will have to raise taxes.’ We thank him for finally honestly revealing the Liberal plan,” Baird said. “Now the questions for this member are, which taxes will he raise, when will he raise them, and by how much? He owes Canadians an answer.”

Indeed, the dozen or so Canadians watching on CPAC must have thought, an answer of some sort from someone, anyone, would be most welcome.

“Mr. Speaker, I will not take lectures from the Conservatives on fighting deficits,” Mr. Ignatieff fired back, the Liberals jumping to their feet to applaud. “This side of the House cleaned up one deficit, and we will clean up the next one.”

“This is an unfortunate international economic time,” Mr. Baird snapped somewhat limply.

Gathering himself, the Transport Minister noted for the House that “tax freedom day” had been advanced an entire 12 days after three years of Conservative rule. Baird, for one, seemed quite satisfied with this.

“I say to the leader of the Liberal Party, stand in your place, tell us where and when you will raise these taxes, and how much suffering working families in Canada will have to pay,” Baird finished with a flourish.

The Liberal leader has, of course, spent much of the last week trying to explain what he may or may have not said and what it may or may not mean depending on what may or may not happen between now and a later date to be specified at some point in the future. No doubt the Conservatives will insist he repeat said explanations until he is elected or defeated or is nice enough to offer them some new controversy to dwell on.

Fair enough.

But, as coincidence would have it, this government’s own succinctly named National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy made some statements of its own, just two days after Mr. Ignatieff’s musings in Cambridge. Specifically, it released a report impressively entitled Achieving 2050: A Carbon Pricing Policy For Canada, something of a guide if the Conservatives are to make good on their promises for environmental regulation.

It is an interesting read, not least because of bits about mitigating the “adverse impacts on some segments of the economy and society” and how the national economy might be “reduced in size” and why those in the lowest income bracket might eventually lose as much as “just over 3% of their average disposable income” to the cause of a better world. That, weaker minds might conclude, sounds a lot like some sort of permanent tax on everything. That, given everything that was said in the last election and everything that’s happened since, might be, at the very least, something worth discussing in the sort of place where issues of national significance are meant to be discussed.

But then the ghost of Stephane Dion still haunts this place. So after turns from the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, the Liberals next sent up Frank Valeriote to loudly and indignantly vent about the government’s handling of the auto sector.

Industry Minister Tony Clement reviewed his work to date. “What we get on the other side, though,” he sniffed, “is a plan to hike taxes and that just is the wrong policy at the wrong time for this country.”

After a second burst of noise from Valeriote, Clement stood again. “On the other side, what we have in terms of a dissonance of messages is their leader saying that he does not want to help the auto sector and his only help appears to be raising taxes to Canadians,” he said, managing the neat trick of taking two separate statements out of context in the same sentence.

A short while later, the Speaker called on the Conservatives to ask a question of themselves. Up came the dutiful Mike Wallace.

“Mr. Speaker,” he squeaked, “the Liberal leader finally let the cat out of the bag about his real intentions regarding taxes.”

Mr. Ignatieff laughed and feigned fright. Across the aisle, the Conservative chuckled.

“I implore the leader of the Liberal party,” cried John Baird once more, “to stand in this place and promise the people of Canada that he will not raise their taxes or at least have the decency to say how much he will raise them, when he will raise them and which ones he will raise.”

A good time was had by all.

The Stats. Forestry, nine questions. The economy, seven questions. The auto industry, listeriosis, taxation, science, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, food safety, high-speed rail and Manitoba, two questions each. Pirates, employment, the environment, health care, forestry, fisheries and agriculture, one question each.

John Baird, seven answers. Christian Paradis, five answers. Peter MacKay, Tony Clement, Pierre Lemieux and Jean-Pierre Blackburn, four answers each. Diane Finley and David Anderson, three answers each. Vic Toews, two answers. Bev Oda, Jim Prentice, Leona Aglukkaq and Keith Ashfield, one answer each.