The Commons: Tony Clement's one-man sit-in

The government has nothing to add about G8 spending in Muskoka

The Scene. The Hill was alive this day with the vigour of public protest. On the lawn, several hundred lay siege to the barricades, anxious with objections to a continental oil pipeline. Inside the House, Tony Clement kept vigil on his seat, resolutely unwilling to remove his posterior from it in defiance of the opposition’s tyranny.

Thomas Mulcair’s first question was actually quite simple enough.

“Mr. Speaker, earlier this year the Prime Minister released an important document entitled ‘Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State,’ ” the NDP deputy reviewed. “Could the Prime Minister tell us if it is within the guidelines for a minister to run government funding out of his constituency office? Is it within the guidelines to have inaccurate and incomplete information provided to the Auditor General? Also, is it within the guidelines to have ministers interfere in spending reviews?”

Mr. Mulcair was just wondering these things, mind you. He was not necessarily referring to the latest news concerning Tony Clement’s handling of the G8 Legacy Fund, he was just speaking in the theoretical.

Alas, the Prime Minister was not present to entertain this philosophical query. Various other cabinet ministers were present—including the government House leader, who might otherwise have been expected to take a question on this subject matter—but instead the government sent up Deepak Obhrai, a parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

When we left off last week, Mr. Obhrai was, with no discernible justification, taking questions directed at Mr. Clement. Here, with only reference to Mr. Clement, the government sent him up on behalf of the Prime Minister.

“Mr. Speaker, our government is focused on what matters to Canadians. That is jobs and the economy, not the mud-raking by the opposition,” Mr. Obhrai said, when he probably meant “muck-raking.” “Let me say it again. The facts have not changed. This issue has been thoroughly aired. The Auditor General had all the government information. There is nothing more to add.”

On this note, Mr. Mulcair suggested that if the government had nothing to hide, they would no doubt have little concern about referring the matter to a parliamentary committee.

“Mr. Speaker, let me again say that the government has nothing to add,” Mr. Obhrai repeated.

From his seat, Mr. Clement managed to applaud the effort of his government-mandated spokesman.

Mr. Mulcair persisted. “Can the Prime Minister tell us how his office was the one determining budgets for a local slush fund?” he asked of Mr. Harper’s empty chair. “How was his office involved in diverting money from the border fund to help the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka get re-elected?”

Mr. Clement apparently had something to say to this, but instead of standing, he turned in his spot and explained it to Jim Flaherty, seated beside him.

“Mr. Speaker, let me repeat what I said,” Mr. Obhrai said, proceeding to repeat himself.

It was now to Charlie Angus, the NDP critic rising almost directly across from Mr. Clement to have his turn at bat.

“Mr. Speaker, the Muskoka minister had many schemes for funnelling money into his riding under the pretext of the G8 and one scheme involved building a massive hockey arena and then telling everybody it would be used as a media centre,” he declared. “When the OPP raised questions about this pet project on security grounds, what was his reaction? Will this member explain why the Prime Minister was so furious at officials who were not willing to rubber stamp his every whim?”

Mr. Clement at first shook his head, then decided to pretend not to notice and began going over some paperwork.

“There is nothing to say,” Mr. Obhrai said.

Once more to Mr. Angus. “Mr. Speaker, when they have to bring in foreign affairs to cover up for the president of the Treasury Board, the fact is very clearly that they have some serious explaining to do,” he lamented. “For example, the $21 million they spent on an Olympic-size hockey arena complete with swimming pool that they tried to pass off as an international media centre that was never used; the fact that the minister told local mayors that he would intervene with bureaucrats if they tried to check on the funding. So we know what the minister was trying to hide but what is not so clear is why the Prime Minister was so personally furious when officials stepped in. What is it that the Prime Minister was trying to hide?”

“Mr. Speaker, this government has nothing to hide,” Mr. Obhrai explained. “The facts have not changed. This matter has been thoroughly aired. The Auditor General had all the information needed. Let me tell them again that this government is focused on jobs and the economy.”

In his seat, Mr. Clement nodded and smiled.

A short while later, Liberal John McCallum was compelled to state his party’s concerns for the record. His question was simplest of all.

“Mr. Speaker, members on this side of the House have been asking questions of the President of the Treasury Board about the G8 legacy fund for over a year. He has yet to answer one such question,” he reported. “To the minister, part of the government who rode into power on the white horse of accountability and also as a former member of a provincial government that wreaked havoc on Ontario’s books, will he finally stand in his place and explain his actions to Canadians?”

Sticking to his protest, Mr. Clement stuck to his seat.

The Stats. Oil sands development, eight questions. The G8 Legacy Fund, six questions. The economy, four questions. National defence, three questions. Pensions, infrastructure, Peter MacKay, the CBC and aboriginal affairs, two questions each. Infrastructure, the environment, the Holocaust, border security, employment, health care, trade, immigration, Libya and Tunisia, one question each.

Dave Anderson, seven answers. Deepak Obhrai and Peter MacKay, six answers each. Jim Flaherty, four answers. Ted Menzies, Peter Kent, James Moore, Leona Aglukkaq and Jason Kenney, two answers each. Candice Hoeppner, Kellie Leitch, John Duncan, Ed Fast and Chris Alexander, one answer each.

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