The Commons: When photo ops go wrong

Ask not what jobs have been lost, ask how many more jobs might leave if the corporate tax rate is raised

The Scene. “Louder!” called a voice, possibly from the Conservative side of the House.

Peter Julian, already speaking at a certain volume, attempted to oblige, punctuating his question with exclamation points.

“When(!) is the government going to show leadership? When is it going to work on a jobs plan so that Canadians(!) can get back to work?

The subject here was the recent closure of Electro-Motive Diesel in London, Ontario—a closure notable not only for the 450 individuals it put out of work, but because the plant was once selected as an ideal scene to demonstrate the Prime Minister’s economic stewardship. And so a silly picture of Mr. Harper pretending to conduct a train is now a symbol of some kind. And so Mr. Julian was yelling this afternoon in the general direction of the Finance Minister.

Rising to respond, Jim Flaherty began in a low grumble. “Mr. Speaker, we remain focused, of course, on jobs and economic growth,” he reported.

The Finance Minister built then to a dull roar that culminated in him shaking his glasses (which he held in his hand) at Mr. Julian and scolding that the NDP critic had demonstrated “an irresponsible attitude … that looks only at tomorrow morning and not down the road.”

Mr. Julian took the easy retort. “Mr. Speaker,” he responded, “in the long term Canadian families are going to be a lot worse off under the government.”

He proceeded then with his harangue. “Conservatives gave Caterpillar $5 million,” he recounted. “The Prime Minister was willing to use the workers as an election prop for his photo op, and now that those same workers are out on the sidewalk he just drives right by in his limousine.”

There were groans from the government side.

“The government has thrown millions of dollars away, and what we have are plant closures and jobs going south,” Mr. Julian continued. “White Birch, MA-BAY, AstraZeneca and now Electro-Motive. Why is the government dropping the ball? Where is the jobs plan for our hard-hit communities across this country? Where are the jobs? Where is the jobs plan?”

As the applause swelled up around him he appeared to repeat this question half a dozen times.

Perhaps sensing the tension, Mr. Flaherty apparently figured here was a good time for a joke. “Mr. Speaker, my car is actually a Chevrolet Impala from Oshawa, Ontario,” he quipped.

Then something of an oversimplification. “The member opposite will recall voting against our plan to save General Motors and the 400,000 jobs in the auto sector across the country.”

Then another joke. “I know my friend opposite is a student of parliamentary history and I know he wants to remember, he just forgot to say so, to congratulate the Prime Minister’s government on its sixth anniversary of being sworn in as the government of Canada, an excellent government especially.”

Across the way, Mr. Julian allowed a slight smile to this, but a few moments later, his colleague, Yvon Godin was turning a nice shade of maroon as he berated the government side over the “revolting” practices of various companies. Industry Minister Christian Paradis, attempting to match Mr. Godin’s verve, shook and shimmied as best he could as he then castigated Mr. Godin for voting against all the various job creation measures advanced by this government in its budgets.

“The MP can’t come here, rip off his shirt and cry bloody murder,” the minister clarified.

The government, he said, was “empathetic.” “What happens in these families is dramatic,” he ventured. “However, they can rely on the government that will do just the opposite of what these people advocate, that is to say tax increases of more than $10 billion. This is irresponsible and does not make sense.”

So ask not what jobs have been lost, ask how many more jobs might leave if the corporate tax rate is raised. If the Prime Minister’s wishes to pitch that message in London, he best get there quick before all the trains are gone.

The Stats. Pensions and employment, eight questions each. Syria, abortion and government contracts, four questions each. Trade, copyright, the environment and child care, two questions each. Immigration, affordable housing, public transit and the Queen, one question each.

Diane Finley, 12 answers. Rona Ambrose, five answers. Jim Flaherty, four answers. Christian Paradis, Deepak Obhrai, Rob Nicholson and James Moore, three answers each. Gerald Keddy and Peter Kent, two answers each. Vic Toews and Denis Lebel, one answer each.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.