Treasury Board President Stockwell Day wanted to talk about the government's so-called Economic Action Plan and how well it is delivering for Canadians.
Instead, he found himself in a testy press conference with reporters Tuesday morning, answering questions about the controversial Conservative decision to scrap the compulsory long-form census. He also said crime statistics are not what they seem as Canadians are not reporting all crime that's taking place across the country.
At one point Mr. Day was accused of not making any sense. "Guys, guys," CBC journalist Chris Rands, who was running the press conference for the National Press Gallery, interjected as Mr. Day was challenged, especially on the census issue.
Reporters questioned the apparent hypocrisy of the government. It's scrapping the long-form census because it contends Canadians should not be jailed for not filling it out, but it's continuing with the mandatory short form, which includes the threat of jail time and fines if not filled out.
Mr. Day's defence? "Some basic data is needed. We haven't run into people or groups or agencies who have a concern with some very basic data," he said. "The mandatory nature of criminalizing Canadians for not wanting to give the more extensive data in the long form is simply not tenable and that's why we are doing away with it."
The census issue could flare again this week as Tory MPs attend their summer caucus in Ottawa; ministers are already in the city for cabinet committee meetings. Mr. Day's appearance was meant to show the Tories are working in the wake of the opposition accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of being in hiding for the past few weeks, avoiding having to address tough issues.
The Treasury Board President also faced questions about the Conservative government's commitment to cutting the deficit while spending billions of dollars on new prisons while the crime rate is, in fact, declining.
Mr. Day doesn't buy the view that crime rates are declining. Rather, he maintains crime is going unreported in Canada at "alarming" rates.
"It shows we can't take a Liberal view to crime which is, some would suggest, that it is barely happening at all," Mr. Day said. "Still, there are too many situations of criminal activity that are alarming to our citizens and we intend to deal with that."
Reporters were left scratching their heads.
"I will follow up on that because I am baffled," Sun Media's Ottawa bureau chief David Akin said. "There is a statistic about unreported crimes? I mean if they are not reported by definition we have no idea about these crimes.
"You are just not making sense or I may be just a dolt and I don't understand. Help me out on this one."
In response, Mr. Day made vague comments about bankcard theft, fraud, home invasions and identity theft. And he promised to send Mr. Akin some statistics.
Then it was back to more sparring over the census with the minister one point trying to turn the tables on reporters, asking them if they thought the short-form census should be scrapped.
He noted, too, that this summer, although he has been out and about with constituents, he has heard only three complaints from Canadians about the government's decision on the long-form census. And it came up twice, he said, at two town hall meetings in British Columbia.
With that, Mr. Day left the National Press Theatre with as reporters shouted more questions at him.