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Question Period

Conservatives accused of 'willfully ignoring' contraception research Add to ...

Jack Layton accused Stephen Harper today of adopting a "no-condoms-for-Africa strategy" for the government's signature initiative at this summer's G8 summit.

The NDP Leader said it was "incredible" that "the Foreign Minister is going around saying that contraception does not save lives."

He added: "How can a program aimed at reducing maternal mortality not allow for any contraception as part of the program?"

Mr. Layton was raising concerns about comments made by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon yesterday that birth control will not be part of the "signature" G8 initiative on maternal health.

Mr. Cannon told a Commons committee the government's plan is aimed at saving lives of mothers in poor countries and contraception doesn't fit with that. But neither Mr. Cannon nor the Prime Minister, who were both in Question Period, responded.

Rather, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda fielded the questions, sticking closely to her script.

"This initiative is about saving the lives of mothers and children," she said. "Far too many lives are being sacrificed when we can do something about it. This is the time we should act."

Mr. Layton was not alone in demanding answers to the contraception issue, however.

Liberal health critic Carolyn Bennett, who is also a doctor, said Mr. Cannon had confirmed what Liberals were fearing - that the government's commitment to maternal health ends when it comes to reproductive health.

"Unbelievably, the minister suggested that birth control has nothing to do with saving lives," Dr. Bennett said, noting that United Nations says a "lack of adequate contraceptive services is responsible for 1.5 million deaths in developing countries every year."

She said the government is "willfully ignoring the research."

Again, Ms. Oda answered. Staying on message, she said the government has chosen to focus the world's attention on saving the lives of women and children. She added that her G8 colleagues support the Conservative government's initiative.

This was the first Question Period in a long time that the Liberals did focus on the Afghan detainee issue.

In fact, finance critic John McCallum led off the questioning asking the Prime Minister whether he will respect the Liberal motion, adopted by the House yesterday, to ban the use of taxpayer-funded pamphlets that are used as attack ads in opposition ridings.

"If the government is serious about reducing waste, it will surely leap at this opportunity to save $20-million by eliminating this partisan junk mail," said Mr. McCallum, who was filling in for Michael Ignatieff. The Liberal Leader is on a cross-Canada speaking tour.

"Liberals have already stopped their participation in this program. When will the government also comply with the will of the House of Commons?"

Before answering, the Prime Minister couldn't resist a little partisan jab. He congratulated Mr. McCallum "on his promotion through what appears to be the rapidly-dwindling leadership ranks."

The Tories have had fun with the fact that Mr. Ignatieff has been away from the House this week after criticizing the Tories for proroguing. Different Liberal MPs have led off in Question Period as a result.

"I will just say this, having viewed a few of these Liberal 10-per-centers, I think the cancellation of the program was a good idea," Mr. Harper said.

He didn't really mean that, however.

"[The Prime Minister]is glad to see Liberal cancellation from the program given the poor taste the Liberals have shown in 10-per-center use," PMO staffer Andrew MacDougall said. "We will continue to use the program to communicate with Canadians."

The flyers are called 10-per-centers because an MP is allowed to mail in flyers to 10 per cent of the population of another MP's riding

Later this afternoon, the Prime Minister's official spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, said that the "Conservative caucus supports eliminating out-of-riding 10-per-centers so long as this restriction applies to all parties. However, we do not have a majority on the Board of Internal Economy, and will need the support of the other parties to achieve their elimination."

And the Tories have put up another challenge. "In addition to eliminating out-of-riding 10-per-centers, we renew our call on the Liberals and their coalition partners to save taxpayers approximately $25.5-million annually by ending the subsidy to political parties."

It was this call in their Throne Speech just after winning the 2008 election that led to the Harper government proroguing for the first time. Anger over proposals to eliminate the subsidy, which helps to fund the parties, resulted in the creation of an opposition coalition between the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois.

"That would demonstrate a real commitment by opposition parties to saving money, instead of yesterday's political posturing," Mr. Soudas said.

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