Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says shutting down Parliament doesn't affect his budget consultations - they would be happening whether Parliament was in session or not. But that's not what his boss, the Prime Minister, is saying about the need to lock up the House of Commons until March.
Stephen Harper has said he needed to prorogue to concentrate on building the plan for the second phase of the economic stimulus. But meeting with reporters today in Winnipeg , Mr. Flaherty said "prorogation does not affect the consultations" for the budget.
The Finance Minister is in Manitoba for meetings with business and economic leaders to hear their views and concerns as he prepares for his fifth budget. The first question he faced, however, was not about jobs, the economy or the deficit. Rather, he was asked about the new Liberal attack ads, released yesterday.
The print and radio campaign takes aim at the government's decision to prorogue, suggesting the Prime Minister is hiding from criticism on the Afghan detainee issue, the environment and the economy. There are no television ads.
"Well, I haven't seen the commercials," Mr. Flaherty said. "I don't watch a lot of television actually. You know, prorogation does not affect the consultations for the budget that we'll present on March 4th."
He said he is following the same consultation approach that he has followed in previous years.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, had a different message Friday when he was in New Brunswick: "The fact of the matter is this, the government is going to take advantage of this time - we need the time - to look carefully at our agenda, to continue to deliver the economic measures that are being delivered here and elsewhere across there country as part of the economic action plan."
As well as dismissing the prorogation issue, Mr. Flaherty spoke about his concerns for the burgeoning economic recovery, which focus on jobs. The December job numbers that came out last week showed a slight drop and employment is down 323,000 since October, 2008, when the losses began.
Mr. Flaherty said he expects to hear about the continuing problems in the manufacturing sector as he consults across the country. However, he says he sees "fairly good consumer confidence."
(Photo: With Tory MP Shelley Glover looking on, the Finance Minister speaks to reporters outside Fort Gibraltar in Winnipeg today. John Woods/The Canadian Press.)
Update Mike Storeshaw, Mr. Flaherty's director of communications, takes exception to the Ottawa Notebook's suggestion that the Finance Minister and Prime Minister are saying two different things about prorogation:
"They're not, and stating otherwise is just semantics," Mr. Storeshaw writes. "Minister Flaherty does wide-ranging consultations all over the country in advance of presenting the budget. That's what he's doing in Winnipeg today, and would have been doing whether the House was prorogued or not. As you know, the House wasn't even scheduled to be sitting this week, so the Minister is making use of the time to consult with Canadians, in much the same way he has done in years past. Just like the government as a whole, he is hard at work.
"… What the Prime Minister said was that the government, as a whole, would be taking advantage of this time in this way. I don't know what's inconsistent between the Prime Minister saying what all members of the government would be doing, and the Finance Minister actually doing it."