Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s decision to take his economic update on the road to Conservative-friendly Calgary and away from the scrutiny of Ottawa is a sign of weakness and an abuse of power, the opposition charges.
NDP House Leader Joe Comartin argued the Conservative tactic “demeans the role of Parliament and parliamentarians.” He said it follows the government’s strategy of disrespecting democracy by bringing in time allocation and closure to shut down routine debate on legislation.
Not only that, the House of Commons is not sitting this week. That allows the Conservatives to avoid being grilled by the opposition during Question Period or running into nosy reporters on the Hill.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae told The Globe the venue and timing of the Finance Minister’s fall fiscal update was planned deliberately so the Conservatives could avoid questions and “have a free hand to run around the country for a week.”
“It’s all part of the abuse of power,” he added.
Mr. Flaherty gives his speech detailing Canada’s economic situation before the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday afternoon.
Usually, finance ministers deliver their updates to MPs in Ottawa. For the past three years, however, Mr. Flaherty has taken his update off-campus, usually to a sympathetic crowd. In 2009 he was before the Victoria Chamber of Commerce and last year he delivered it to the Mississauga Chinese Business Association.
The 2008 update was delivered in the House of Commons – and it did not go well for the Tories. Having just won the election, Mr. Flaherty gave an address that basically ignored the global economic crisis. The opposition was outraged, as were other observers; there were even calls for the Finance Minister’s resignation.
The update also included an attempt to kill the per-vote public subsidy for political parties. After a difficult few weeks and almost losing their new government to an opposition coalition, the Tories backtracked with a significant stimulus injection in their subsequent budget.
According to NDP finance critic Peter Julian, this year’s venue is a “tacit acknowledgement” by the Finance Minister that whatever he brings forward “may not stand up” to scrutiny. “That’s why he prefers to be away from the glare of Parliament Hill,” Mr. Julian said.
And the B.C. New Democrat is drawing some comparisons to 2008. He said the government is in denial about economic circumstance while the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Bank of Canada Governor are a more circumspect.
In addition, the latest Statistics Canada job figures show that 2,000 jobs a day were lost for every day in October. Mr. Julian called that “catastrophic.”
“What all of the indications are is that we are really in rough waters,” he said. “I think the Finance Minister doing it this week away from Parliament rather than next week on Parliament Hill shows that he is a bit defensive about what he is bringing forward and doesn’t want to see the tight scrutiny that bringing it on Parliament Hill would bring.”
Indeed, Mr. Flaherty is expected to confirm in his Calgary speech that government will not meet its commitment to balance the budget by 2014-2015. Despite a campaign promise to do so by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mr. Flaherty has recently been touting plans to eliminate the deficit in the “medium term.”
Mr. Comartin is unimpressed. “I think it obviously gives the government an advantage of being able to put out whatever their messaging is, even if there are some negative parts, without having to be concerned about an immediate response in the House from the opposition parties.”