Michael Ignatieff dominated the first Question Period of the year, hammering the Prime Minister over his government’s response to the crisis in Egypt and accusing him of giving tax breaks to rich corporations while ignoring Canadian families.
“They don’t see their priorities reflected in the priorities of the government,” the Liberal Leader charged Monday afternoon. “When will the government start listening to those families where the elastic is [pulled] tight and start doing something for them instead of corporations that don’t need the help.”
Although there was some heckling in the Chamber, it was not the most raucous of Question Periods. Perhaps the MPs were just sizing each other up after a long winter break.
As the Official Opposition, the Liberals are allotted the first five questions off the top of the 45-minute session. Usually, the leader takes the first three questions and gives the other two to one of his MPs. On Monday, however, Mr. Ignatieff took all five, asking first for more clarity on the government’s position on the deteriorating situation in Egypt and then about the corporate tax issue.
“After Parliament’s six-week break, Mr. Ignatieff wanted to set the tone for the session right from the start with clear, focused criticism on two pressing issues – the government’s handling of the Egyptian situation and their reckless corporate tax cuts for large corporations,” a senior Liberal official told The Globe.
(The Liberals are now borrowing from the Tory lexicon, using “reckless” to describe the corporate tax cuts just as the Conservatives describe the Liberals, NDP and Bloc as a “reckless coalition.”)
Since the Prime Minister chooses to respond only to questions from the party leaders, having Mr. Ignatieff ask all five also ensured Mr. Harper “would answer to Canadians on both issues,” the Liberal official added.
“We do not intend to increase those tax rates that could cause severe damage to the Canadian economy,” the Prime Minister said, not wavering from his vow to go forward with the cuts he says will create new jobs.
Mr. Ignatieff was not alone in his tax-cut concerns. NDP Leader Jack Layton also took the government on over its economic policies, demanding that Mr. Harper choose between an election or assisting families.
This sharper tone is what Canadians have been hearing for the past two weeks from politicians as the stakes are raised in anticipation of the federal budget in March, which could bring down the government.
But Mr. Harper responded by encouraging Mr. Layton and the other opposition leaders “to think about helping families rather than an election.”
On the situation in Egypt, Mr. Ignatieff wanted to know what the Conservative government was saying to Egyptian authorities and whether Canada was standing up for “democratic values.”
“Obviously, important events are unfolding in Egypt,” the Prime Minister replied. “We want to see a transition toward basic values of freedom, democracy, human rights and justice.”
The crisis in Egypt and the economy were not the only concerns of MPs, however.
Glenn Thibeault, the NDP sports critic, called for a government strategy to protect young Canadian athletes, especially hockey players, from head injuries. He noted that Pittsburgh Penguins captain,Sidney Crosby missed the all-star game because he is suffering from post-concussion syndrome – and he is not the only one sidelined by head injuries.
“We have a concussion epidemic in this country,” charged Mr. Thibeault, accusing the Tories of cutting funding for sports injury prevention research by 40 per cent.
Gary Lunn, the junior minister responsible for the file, said amateur sport in Canada is “receiving the highest level of funding in history.” He added that everybody in amateur hockey in Canada wears helmets – but he did address the issue of a national strategy.