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Question Period

Isotopes and Al Capone Add to ...

This was shaping up to be another day that was all about Lisa Raitt's recorded musings on isotopes and their relative sexiness. And then she burst that bubble by uttering an emotional apology to cancer victims an hour and a half before Question Period.

I am guessing that there were a lot of revisions hastily scribbled in the opposition practice rooms prior to the 2:15 p.m. start.

In the end, what we got were a whole lot of questions about the shortage of medical isotopes, which has apparently reached critical levels in some parts of the country.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff opened up by quoting the chief of nuclear medicine in Hamilton as saying deaths would result.

Ms. Raitt, her emotions back in check, replied that hospitals will be back to 50 per cent of their normal supply of isotopes by next week, which brought much applause from the Conservative caucus.

But Mr. Ignatieff said the Conservatives are confusing the facts - and the facts say they can't make up for the shortfall caused by the shutdown of the NRU reactor at Chalk River. Where, he asked, is the minister's credibility on this?

Ms. Raitt, looking somewhat perturbed, responded by saying the Australian reactor is going to be up and running sooner than anyone expected - and it's going to supply 20 per cent of the global needs.

When Liberal MP David McGuinty continued down the isotope path, Ms. Raitt told the House that Ralph Goodale, the former Liberal natural resources minister who is now the member for Wascana, Sask., was told in 2003 about the problems at the Maples - the two failed projects that were supposed to replace the NRU reactor.

"Oooooh!" said Ms. Raitt's Conservative colleagues.

Paule Brunelle of the Bloc apparently didn't get the memo about Ms. Raitt having apologized. She wanted to know "why this crisis is sexy to the minister's mind."

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq fielded that question. In fact she took a fair number of isotope lobs throughout QP. Most of her replies focused on the fact that there are alternatives to isotopes - they aren't as accurate and they are more expensive and they are more radioactive, but they are alternatives.

There was some stuff from the Bloc about the environment - and an odd scream from Eve-Marie Thai Thi Lac of the Bloc who seemed to have dumped water on herself.

But eventually Ralph Goodale got to take on the minister who had tried to blame him for the isotope boondoggle. First he pointed out that the Tories have had two crises within 18 months - and there were none under the Liberals. Then he demanded to know the exact depth of the isotope shortfall.

Ms. Raitt responded by saying she wished Mr. Goodale had asked as many question in 2003.

To which Mr. Goodale said "the minister cannot give the numbers, and clearly she cannot tell the truth either."

Outrage rippled through the Tory benches!

At the end of Question Period, Tom Lukiwski demanded that Mr. Goodale apologize for using what he deemed to be unparliamentary language. And then he uttered this odd threat: "One way or the other, Mr. Speaker, I will guarantee the House the member for Wascana will apologize."

Shades of Al Capone.

But, Mr. Goodale was unrepentant. He invited Speaker Peter Milliken to check the Hansard. "You will find the language that I chose was very careful and it was not beyond the rules of parliamentary procedure," he said with some assurance.

Mr. Milliken said he would do just that - though he seemed to suggest that Mr. Goodale would ultimately be proven correct.

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