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New Democrat Leader Jack Layton speaks with reporters after Question Period on Oct. 7, 2009. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
New Democrat Leader Jack Layton speaks with reporters after Question Period on Oct. 7, 2009. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Question Period

Leader of the Opposition? Add to ...

It was all about tax hikes and cover-ups today in the Question Period - a depressing mix of issues that makes one wonder how Parliament will actually continue to work into the new year.

Oh, and for a brief shining moment Jack Layton was the Leader of the Official Opposition.

While the Liberals took on the Conservatives for increasing employment-insurance premiums and the jobs killed as a result, Mr. Layton accused the government of trying to shut down the Military Police Complaints Commission hearings into the alleged torture of Afghan prisoners.

"The government is not serious about allowing this inquiry to continue," the NDP Leader charged, saying the evidence of two witnesses was being suppressed. "What does the government know about what was going on in the Afghan prisons that it doesn't want to be presented to the commission?"

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the government is co-operating and respecting the investigative process.

The inquiry is looking at what military police in Kandahar knew about the possible abuse of prisoners who had been handed over by Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan's notorious intelligence service. Public hearings were adjourned today to give lawyers a chance to figure out the precise scope of the probe.

Mr. Layton pressed on, raising testimony provided by Richard Colvin, a former diplomat who worked at Canada's provincial reconstruction base in Kandahar in 2006, whose evidence the NDP Leader accused the government of "trying to suppress."

Up stood Defence Minister Peter MacKay to bat down the query: "Now the Leader of the Opposition may think he is going to have a Matlock moment on the floor of the House of Commons, but he ought to respect the rules of evidence of this commission," he said.

The Liberals later followed up on the same issue. Foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said the federal government invoked national security to prevent anyone from reading an affidavit submitted by Mr. Colvin. "If there is no cover-up who is going to review in an independent fashion the evidence and testimony of Mr. Colvin?"

Mr. MacKay replied that there was no political influence on the commission and that it is an arms-length, quasi-judicial inquiry.

But the Defence Minister's slip up added weight to an NDP press release issued after Question Period. Titled " Who is the real leader of the opposition?", it noted that the Liberal Leader's questions today were similar to those asked by Mr. Layton earlier this week.

"Maybe because it's been a tough several weeks for the Ignatieff Liberals. Or maybe it's because it's the first time the Liberal Leader has asked a question of the Conservative's planned Employment insurance hikes," the release said.

Indeed, their questions were very similar. Mr. Ignatieff led off today accusing the government of killing jobs by hiking EI premiums. "According to very renowned economists, the Prime Minister's decision to increase wage contributions will prevent employers from hiring new employees," he said. "There will be an increase of $884 in premiums for employers under the Conservative plan. Will the prime minister not recognise the fact that this rise in taxes will kill jobs?"

Mr. Harper fired back that the Liberal Leader was all over the map with his questions and needed to stick to a plan.

The NDP, meanwhile, noted that Mr. Layton had quoted the same economist and used the same figures.

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