Stephen Harper has finally faced off against Thomas Mulcair in the first confrontation between the two men who will fight to form the next government in the 2015 election.
Mr. Mulcair, the new Leader of the NDP and the Official Opposition, started off a pre-budget Question Period by reminding the Conservative government of recent promises, stating that they are now at risk.
“Everything indicates the Conservative budget will be synonymous with cutbacks and job losses. A few months ago, the Prime Minister promised textually, in this House, that he would not touch pensions, would not cut health transfers to the provinces, would not touch services to the population?” Mr. Mulcair said. “Will the Prime Minister live up to his word, or will he break his promise?”
The Prime Minister answered that his party won last year’s election and is governing accordingly.
“This government has gone in front of the population and won a mandate for its budget, its Economic Action Plan, and we will govern under that mandate,” Mr. Harper said.
Mr. Harper also congratulated Mr. Mulcair for his victory, but Mr. Mulcair did not seem impressed.
“I thank the Prime Minister for his kind words, but the question was whether or not he was going to respect his word,” Mr. Mulcair said.
Mr. Mulcair was elected as NDP Leader on Saturday, and he entered the House of Commons for the first time as the Leader of the Official Opposition on Monday.
However, Mr. Harper was in the middle of a long trip in Asia and only returned to Ottawa on Wednesday, delaying the first confrontation between the two party leaders.
Under pressure by the NDP Leader, Mr. Harper defended his beleaguered Industry Minister Christian Paradis, who was found to have breached the conflict of interest code last week and is now involved in another controversy.
“I have confidence in this minister,” Mr. Harper said, adding that Mr. Paradis did not use the taxpayers’ fund in an inappropriate way.
Mr. Mulcair called on the Prime Minister to fire Mr. Paradis, who went on a moose-hunting trip in 2009 with Marcel Aubut, the former president of the Quebec Nordiques and a booster of federal funding for a new hockey arena at the time.
“What does it take to get fired from this cabinet?” Mr. Mulcair said.