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Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Oct. 31, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Oct. 31, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Question Period

Opposition blasts 'botched' jet purchase and gun-registry 'bonfire' Add to ...

The opposition tried a number of scare tactics, accusing the Conservative government of mishandling its fighter-jet purchase and of scorching the earth with its long-gun registry bill, on Monday’s Halloween edition of Question Period.

Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino was shouted down as he tried to defend the government’s multi-billion-dollar stealth fighter deal amid accusations that his boss, Defence Minster Peter MacKay, “botched” the purchase.

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“It is a simple but very important question, so I will ask it again,” said NDP MP Matthew Kellway. “When will the Conservatives finally admit that the F-35 scheme is in a tailspin? When will they start putting Canadian taxpayers first, cancel the F-35 and establish a transparent and competitive process for the replacement of the CF-18?”

Mr. Fantino was only partway through his answer, in which he was blaming the Liberals for initially signing on to the process to acquire the 65 new fighter jets, before he was shut down by the opposition’s heckling. The Speaker had to intervene.

“The minister has been asked a question. He has the right to answer it. The honourable minister has the floor,” Speaker Andrew Scheer told the Commons.

Mr. Fantino did not stray from the government line – that the jets are the only “aircraft that meets the needs of Canada’s Armed Forces.”

It was a rancorous Question Period – and one that is featuring fewer and fewer NDP MPs criticizing the government. Peggy Nash and Robert Chisholm both resigned their high-profile finance and trade critic roles this weekend after announcing they were running for the leadership, bringing to eight the number of candidates vying to replace the late Jack Layton.

The Liberals, meanwhile, also want the jet fighter purchase to be a competitive one. So far, it has been a sole-source contract with other NATO countries, including Canada and the United States, deciding on the Lockheed-Martin airplane.

The jets will cost between $9-billion and $30-billion, depending on who is doing the math. By comparison, the shipbuilding contracts the government awarded this month worth $33-billion.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae tried to lay a trap on that front, asking Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose about the process that led to the awarding of the shipbuilding contracts.

“I wonder if the minister can tell us whether she considers the work of the fairness officer in assessing the value of the contract with respect to the building of ships was an important and integral part of that entire process.”

Ms. Ambrose said it was “invaluable.” Indeed, that process, which successfully kept politics and pork out, was lauded by the opposition and even the lobbyists.

Armed with Ms. Ambrose’s answer, Mr. Rae countered: “If it is good enough for the ships, why is it not good enough for the planes?”

He didn’t get the answer he wanted.

“What we saw under 13 years of Liberal rule was a constant degrading of the Canadian Forces’ budgets and that can never happen again,” said Heritage Minister James Moore, who was standing in for an absent Stephen Harper. “If the Leader of the Liberal Party does not like the process with regard to the F-35s, all he has to do is look to his left and look to his right because it is his party that started it.”

In addition to questions about the jet purchase, the opposition also went after the government for its controversial decision not only to scrap the long-gun registry but to burn the records along with it.

“The government is planning a $2-billion bonfire,” NDP MP Francoise Boivin charged. “Why is it ignoring the pleas of victims and their families? Why will it not put public safety first?”

The NDP is against killing the registry, with Ms. Boivin arguing that Quebeckers – particularly the families of the victims of the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre – want the records maintained. (It was Marc Lepine’s killing rampage that led Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government to create the registry.)

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews fired back, accusing MPs of being anti-victim because the NDP has not supported the government’s crime legislation that is aimed at protecting victims.

“Just because the Liberals spent $2-billion on a long-gun registry does not mean it is worth anything,” added Mr. Toews. “In fact, the only thing it does is target law-abiding Canadian citizens improperly and it obtrusive in their private affairs.”

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