Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff mocked Stephen Harper's government today for its weak defence of the $1-billion summit security price tag, goading the government to simply admit that it has mismanaged and mishandled the three-day affair.
Summit security costs dominated Question Period again today, keeping Transport Minister John Baird, who was standing in for the Prime Minister, on his feet. Fortunately, however, not so busy was Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, who appears to have ditched his Kindle for a brand new iPad.
He was fiddling with his iPad throughout Question Period as Mr. Baird fended off the opposition attacks:
"Regrettably security costs money," Mr. Baird said. "This is not money that we want to spend. This is money that security experts tell us we must spend."
He was, of course, referring to the $1-billion budgeted for three days of summit meetings in Huntsville and Toronto in late June.
That answer was not good enough for Mr. Layton: "The Conservatives' $1-billion boondoggle on the G8 and the G20 is still upsetting Canadians and Torontonians in particular and the rather weak defence from the Minister of Public Safety this weekend was that the government could have saved a lot of money if it had called in the army, but it was afraid - get this - of Liberal propaganda. … Why will the Prime Minister and the government not simply admit they have mismanaged this project?
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also wasn't satisfied with the government's defence.
"Canadians are happy that we are sponsoring the G8 and G20 summits, but the government's planning of this has been a mess," Mr. Ignatieff charged. "… and every time the government tries to explain this, its explanations get more and more farcical. Will the Prime Minister accept responsibility for this fiasco and will he give Canadians an honest accounting of how these security costs have spiralled out of control?"
And Nova Scotia Liberal MP Scott Brison listed off what else $1-billion would buy: "…500 MRI machines or 340,000 hip or knee surgeries. It would pay for 17,000 public health nurses. These are the priorities for Canadians."
Cape Breton Liberal MP Mark Eyking even suggested the RCMP "kick off" 15 minutes early and use the saved money to dredge the Sydney harbour.
And it seems, too, that the money the Prime Minister is prepared to put into his signature maternal health initiative - $1 billion over five years - is the same as the security costs over three days.
Mr. Layton questioned which was of more value.
To all the queries, Mr. Baird, told the opposition that the government's hands are tied.
"This is an important opportunity for Canada to provide leadership on the world stage. These are not funds that we want to spend on security. These are funds that we have to spend. These are funds that our security experts tell us we must spend."
He also said that he and his government welcomes an audit by the Auditor General and an investigation by the Parliamentary Budget Officer into the summit costs _ this is something the NDP had asked for.
To which, Mr. Layton replied sarcastically: "I guess we can expect those documents within a couple of days and we will look forward to that."
But the spiciest exchange of the day was left to Industry Minister Tony Clement and PEI Liberal MP Wayne Easter.
"As health minister, he used his title to act as pitch-man in a video produced by one of his political supporters," charged Mr. Easter. "Does the minister not understand that favouring one company over all others violates Treasury Board rules?"
Mr. Easter was referring to a video/infomercial of Mr. Clement that surfaced last week in which he is helping to promote a company in his riding to China.
Mr. Clement shot back, denying any conflict.
"There is no pecuniary interest," he said. "We did not hear the hon. members on the other side of the aisle when Jean Chrétien went around the world with Team Canada, 100 business people, 200 business people. They were happy to applaud him when he did that, but I cannot stick up for the people in my riding."