It was Earth Day in Question Period. And Tanking Economy Day too, as far as Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP head Jack Layton were concerned. This meant the questions whipsawed back and forth between mounting job losses and alleged Conservative inaction on fighting climate instability, among other topics.
Mr. Ignatieff led off Question Period for the second day in a row with the eroding economic outlook, noting that Canada has lost 300,000 jobs so far this year and asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper what more he has in his stimulus honey pot for Canadians.
"Yesterday the Governor of Bank of Canada told Canadians that the recession would be deeper and longer than anticipated. Today, the International Monetary Fund predicts the most severe recession since 1945," Mr. Ignatieff said. "What additional measures, what hope can the Prime Minister offer to the people who may be watching this on television because they don't have jobs to go to?"
Mr. Harper tried to change the channel by bringing up Mr. Ignatieff's controversial April 13 admission that taxes would have to rise under a Liberal government to eliminate Ottawa's deepening deficit. It's a quote the Tories clearly plan to make good use of both now and in the next election.
"The leader of the Liberal Party," the Prime Minister began, "the kind of additional measures he wants are increases in taxes. And Mr. Speaker that's not what we're going to do."
It was the same jibe Mr. Harper wielded Tuesday and Mr. Ignatieff had a ready-made answer that attempted to turn the tables on the Tories, who've presided over the first federal deficits in more than a decade.
"Mr. Speaker, this is a Prime Minister who spent us into the red into the good times. It is a Prime Minister who slapped a 31.5 per cent tax on income trusts. This is a Prime Minister who's going to leave us with the biggest deficit in Canadian history. And he's giving me a lecture on economics?"
Mr. Harper responded by noting that Canada's hardly alone in running deficits today as tax revenue dips and stimulus spending strains the bank. And again with the jab at Mr. Ignatieff's plan to raise taxes:
"The fact is this: virtually every country in the world is running a deficit and the reason we are running a deficit is to take money the private sector is not using and to make sure it is employed for the benefit of the people who are losing their jobs," the Prime Minister said. "That's why we have surpluses in good times - so that we can act when times are tough. And none of that - there is no excuse for an agenda to raise taxes."
Gilles Duceppe followed with an attack on what the Bloc Leader perceives as inaction on the part of the government in helping Quebec's forest industry. The Prime Minister responded by pointing to aid chanelled to timber companies across the country through Export Development Canada.
For his part, Jack Layton attacked the Tories for what he alleged was inaction on fighting climate instability. The NDP Leader suggested a second stimulus package should focus on renewable energy:
"If we want to look at failure, take a look at the UN's report on climate change. It shows that Canada's emissions are up 34 per cent from 1990 and have gone up millions of tonnes under the watch of the Prime Minister. Why not kick-start the economic recovery with a whole new approach by really investing in renewable energy and in a massive program of retrofit of homes instead of the minuscule initiatives that we have seen?"
The Prime Minister took the opportunity to remind the Commons that the NDP voted against the first stimulus package. "If the leader of the New Democratic Party had decided to read our economic plan before voting against it, he would have found ... there are programs to address every single thing he raised."
All in all, it wasn't a day for witty rejoinders or soaring rhetoric. Liberal MP Roger Cuzner perhaps summed up the grim and partisan tone of debate when he yelled off microphone at the government benches: "Show some leadership; you're a clown."
With thanks to Macleans.ca's Aaron Wherry for his sharp eye in the Commons
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