There will be no Tolstoy in Stornoway tonight. Michael Ignatieff, the Leader of the Opposition, announced this afternoon that he's spending his Thursday evening with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 234-page update (PDF) on the federal stimulus package. The Liberal Leader does, after all, moonlight as a book reviewer for the New York Times, and these things take time.
Neither Mr. Ignatieff nor the Prime Minister were in the House of Commons for Question Period. Mr. Harper unveiled his report earlier Thursday from Cambridge, Ont., in an elaborate presentation hosted by Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, formerly of CTV's Mike Duffy Live.
On that particular piece of political theatre, NDP leader Jack Layton jumped in as the biggest critic.
"Holding some kind of weird Mike Duffy Live show instead of reporting to the House will not change the facts," Mr. Layton fumed. He then described the event as "a gong show" and criticized the Prime Minister for putting a windmill on the cover the stimulus document.
"Is that some kind of joke? A windmill?" Mr. Layton asked.
On the government benches, there was applause all around for ministerial boasts on the report from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Transport minister John Baird.
"I am proud to tell the House that 80 per cent of the projects are being implemented now, within 10 weeks of the budget having been passed," Mr. Flaherty said.
On the isotope front - which is what the Liberals led with in their questions - Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq shared the load nearly 50-50. Their message today: Other countries are increasing isotope production, so Canadian supply should be at 50 per cent of usual rates by next week. Also, there are medical alternatives to isotopes and the government is looking into those options.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe made clear he won't be supporting the government's stimulus update. The Bloc wanted to know why the government didn't announce further changes to Employment Insurance today. The Prime Minister said this morning that his government would look at changes to EI in the fall.
Both the Bloc and the NDP also picked up on the latest installment of the Raitt tapes, asking whether it's true that Environment Minister Jim Prentice cut money for wind power and shifted it to the oil sands.
"Nonsense" was Mr. Prentice's reply.
NDP MP Pat Martin, a regular critic of Canadian asbestos exports, put a new spin on his issue in questioning the Natural Resources Minister.
"Does the Minister of Natural Resources not think that it is sexy enough to get involved with?" he asked.
Public Works Minister Christian Paradisis said there are safe uses for asbestos.
"This policy is developed by experts," he said. "We shouldn't generalize and we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater."