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Question Period

Harper flies solo on jobs, government jets and wheat board Add to ...

The most interesting thing about the first Question Period of the fall session was not the fresh faces of new MPs who have settled into their jobs over the summer, or even the first appearance of Nycole Turmel as Interim NDP Leader.

It was the number of times Stephen Harper was on his feet.

The Prime Minister does not always turn out to the Monday editions of the cross-Commons shout down. He generally reserves his participation for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

But with this particular Monday being the first day back after the summer break, with a trip to New York on Tuesday and Wednesday, and with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit dominating the agenda on Thursday, Mr. Harper opted to take questions from Ms. Turmel and Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae.

Then he went on to answer questions from rank-and-file opposition MPs about the allegations of exorbitant spending lodged against General Walter Natynczyk, the Chief of Defence Staff, and the Conservative government’s plan to dismantle the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board. Mr. Harper normally does not respond to anyone but party leaders.

Ms. Turmel began by asking, in French, when the government would turn its attention to creating jobs for the millions of Canadians who are out of work.

Mr. Harper congratulated the NDP chief on asking her first question as Leader of the Official Opposition, then replied that his government is, in fact, creating employment by investing in research and development, among other things.

When Ms. Turmel lobbed back with a similar question in English, saying Canada needs to create 420,000 new jobs to reach the same proportion of working Canadians as before the recession, the Prime Minister encouraged her to get her facts straight.

“There are more people working in Canada today than before the recession, the only advanced country where that is the case, and that is because the government remains focused on jobs,” he retorted.

On the current controversy surrounding Gen. Natynczyk, NDP defence critic Jack Harris asked why the general had been allowed to take flights worth more than $1-million in the nearly four years he had headed the military – many of them on Challenger jets reserved for government VIPs.

Mr. Harper, who met with Gen. Natynczyk on Monday, said the military chief understands the rules for taking government jets “and is certainly prepared to live according to those rules. The Chief of the Defence Staff does fly very frequently on government business, but obviously where there are alternatives, we will look into that usage.”

And on the wheat board, Kevin Lamoureux, who represents the riding of Winnipeg South for the Liberals, asked about a plebiscite that found that Prairie grain farmers want to keep the agency the Conservatives plan to dismantle.

Having allowed Agriculture Gerry Ritz to take an earlier question about the board, Mr. Harper decided to field this one himself.

“It is interesting to have a question from a member who does not have, to my knowledge, a single farmer in his riding,” he said. “Let us talk about the facts. In this so-called plebiscite not only did a significant portion vote against the wheat board, it did not include those tens of thousands of farmers who have walked away from that institution.”

The wheat board gets to pick its own voters, Mr. Harper said. “I guess if they could do that over there, the Liberal Party could even win an election in the West. The fact of the matter is, western farmers voted for marketing freedom and that is what they are going to get.”

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