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Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay answers questions regarding Afghan detainees during Question Period in the House of Commons on Wednesday November 18, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick)
Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay answers questions regarding Afghan detainees during Question Period in the House of Commons on Wednesday November 18, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick)

Question Period

'Huffing and puffing' on torture Add to ...

Seal meat is to be on the menu at the swank parliamentary restaurant and now Inuktitut is being spoken in the House of Commons. Parliament is rocking a decidedly northern theme these days.

At Question Period today, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, in answer to a planted question from a colleague, announced that the February meeting of G7 finance ministers and central bank governors is being held in Iqaluit.

"Today people of Nunavut are very pleased with our government's announcement and the recognition of Canada's Arctic as a place to meet," said the minister, in her native Inuktitut.

It's not the first time Inuktitut has been spoken in the House but the minister received a standing ovation nonetheless. She has been under fire of late over the controversy around delivery of the H1N1 vaccine.

Perhaps, she was also being feted for veering from her usual script.

Meanwhile, the serious business of Question Period revolved around several themes.

Toronto Centre MP and Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae led off the daily session, (Leader Michael Ignatieff was away again) with a simple question: he wanted to know why it took 18 months for the Harper government to deal with "something as serious as firsthand evidence of torture by a Canadian public official?"

He didn't get his answer.

Instead Defence Minister Peter MacKay did everything but answer his questions, accusing the other side of "huffing and puffing and hyperventilating and pontificating."

He said the government acted and "improved upon regular visitations to see that conditions were in fact improving. We invested in the prison system and infrastructure itself."

Mr. Rae was focused on this issue in advance of an appearance at a Commons committee by Richard Colvin, the diplomat who warned of possible torture in Afghan jails.

The other issue that concerned opposition MPs today was that of the sale of nuclear technology to India.

NDP Leader Jack Layton, sounding a little hoarse after missing two days because of a cold, pointed out that the last time the Canadian government sold nuclear technology to India, which was in the 1970s, "India took the opportunity to build a bomb."

Transport Minister John Baird told Mr. Layton to get real: "We have great faith in our Indian friends and partners. We are not living in the 1970s. We are living in 2009."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just wrapped up a three-day tour India . It was his first visit to the country. He is on his way home now.

And the Liberals have also not forgotten the issue of infrastructure spending and Conservative signage and advertising at infrastructure sites.

"Yesterday the government could not tell us why it erected an expensive sign in Gatineau to advertise the installation of another sign," Nova Scotia MP Mike Savage said. "In Yellowknife, another Conservative sign has been bought to advertise the installation of 'interior-exterior signs.' Signs, signs, everywhere a sign."

Mr. Savage wanted to know why the government is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars on signs when more and more Canadians are using food banks.

Transport Minister Baird characterized these signs as "signs of hope", and signs of opportunity.

It was not clear if Mr. Savage rolled his eyes at this point, or not.

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