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Transport Minister John Baird responds to opposition attacks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Sept. 28, 2009. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Transport Minister John Baird responds to opposition attacks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Sept. 28, 2009. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Question Period

'Trolling the Internet' for Harper pics Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was out of town, but he might have wished he was here given the fun his Conservative colleagues were having today at the Liberals' expense.

Mr. Harper's stand in - Transport Minister John Baird - spent his answer time suggesting new Quebec lieutenants for the Liberal Party and accusing his rivals of trolling the Internet late at night looking for photos of the Prime Minister.

In between the jabs, he also kept the water muddy in the back-and-forth over just how much federal stimulus is actually in the works.

By announcing today's economic stimulus update in New Brunswick, rather than Ottawa, the Prime Minister is facing accusations of dodging parliamentary accountability.

However it was Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff who was deflecting in the House of Commons. The Liberal Leader's plans for a show of strength this week were derailed by Denis Coderre's announcement this morning that he was stepping down as the Liberal Party's Quebec lieutenant and defence critic. Mr. Coderre said he had to resign after Mr. Ignatieff overruled his decisions regarding the party's nomination in Outremont.

The timing could not have been much worse, given that Mr. Ignatieff was scheduled to unveil a motion for Thursday aimed at defeating the Conservative government and triggering an election.

The motion is not expected to pass, however, given the NDP's intention to keep the government in office at least until Bill C-50, on employment insurance, becomes law.

"It's another great day in the life of the Leader of the Opposition," Mr. Ignatieff deadpanned to reporters after Question Period had ended.

An hour earlier, Mr. Ignatieff led off his attack on the government with a focus on the Prime Minister's latest stimulus numbers. Whereas the government says 90 per cent of the economic action plan is already being implemented, the Liberals say their research shows only 12 per cent of the stimulus spending - which is a part of the government's larger action plan - has been spent.

The war of words over stimulus statistics even appears to have injected confusion into Mr. Ignatieff's own questions.

"This dog will not hunt," Mr. Ignatieff said. "When will Canadians be able to trust a government that does not tell the truth?"

"We are focused on the economy," Mr. Baird replied. "We are working together with our political opponents, whether it is Liberals, whether it is Conservatives, and maybe we could see a bit of unity come from the Liberal caucus, particularly in the province of Quebec."

When Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez asked the next set of Liberal questions, Mr. Baird wondered aloud whether the MP had been named to replace Mr. Coderre.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe fought to suppress a smile over that one before accusing the government of abandoning forestry workers.

"The stimulus plan is insufficient and does not respond to the needs of Quebec," Mr. Duceppe said in French.

The NDP, which currently holds the Outremont riding at the heart of the Liberal family feud, asked questions about the environment and said the government needs to do more for the unemployed.

"The Prime Minister is once again trying to paint a rosy picture of the economy, but the real economy and the impact on families is still devastating," NDP leader Jack Layton said.

Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay later raised her party's concern that the Conservatives are politicizing government advertising and websites with multiple images of the Prime Minister.

Ms. Hall Findlay said it appears the government scaled back the number of photos after the issue was raised last week by the opposition.

"I will volunteer that hastily making drastic changes to the website in the middle of the night sure looks like a guilty kid trying to cover his tracks. Why will the government not admit that its hands were caught in a taxpayer-paid cookie jar?" she asked.

"Mr. Speaker," countered Mr. Baird. "While the Liberal Party is trolling the Internet looking for pictures of the Prime Minister, it is this Conservative government that is working hard to create jobs to inspire more hope, to inspire more opportunities for the Canadian economy. That is our priority, not logging on to the worldwide web in the middle of the night like the member opposite."

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