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Question Period

'Why does ideology trump economics' <br/>in funding gay pride? Add to ...

John Baird and Tony Clement were on their feet for much of Question Period today, deflecting accusations from the opposition that their government's right-wing ideology is behind cuts to both Toronto's gay pride parade and corporate tax rates.

Good thing, too, given the injuries among their cabinet colleagues. Labour Minister Lisa Raitt arrived in the House wearing sneakers; she is nursing a broken toe. And Gary Lunn, the junior sports minister, is on crutches for the next few weeks after having foot surgery.

Stephen Harper was absent; he had been traveling in Europe last week and only arrived back in Ottawa on the weekend. So it was up to the Transport and Industry ministers to do the heavy lifting during a session that was dominated by cuts to women's programs, to the gay pride parade and to corporate taxes.

"Why does ideology trump economics in this Conservative government?" Brampton Liberal MP Navdeep Bains asked. He was criticizing the decision to cut funding to Toronto's gay pride parade; last year Ottawa gave the event $400,000 in funding under its marquee tourism program.

The parade has a spin-off economic effect in the region, creating 650 jobs and $18-million in tax revenue. The Harper government, however, has decided that for the second year of the program it will fund just two big events in Toronto - the Luminato arts festival and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

Mr. Clement said, too, that 19 new events are being funded this year. "I think that this is a win for all of Canada," he said.

That wasn't good enough for Mr. Bains. "That argument doesn't hold water," he asserted. "Cuts to women's groups, cuts to access to reproductive health abroad and now cuts to arts and pride tourism funding - the marquee tourism program is supposed to be about economic stimulus but what we see here is blatant discrimination and political pandering."

Brian Masse, an NDP from Windsor, Ont., said Toronto is still "reeling" from the cancellation of the government support. "What does the government have against pride celebrations in Toronto?"

Mr. Clement replied: "We had a cap for the major urban centres like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, a cap of a maximum of two events, so we could spread it around and make sure that the diversity of the country was recognized by this program."

Transport Minister Baird, meanwhile, batted away allegations from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff that the Conservative government was "surfing on a reputation that it did not earn" and making an "ideological mistake" by rushing into corporate tax cuts the country can't afford.

"In the '90s the Liberal Party balanced the budget, reimbursed part of the debt and regulated banks," the Mr. Ignatieff said. "The Prime Minister and his party were against us at every step of the way."

While Mr. Harper may "laud Canada's performance today," Mr. Ignatieff said he could also learn something from the European crisis and "suspend the additional corporate tax cuts that could imperil Canada's fiscal position."

Mr. Baird replied with quips and criticisms about Mr. Ignatieff being out of the country in the 1990s before noting that Tory tax cuts had helped create jobs.

NDP Leader Jack Layton focused not on cuts but on offshore drilling, concerned that Canada is not prepared in the event of a spill such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Imperial Oil is going around claiming that the likelihood of a spill in the Arctic would be one in 285,000," Mr. Layton. "It says that the risk is manageable. It says that it would have no problem containing any spills. It is really not credible. These are exactly the same things that BP said about its drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Does the government agree that the chances of one in 285,000 of a major ecological disaster in the Arctic Ocean is worth the risk and somehow manageable?"

Mr. Baird said everything is fine and the government is committed to ensuring the Arctic is protected. "It is a vital ecosystem and this government will not stand for any pollution."

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