Pierre Poilievre entered the House of Commons shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday and took his seat in the front row, directly across from Bill Morneau.
For the next four hours, Mr. Poilievre and other opposition MPs were given the rare opportunity to ask Canada’s Finance Minister anything they wished.
By 7:03, the Conservative finance critic was asking the Finance Minister if he would resign.
Mr. Poilievre led off with a question about the ongoing ethics commissioner probe into the fact that Mr. Morneau introduced pension-related legislation while owning shares in Morneau Shepell, a human-resources firm that had advocated for the changes.
“If the ethics commissioner finds that the Finance Minister is guilty of conflict of interest, will he resign from cabinet?” Mr. Poilievre asked.
“I worked with the commissioner to ensure that I have no conflicts of interest and I’m confident that allows me to comport myself in my job as appropriate,” Mr. Morneau responded.
“Many would think it inappropriate for a minister to own a pension company while simultaneously introducing pension legislation, but the ethics commissioner will decide,” said Mr. Poilievre, before moving on to a series of questions about carbon taxes, federal environmental legislation and the price of gas.
The unusual session – which will be repeated Thursday evening with Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen – is a procedure that has taken place one week a year since 2002. Officially known as a review of departmental estimates by the committee of the whole, the goal at the time the sessions were adopted was to give a greater profile to the responsibility MPs have to review and approve government spending.
In practice, it has become a marathon version of Question Period.
Mr. Morneau is well-known as a minister who keeps to a tight script. Tuesday night was no exception. NDP questions about the Kinder Morgan pipeline or the government’s position on imposing sales taxes on digital services like Netflix failed to shake out any new information from the Finance Minister.
The evening did underscore the fact that Mr. Morneau and Mr. Poilievre are not big fans of each other. While many ministers get along quite well with their opposition critics behind the scenes, Tuesday marked the latest in a series of terse exchanges between the two.
When Mr. Poilievre started asking specific questions about debt figures in the budget, Mr. Morneau shot back.
“He can seek [the answer] himself in his private time as well, on page 319 of the budget,” Mr. Morneau said. “I’d actually be happy to sign one of these books for him.”
The Conservative MPs in the House chided Mr. Morneau for declining to answer direct questions, such as when the budget will be balanced.
Liberal MPs, however, accused the opposition of wasting everyone’s time.
“I’m hoping we can take a break from ‘adventures in prosecution’ and talk to Canadians tonight about some things that they care about: things like pensions, things like health-care, things like infrastructure,” Liberal MP Steven MacKinnon said.
The MP said Mr. Poilievre should be asking about more-pressing matters, like labour shortages and demographic issues.
“He’s too busy asking the Finance Minister, with his valuable time, to read him from page 47 of the budget document,” he said.