Conservative MP Michael Barrett (Leeds-Grenville –Thousand Islands) was red-in-the-face incensed when he demanded an answer during the once-a-week social-distancing question period in the House of Commons on May 20.
Said Barrett: “The prime minister is having a waterfront mansion built at Harrington Lake at taxpayers’ expense while the existing mansion is renovated. Can’t he just stay home during the renovations and how much are Canadian taxpayers on the hook for?”
The question was, of course, not answered. This is the current government’s strategic response to almost everything: Avoid, evade and deflect. It’s been their playbook from the first screwup.
Back in May 2017, opposition MPs wanted to know more details about the prime minister’s ethics violation when he visited the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas. MPs from different parties asked variations of the same question 18 times. “Has the prime minister met with the ethics commissioner?”
Trudeau’s answer each time was a variation of: “I’m happy to work with the ethics commissioner.”
But did he meet with the commissioner?
In a pandemic when information is even more important, things haven’t changed. On May 8, the Globe and Mail’s Marieke Walsh asked this question: “The former prime minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull says that China is a bully. And that the way for Canada to deal with China is to stand up to them instead of backing down. Is your government standing up to China or is it backing away from China?”
Trudeau responded, saying, “My responsibility as prime minister is to make sure that we are providing for Canadians and keeping Canadians safe. That’s the job people expect me to do and that is exactly what I’m doing.
“We’re going to ensure that Canadians have the equipment, the supplies, the support they need to make it through this pandemic. Of course, at the same time, we will be asking difficult questions about how we’re making it through this pandemic, how this came to happen, how we can learn from this.
“There’ll be plenty of time for questions in the months to come. My focus, rightly, is on doing everything I can to help Canadians through this.”
Then he immediately walked away.
The current government also limits answers to freedom of information requests and has gutted the budget of the auditor general, our independent look at what government spends and misspends our money on.
The May 20 question period reaffirmed how routinely Liberal government MPs avoid, evade and deflect.
Conservative MP Bard Redekopp (Saskatoon-West) asked this simple question with no preamble: “Will the federal debt reach $1-trillion this year?”
Minister of Middle Class Prosperity Mona Fortier replied: “I would like to provide the honourable member with the fact that we are in an emergency situation. Currently, we are providing support for Canadians, businesses and workers and we will continue to do so.”
Redekopp then asked: “Does the government know what the federal debt is going to be this year?”
Fortier replied in nine words: “We are working on supporting Canadians at this time.”
That answer would have been just as helpful had she said, “I ate a sandwich for lunch.” It was embarrassing.
Little wonder the feisty Barrett stood up and charged: “Canadians want answers to more than just the questions from the journalists selected by the PMO when the prime minister pops out of the cottage each morning. Hollywood Squares version of the House of Commons is not what Canadians expect. They want oversight. They want accountability. They elected parliamentarians. They elected an official opposition to hold the government to account and that’s why we’re here today.”
But government lockdown appears to be how the Liberal government wants it.
Canadians send an obscene amount of money to Ottawa each year. On average, about half of what we earn is taken away in one form of tax or another. The other half we keep and when we want to spend big, most of us clear it with a spouse. We perform self-audits of our credit card bills and practice self-restraint when big ticket items are just “not in the budget right now.”
Opposition MPs are our voice, and like a responsible spouse, ask for the 18th time: “Honey, I know you are working hard. You’ve told me. But how much is the renovation is going to cost?”
The government replies: “I’m working so hard for us. Hey, look at the new refrigerator.”
The cynicism is so infuriating that if this were as simple as a marriage between two people, one of them would have changed the locks on the door by now, frozen the bank account, and put a restraining order on the one spending all the money.
Reach Farmers Forum editor Patrick Meagher at firstname.lastname@example.org