Over the past weekend, CBC Radio's The House performed a bold experiment. It featured a panel of MPs, talking on the economy, but set ground rules: no using the airwaves to trash your opponents. The House host Kathleen Petty warned participants that producers would simply edit out any negative remarks directed at other parties.
You can listen to the result here.
The show is inviting the audience to call/write and say whether these new rules of engagement are welcome.
This may be an idea whose time has come. Anecdotally, you hear a lot of fed-up talk around Ottawa these days about the state of these panel discussions. When MPs or strategists simply come on the air to recite a list of "talking points" generated by central party command, the result seems to be simply noise.
For fun, I took the transcript of a panel discussion yesterday on CTV's Question Period (see below) and did a similar type of editing. By my rough count, you lose about half the number of words in this discussion if you get rid of the snipes against others.
CTV Question Period Transcript for Sunday, May 4, 2008 – MPs panel
OLIVER: The Prime Minister says the economy's in good shape, don't worry. However, the Governor of the Bank of Canada says we could be into a slowdown for a whole year. Which is it, and what are the plans of our political parties to do anything about it? Well we're joined from Calgary by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance Ted Menzies who's standing by in Toronto, John McCallum a former banker who's now the Liberal finance critic, and Peggy Nash who is the industry critic for the NDP. Mr. Menzies, let me get to you first. Which is it? Is the economy in pretty good shape or are we heading into a recession?
TED MENZIES (Parliamentary Secretary – Finance): Well certainly the economy is in good shape and I would agree with the prime minister, but we can't help but look across the border and see the difficult challenges that the Americans are facing. And we're very dependent on trade with the Americans so we need to be cautious. And that's why in the fall economic statement, the Finance Minister addressed those issues and put in $60 billion worth of tax cuts to stimulate the economy, and businesses reacted. We heard positive comment from all across this country, from industry groups and from private individuals, that those tax breaks stimulated new business, stimulated new jobs. We're looking at, since this government has taken power, nearly three-quarters of a million, over three-quarters of a million net new jobs. And yes people are, jobs are being rationalized. There's people that are losing their jobs, but there's over three-quarters of a million net new jobs in all regions all across this country.
OLIVER: Alright, Mr. Menzies has brought us straight to tax cuts, Mr. McCallum. In a slowdown, are tax cuts the answer, and then I'm going to get you to answer the same question Ms Nash.
JOHN MCCALLUM (Liberal Finance Critic):
Well I think Ted has a bit of a Pollyanna view. And I would argue that the basic problem is that this government spent like crazy over the last couple of years when the economy was strong, and now when we're looking at a weak economy the fiscal cupboard is bare and some are even saying we're in deficit, and so there's very little fiscal room now thanks to their overspending during good times. And the other point I would make is it's extremely unhelpful when Ontario, which is bearing the brunt of this storm, the government keeps attacking Ontario calling, saying that it's the last place to invest or that Dalton McGuinty is the small man of confederation. I think Canadians want their governments to work together, especially in Ontario when times are difficult, and this government should work with Ontario and stop trashing the business climate of Ontario.
OLIVER: Go ahead, Ms Nash?
PEGGY NASH (NDP MP): Well, you know, Craig, this week we had three different studies that came out that told us some pretty troubling news on Tuesday. We heard that just so far this year Canada has lost 55,000 manufacturing jobs, and that adds on to the hundreds of thousands we've already lost. On Wednesday we heard that the economy is stalled and in fact is shrinking, and on Thursday we had the StatsCan report that looked at the last generation, the last 25 years, and found that those who are very wealthy are getting wealthier, those at the bottom are falling further and further behind, and those in the middle are working harder, longer just to tread water, just to stay in place.
So I don't think that the government's handling the economy well at all. I think Mr. Harper has turned his back on the manufacturing crisis. He's turned his back on Ontario. And he's turned his back on the real pressing needs that certainly people in my community are telling me that they're facing. They've got the lowest savings in their generation, they've got the highest debt in the country's history, and they're really struggling.
OLIVER: I want to get back to Mr. Menzies. There is a real economy and then there's the political economy, Mr. Menzies. Is your government worried about Ontario where you need votes and a third of the ridings in the country are there if you have any chance of getting a majority at all, you're going to get them with the kind of answers you've got about the Ontario economy, because that's what the problem is, isn't it?
Well let's talk about reality, as I stated, and Peggy didn't seem to hear my comment,that we have over three-quarters of a million net new jobs in this country. Jobs are changing.
NASH: But, Mr. Menzies, when you lose your job at General Motors like a thousand people did this week, if you lose a thousand jobs at General Motors, what's a job at Wal-Mart?
MENZIES: Craig, I...
OLIVER: Okay, we better get Mr. Menzies, I want to let Mr. Menzies make his point here.
MENZIES: Thank you. It's very important to realize that no one that graduates from high school today would expect to stay in that same job. Jobs are changing. People are moving. Eighty percent of these over three-quarter of a million new jobs are high paying jobs. People have employment. They're moving to new jobs. They're commuting to better stronger jobs.
But to go back to Mr. McCallum's comment about spending, let's take into account what the Liberals have suggested we should do. Just last week, I believe it was on your show, Craig, the leader of the official opposition suggested that we should put a higher tax on gasolines and heating fuels. That's not what's going to help Canadians.
MCCALLUM: Actually he didn't say that.
That's not going to help Canadians survive through this summer and through a winter of cold conditions.
OLIVER: Mr. McCallum, I guess what I'd like to hear you say is a comment on this whole business of tax cuts. Is that what Ontario needs as its economy slips?
MCCALLUM: Well it's in the liberal DNA not to go back into deficit
after we got rid of the huge Conservative deficit in the mid-90s,so everything I say is subject to not going back into deficit. But I think manufacturing is hemorrhaging jobs, and it's not much comfort to those losing their jobs to be told that jobs are going elsewhere. And I think we have already announced, subject to money being available, a one billion fund to help support the manufacturing sector. Much of that would be in Ontario. The government is ideologically opposed to measures of that kind. But I think when we have US Governors in the southern states giving huge subsidies to lure our companies and our jobs out of Canada we have to support our manufacturing sector as well, and this is a big difference between what we would do as a government and what this government is refusing to do.
OLIVER: The Bank of Canada Governor says we are into a slowdown, Miss Nash. Who's right here, because the Prime Minister suggests things are in great shape, or is it just Ontario we're talking about and we've got one nation and two economies, Ms Nash?
NASH: Well I think if you're in the commodities sector, you know if you're in the oil and gas sector things are looking pretty rosy. It's not only Ontario that's in manufacturing. If you're in a paper mill in British Columbia, and that mill is closing, you feel the impact the same as someone in Ontario. But because Ontario, and Quebec to a lesser degree, but Ontario especially is the manufacturing heartland, here's where we're really feeling the impact of the manufacturing crisis.
And just on the issue of tax cuts, you know, Mr. Dion goaded the Prime Minister to cut taxes further and faster so he did and the Liberals supported that but, you know, it's the wrong way to go. What that has done, it's rewarded those very profitable companies that are already doing very well. Taken money out of the national purse that we ought to be spending to assist the manufacturing sector, but also meet people's needs in housing, social services, health care. That's what we should be doing.
OLIVER: Mr. Menzies, let me ask you about something I think you said, or I think it's where you're going, if you're out of work in Ontario and the economy of the west is booming move west where there are jobs. Isn't that in effect what you're saying? And I'm not being critical of that.
MENZIES: Well that isn't what I suggested at all. When I'm suggesting that people may travel to a job it's a short distance. But let's look at the facts. There's over 85,000 jobs in the province of Ontario that are producing products for the oil and gas sector in Saskatchewan and Alberta. That's where the jobs are going. They're going into building houses, into building new infrastructure in Ontario. They may not be building cars, but they have jobs. They have good paying jobs that are supporting the Canadian economy.
OLIVER:Quickly now, Mr. McCallum and Ms. Nash, you have to keep it quick, what are the chances that the Conservatives may suffer in Ontario politically, Mr. McCallum?
Well I think the fact that they keep insulting Ontario and attacking Dalton McGuinty and saying he's the small man of confederation rather than working with Ontario is one strike against them, and the fact that they have nothing to support the manufacturing sector having used up all the money during good times, they have nothing left to give and they're ideologically opposed to helping manufacturing anyway, and there's no consolation to those manufacturing people losing jobs to tell them there's jobs in Alberta. So I think they have two strikes against them.
OLIVER: Since then, by the way, the Prime Minister did say some nicy nicy things about Dalton McGuinty. But, Ms Nash, finally you?
Well, you know, we've seen 25 years mostly boom times and I think that boom was squandered. We didn't make the right decisions to invest where we needed to invest, both in infrastructure and in defending our value-added sectors, the manufacturing sector, and those that ignore that today I think do so at their peril. Canada cannot afford to lose its manufacturing sector. We're seeing the impact. It's hurting people very deeply.
OLIVER: That's it. That's got to be it, and I want to thank all three of you for giving us your time this Sunday. We appreciate it very much.
MCCALLUM: Thank you, Craig.
NASH: Thanks, Craig.
MENZIES: Thanks, Craig.
OLIVER: Just ahead, our journalists and our weekly cheers and jeers section.