The Scene. Thomas Mulcair’s question was existential.
“Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives do not seem to have the slightest concept of ministerial responsibility. The minister responsible for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is the official responsible for food safety, period,” he explained. “They cannot pass the buck to civil servants. They cannot keep their feet to the fire. What they can do is take responsibility and be accountable. That is the basis of our parliamentary system. However, the Conservatives say the minister is not responsible.”
Mr. Mulcair gestured with his left hand towards Gerry Ritz’s empty chair.
“The minister did not tell the truth,” Mr. Mulcair continued, “but the Conservatives say he is not responsible.”
Like a kindergartener who’d just heard a classmate say some terrible word like “crap” or “stupidhead,” John Baird pointed at the NDP leader and appealed to the Speaker for some sort of reprimand (it perhaps being unparliamentary to suggest that a member of this place has, in any way, failed to tell the absolute truth).
“If the Minister of Agriculture will not be held responsible for the tainted meat scandal,” Mr. Mulcair continued, the Speaker declining to intervenue, “then what is the point of having a minister?”
The Prime Minister had stumbled at the outset of this afternoon: asserting with his first response that it was necessary to speak the truth and then claiming that his government had hired 700,000 food inspectors.
After this slip drew some tittering from the opposition, Mr. Harper used his second response to confess, with a slight smile, that he had overestimated by approximately 699,300 inspectors. Responding to this third question from Mr. Mulcair, the Prime Minister repeated the smaller number and summarized the basic parameters of responsibility thusly.
“Mr. Speaker, once again, it is necessary to state the facts. The government has added 700 net new inspectors since 2006,” he said.
“Apparently they didn’t work!” mocked Ralph Goodale from the Liberal corner.
(In this battle of numbers it is perhaps problematic that the inspectors’ union seems not to know where some 170 meat inspectors have ended up and claims that 100 food inspectors might eventually be eliminated in budget cuts.)