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The Chronicle Herald (Halifax), Saturday, October 23, 2004

Beleaguered Brison feels Tory anger

by Stephen Maher

It has been a long week for Scott Brison.

The Tories threw everything they had at the MP for Kings-Hants this week, and some of the shots connected, but he was still on his feet Friday.

They booed, heckled him, bayed, howled and mocked him, shook their heads, twirled their earphone cords and, at times, chanted in unison.

The Conservatives don't like Mr. Brison.

The smooth-tongued Valley politician was a Tory - one of their most effective performers - until he crossed the floor in December.

As public works minister, it's his job to stand in the House and respond to Opposition questions about the sponsorship program, but not necessarily to answer them.

As the Gomery inquiry into alleged Liberal pilfering grinds on, testimony keeps coming up that makes the Liberals look bad. Members of the Opposition stand up in the House and ask the government to account for its actions. Then Mr. Brison stands up and says that the government will not respond to the day-to-day testimony at the inquiry. Then the Opposition repeats its question, with greater outrage.

This week, it started Monday, about halfway through question period, when Deputy Tory leader Peter MacKay stood to ask Prime Minister Paul Martin about a call from his office, back when he was finance minister, to lobby for funds for a Quebec company headed by hockey great (and Liberal fundraiser) Serge Savard. After the call, the company received $1.2 million from the sponsorship program.

Mr. Brison gave Mr. MacKay his standard spiel and asked him to support the inquiry.

Mr. MacKay responded: "Mr. Speaker, I had hoped for support from this person before. This is for the prime minister, not the wannabe."

The Liberals didn't like Mr. MacKay's comment and started to shout him down. But the Speaker, Peter Milliken, quieted them, and Mr. MacKay finished his follow-up question, pointing out that Mr. Savard raised $1 million for Mr. Martin.

Mr. Brison was acid in his response.

"Mr. Speaker, I am surprised that somebody who calls himself a lawyer would not understand the importance of the independence of a judicial inquiry and respect of that independence. I suspect he is having a bit of a lapse of legal judgment today. Perhaps that was the same lapse of judgment that led him to rip up a written agreement he made with David Orchard."

The exchange only seemed to whet the Tories' appetite. On Tuesday, they went at it hard. Stephen Harper started, demanding that Mr. Martin say who made the phone call.

Mr. Martin stood up and said this was a question for the Gomery inquiry.

Mr. Harper urged Mr. Martin to answer the question himself: "No going to the junior guy. This is a job for the guy at the top. Is the prime minister saying that he does not know or that he will not tell us who made the calls from his own office?"

When Mr. Brison stood to respond, the Tories booed him. Mr. Milliken had to silence them before Mr. Brison could answer.

Mr. Brison stuck to his line, and when Mr. Harper kept pushing Mr. Martin to respond, the public works minister goaded the Tory leader, asking him about an idea he floated about adapting constitutional ideas from Belgium.

"That honourable member, if he does not answer those questions, is the Belgian waffler of the House of Commons."

Mr. MacKay fired back, shouting, "You're being set up as the fall guy."

A little later, the member for Central Nova rose to ask Mr. Martin about the call. When Mr. Brison responded, Mr. MacKay said, "Mr. Speaker, my question is for the shipping magnate, not the fridge magnet."

For the rest of the week, the Tories' went after Mr. Brison.

James Moore called him the "minister of public sell-outs."

Mr. Kenney quoted Mr. Brison, last year, attacking Mr. Martin: "He is hesitant, timid, risk-averse. . . . He runs from a debate, he does not want to take a stand on anything. . . . That is how shallow he really is."

Mr. Brison responded by saying he is happy now to serve Mr. Martin and insulted the Tories.

"Mr. Speaker, I can understand why those people are so bitter over there. They have not had a good line since I left."

Mr. Moore replied: "Your ego barely fits in this House, Scott."

By Thursday, whenever he stood up, the Tories bellowed across the floor, calling him Stonewall, even chanting it in unison at times.

Mr. Brison started to mix it up a bit, calling Mr. Harper Mr. Wrong and Mr. MacKay Mr. Wrong Again. He quoted an editorial from The Chronicle Herald. He mentioned Mr. Harper's Belgian trial balloon - and the Windsor pumpkin festival.

Later, the Tories made so much noise when Mr. Brison answered a question from Mr. MacKay that Mr. Milliken had to stand up twice to ask them to be quiet. Then Mr. MacKay referred to Mr. Brison's response - that the Tories ought to let the inquiry do its work - as "irrelevant drivel."

As long as the Tories keep asking about this, Mr. MacKay can look forward to more of the same. The Gomery inquiry is expected to run until Christmas 2005.

Quote of the week:

"Who is advising the leader of the Opposition on constitutional matters, Tintin and Snowy?"

- Paul Martin on Stephen Harper's musings that Canada should look to Belgium - the home of cartoon hero Tintin and his dog, Snowy - as a constitutional model.


CTV's "Question Period," Sunday, October 24, 2004 showed a clip of this exchange in its weekly section with Jane Taber who comments on "Who's Hot and Who's Not in Ottawa." You'll find it at www.ctv.ca/qperiod. Click on "Hot & Not."

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