Like a lot of reporters, I spent a lot of time hanging around the foyer of the House of Commons Friday talking to politicians from all sides about the possibility of Stephen Harper losing the keys to 24 Sussex over his ecnomic and fiscal statement. At the end of a long day of political gossip, the prime minister himself came down to the foyer, made a short statement but, unlike just about every other politician that came into the foyer that day, refused to answer any questions from the 40 or so reporters gathered about. Here are some excerpts from some of the things we heard in the foyer Friday from those who would speak on the record. We have, below, Liberals John McCallum and Scott Brison, NDPers Paul Dewar and Tom Mulcair, and finally, the prime minister:
John McCallum (Lib): The primary issue is that while other countries have acted in the tens of even hundreds of billions of dollars to support their economy, the fiscal update did nothing. In fact, it's worse than nothing. It didn't have stimulus, it had cuts. Canada's virtually unique in the world. We have a crisis, probably worse than anything since the 1930's and Canada stands alone and they're doing nothing to support Canadians, to support the economy, to support industries in trouble, to support Canadians' savings and pensions.
Scott Brison (Lib): Even worse, during the good times, the Conservatives spent like crazy, increasing spending by 25% and now during a recession, they're actually cutting back. So it is really bad financial management.
Reporter: So if f they took out the subsidies for political parties, you would still entertain the possibility of bringing them down?
Brison: Well look, that would show that Stephen Harper still doesn't get it. He would still be playing politics. This is not about politics, it's about people and until Stephen Harper presents a proposal to Parliament that helps people during these tough economic times, we won't support him.
McCallum: Maybe Stephen Harper still doesn't get it. The ball is still in his court. We have spoken about fiscal stimulus over and over again as the number one concern. When Canada alone is doing nothing, maybe he thinks all we care about is political financing. I'm telling you that is not our primary point. Our primary point is the absence of any kind of action or plan to help Canadians at this moment.
Reporter: What magnitude of fiscal stimulus would you require to support the government?
McCallum: The government will probably say just wait for the fiscal stimulus. I don't believe the government. If they believed in fiscal stimulus, they would have done it yesterday. They've been in power three years. Obama's been in power not even at all, he already has a plan. If this government believes in fiscal stimulus, they would have acted yesterday. They tell us they'll act some time in the future. Why should we believe that?The problem with Mr. Harper, the problem with Stephen Harper is he talks like Franklin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he acts like Calvin Coolidge. That is not acceptable in 2008.
Reporter: Who have you been talking to with the NDP? Do you have a coalition?
Brison: We're a long ways from prenup agreements. The fact is right now Mr. Harper has successfully in some ways, changed the channel in this debate from one of economics and people to one of politics. We're turning it back. We're focusing on the people. And until he presents a proposal that actually invests in Canadians during this recession, we won't support it.
Reporter: You're saying to Canadians essentially you would move more quickly than the Conservatives if you defeated this government?
McCallum: I am telling you it would be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot quicker than anything this government may or may not do because I don't even believe them when they say that they would do it. Look: Mr. Harper in Peru [last week at the the APEC summit] said that it was essential to have an extraordinary fiscal stimulus. He had the opportunity yesterday. What did he do? Nothing. So why should we believe him when he says he's going to do it at some unspecified date in the future?
Brison: Mr. Harper promised during the election to present an economic plan to Canadians almost immediately after the election. This fall, he said there will be an economic plan presented to Canadians this fall. He broke that promise. Once again, there has been no plan, no ideas and no investment at a time when he's out of step with all other industrial leaders across the planet.
Reporter: My question is what is going on between you and the other parties?
Gilles Duceppe: (Bloc Quebecois): We're having discussions. We discussed things with the Liberals this morning. We'll discuss with the NDP this afternoon. We had meetings. I discussed with Jack Layton yesterday and Stéphane Dion. But we're having those discussions looking at if we can come to an agreement but we'll take the time we need.
Reporter: What would be the goal of the Bloc Québécois in supporting any kind of coalition?
Duceppe: We said that we won't be part of a coalition and [we won't be] having ministers from the Bloc; this is very clear. But we'll consider a coalition that would respect more Quebec values and interests. So this is why we're having those discussions because we just can't accept the proposals made by the government yesterday.
Reporter: What about the Liberal leader? Have you insisted on this leader or that leader?
Duceppe: No, no, no. This is not — this is not up to us to decide who's the leader of any party.
Reporter: So if Dion leads that's fine with you.
Duceppe: I mean Dion is there. He's the leader. I'm discussing with the leaders of each party.
Reporter: And what are your priorities, sir? What do you need to support a coalition?
Duceppe: To have [them] come with stimuli concerning the economy. To have a real plan for manufacturing and forestry sector. To have a better conditions for the employment insurance and so on.
Reporter: Where's the mood of cooperation.
Paul Dewar (NDP): Exactly. It's gone. The blue sweater's gone, the whole thing's gone out the window and these guys are using the recession as a Trojan horse to bring in retrograde labour legislation. No one's going to buy it. We're going to be opposing.
Reporter: Is the only way out of this do you think forming some kind of coalition with the Liberals come next week and defeat the government?
Dewar: It's really a multi-party strategy here. We know what we're going to be doing, opposing this kind of retrograde legislation. I think from what I've seen from the other parties they're going to do the same.
Reporter: And then what?
Dewar: We'll see. There's all sorts of options open and I guess that's what Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will bring.
Reporter: Coalition or election?
Dewar: I think people saw that we had an election so maybe the other option is the best one.
Reporter: Who would lead that?
Dewar: I think all the options are open and what we've said is we'll work together to get results in this parliament. That's what Canadians expect from us. That's what I want to see. That's what I think Canadians want to see and the calls I got from my office this morning from my constituents they said pull together, make sure that you have everyone working together and that's what we're going to be doing. So clearly the government doesn't want to work together. So the other options are in front of us and we'll be deciding what the best path is for Canadians.
Thomas Mulcair (NDP): Well I think that there's no doubt that the Conservatives are going to try a lot of different things over the weekend. What has to be borne in mind is that what we've been looking at here in the House over the past couple of days is a boldfaced attempt by the government to change the channel to get you onto question of minor reductions here and there while obviating the fact that the real problem is that there's nothing for the economy. Three hundred and fifty thousand manufacturing and forestry jobs lost because of the wrong headed principles of the Conservatives. They're attacking women's rights to equal pay for work of equal value. They're attacking the charter rights of associations. That's the type of thing that we're going against. There's nothing in there for Canadian families. Christmas is coming and Minister Flaherty's put a lump of coal in their sock.
And finally, at the end of a long day in the foyer — there was Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Here is the English part of his statement — no questions were allowed.
Stephen Harper (Con): Less than two months ago, the people of Canada gave our party a strengthened mandate to lead Canada during the most serious global economic crisis in generations. Since that time, we've acted, acted on our commitment to keep cutting job-killing taxes, business taxes, acted to expedite the constructions of roads, bridges and other infrastructure, acted to strengthen Canada's already strong financial system by injecting tens of billions of dollars of liquidity into Canada's credit markets, acted to ensure a long-term structural balance in the federal budget, and acted to demonstrate leadership by proposing to reduce taxpayer subsidies for political parties. Our actions have been proactive. They have been responsible. And they have been in keeping with our commitments to Canadians.
More so, these actions represent our first steps. In the next couple of months, the government will present a budget that outlines our next move forward, a plan that will include expected stimulus measures worked out in consultation with Canada's provinces and in concert with the other members of the G-20.
While we have been working on the economy, the opposition has been working on a backroom deal to overturn the results of the last election without seeking the consent of voters. They want to take power, not earn it. They want to install a government led by a party that received its lowest vote share since Confederation. They want to install a prime minister, Prime Minister Dion, who was rejected by the voters just six weeks ago. They want to install a coalition that they explicitly promised not to support. The Liberals campaigned against the coalition with the NDP precisely because they said the NDP's policies were bad for the economy. And now they plan to enter into the very same coalition under the guise of strengthening the economy. Stéphane Dion and the NDP plan to make this happen by accepting the support of a party that wants to destroy the country.
The opposition has every right to defeat the government but Stéphane Dion does not have the right to take power without an election. Canada's government should be decided by Canadians, not backroom deals. It should be your choice, not theirs. And it's now up to all of us to stand up for the right of Canadians to choose their own government.
On December the 8th, the House of Commons will have an opportunity to vote on the opposition's attempt to overturn the results of the last election. Until then, we will continue governing. In the meantime, Canadians can make their views known on this issue to all of their members of parliament.
Thank you very much and I hope you will all have a good weekend.