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A $1-billion boondoggle, Helena Guergis and the ShamWow minister

Helena Guergis spoke and the opposition hammered the Harper government over the huge price tag on summit security, characterizing it as the new "$1-billion boondoggle," a "$1-billion binge" and the most expensive 72 hours in history.

Oh, and Industry Minister Tony Clement was compared to the ShamWow guy - the infomercial huckster who sells the sponge/towel/chamois on cable TV.

This was Question Period on Thursday: 45 minutes of pure enlightenment and entertainment.

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"It seems our Minister of Industry has a new sideline doing infomercials for his friend's business," New Democrat Pat Martin charged. "All that is missing is the headset and he could be the ShamWow guy. Vince, the Slap Chop guy, has some new competition."

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Mr. Martin said "celebrity endorsements are not part of a cabinet minister's job description. In fact, they are a blatant conflict of interest." He called for Mr. Clement to be fired.

The Industry Minister, who is traveling in Europe, was not in the chamber to defend himself on charges he used his title to shill for an owner of a chemical company in his riding on an promo video. That job was left to the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary, Pierre Poilievre, who told Mr. Martin not to quit his day job to become a stand-up comic. Then he defended Mr. Clement by saying that the government has worked hard to encourage small business growth in Canada.

And then there was Ms. Guergis. The former minister, who sits about as far back in the House of Commons as possible, was recognized by the Speaker to make a statement before Question Period about a $4-million investment for a new campus of Georgian College in her riding of Simcoe-Grey (the riding in which the Conservatives will not allow her to run in again as their candidate).

"Tomorrow, we will be celebrating this expansion," she said.

Ms. Guergis is becoming more visible on the Hill; she appeared in the House for the first time Tuesday since she was removed from cabinet and caucus nearly two months ago.

But the focus today - as it was yesterday - was on the massive security costs of next month's G8 and G20 summits. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff led the charge, accusing the government of incompetence and reckless spending, calling the planning of the summit "comical."

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"We would not organize a children's party this way and now we are on the hook for a billion dollar security charge on top of a $54 billion deficit," Mr. Ignatieff said. "Canadian families who do balance their budgets wonder why this incompetence has been allowed to happen."

Transport Minister John Baird, filling in for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, fired back that Mr. Ignatieff never misses a "chance to run down Canada."

"Since 9/11 security is a new reality and we will not be intimidated by thugs and terrorists who would want to come to Canada and cause us harm. We are going to make sure that people are safe," he said, noting at another point too that the threats are out there given the recent firebombing of an Ottawa bank.

Following up was NDP Leader Jack Layton, who accused the Prime Minister of creating a fiasco by mismanaging both of the summits, their venues and agenda, and security concerns. He even said the Toronto Blue Jays are a "laughing stock of Major League Baseball" because games had to be moved to accommodate the summiteers.

All of this for $1-billion in taxpayers' money. "Everybody remembers all too well the $1-billion boondoggle at HRDC, as it was called at the time under Jane Stewart," Mr. Layton said.

"Now the Conservatives have their own $1-billion boondoggle at the G20 summit. … Previous G20 summits cost a mere fraction and they kept everybody safe: $18-million in Pittsburgh, $30 million in London. How can this government and these Conservatives justify spending 30 times more than London did just a year ago to talk about austerity?"

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Mr. Baird repeated his assertions that security in this post 9/11 world is costly.

"Canada is providing major leadership on the world stage," the Transport Minister said. "We are doing something that is unprecedented, hosting both the G8 and the G20. … The reality is, since 9/11 there is an unprecedented need to ensure that the leaders are safe and secure, that the meetings can take place, and that we can also ensure the safety for the people in both Muskoka and in the great city of Toronto."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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