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Ozone gaffe shows Tories favour 'spin over science,' Trudeau says

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Peter Kent spar during Question Period in a Nov. 21, 2011 photo combination.

The Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau figured he'd be made to look the fool but instead it was Environment Minister Peter Kent, who couldn't answer the simple question as to what is ozone.

And Mr. Trudeau, the Montreal Liberal MP, told The Globe Tuesday he's "sure now that Minister Kent will deepen his knowledge of his extremely important file."

"It just worries me that this government consistently prioritizes politics and spin over science and facts," Mr. Trudeau said. "Canadians deserve better."

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Too tightly scripted and perhaps caught off guard, the Environment Minister stumbled in the Commons Monday when the Montreal Liberal asked him to "explain to the House what ozone is and what is the difference between its impact at low altitude and high altitude?"

Mr. Kent, like every other minister during Question Period, did not waver from his talking points. Instead, of trying to answer the question he simply threw back an insult at Mr. Trudeau, criticizing the "quality" of the questions from the Liberal opposition.

The minister added: "This government would gladly compare our record on the environment, in all its dimensions to..."

At that point, a frustrated Mr. Trudeau interrupted: "You don't know what ozone is."

The Speaker called for order and Mr. Kent continued: "...to complete my question, again the opposition is using a questionable media source quotation of one of my staff that has been taken out of context."

Mr. Kent was referring to a Postmedia story in which a document uncovered by an access to information request talked about cuts to ozone monitoring programs.

In a scrum after Question Period, Mr. Trudeau said his query had begun partly as a joke. He and his colleague, Kristy Duncan, had wondered what would happen if he stood up and asked the minister to define ozone and "just give him the opportunity to make me look like a fool for asking a question that he would obviously know the answer to," he said.

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Rather, Mr. Trudeau gave Mr. Kent the opportunity to play the fool. "I'm sure he's right now going to Wikipedia," Mr. Trudeau joked.

The answer, Mr. Trudeau added, is "fairly simple": ozone is an oxygen molecule with three parts. It is dangerous at low levels of the atmosphere because it contributes to smog and at high levels it is good because it reflects ultraviolet radiation.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also weighed in. She told reporters she would be "stunned" if Mr. Kent didn't know what ozone is. And she lamented that ministers are so scripted in Question Period. "If a question comes for which an answer has not been previously written, even when the answer no longer makes sense, they read their answers."

The issue is nevertheless important, she added, noting there is a "huge hole over the Arctic ozone for the first time" in history. "We need to find out why it's there."

Another notch in Bob the Rebuilder's belt

The awards just keep pouring in for Bob Rae.

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The Interim Liberal Leader, who many are convinced will eventually seek the permanent job, won a prize on Saturday at the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner. And while that was a little tongue-in-cheek, the award he picked up Monday night was not.

Mr. Rae was feted with Maclean's Magazine's Parliamentarian of the Year award. It's decided by his peers – and with such a tiny Liberal caucus, it means he had to get at least some support from colleagues in other parties.

Unfortunately, he was not there to accept. Mr. Rae is doing his "Bob-the-Rebuilder" routine in Nova Scotia.

But on his Facebook page he said he was "honoured" to have received the award. Ralph Goodale, who joked he was the Liberal's "interim deputy leader," noted that politicians can sometimes be "jaundiced" about awards but Mr. Rae's "pink" face just lit up when he heard he was the winner.

Late NDP leader Jack Layton was also honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award. His widow, Toronto MP Olivia Chow, accepted the award on his behalf, calling on all MPs from all parties to "strive to be better."

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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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