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Prentice drops Jaffer bombshell; Tories reignite abortion debate

New revelations that Rahim Jaffer used his wife's parliamentary office when meeting with the Environment Minister's senior staffer, more charges from the Liberals on the so-called Conservative culture of deceit and accusations of playing politics with abortion - Question Period had it all today.

The most drama, however, was over the issue of funding abortion as part of the government's signature G8 initiative on maternal health; it was reignited today as G8 development ministers are preparing to meet on the issue in Halifax.

The Bloc pressed the Conservatives as to whether they would put aside ideology and include abortion as part of their family planning measures. No way, the government said.

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"Canada's contribution to maternal and child health may include family planning however Canada's contribution will not include funding abortions," Jim Abbott, the parliamentary secretary to the International Co-operation Minister, asserted.

Mr. Abbott also accused the Bloc of trying to "score cheap political points on the issue of abortion."

That wasn't the only hot topic today, however. There was more controversy over the Jaffer lobbying affair with the Liberals shaking out another contradiction from the disgraced former Tory MP and a little nugget of news from Jim Prentice.

Last Friday, Mr. Prentice announced to the House that Mr. Jaffer approached a senior staffer to make "representations" on behalf of someone else's company. There was confusion on where the meeting took place, but under questioning by Liberal critic David McGuinty today, Mr. Prentice confirmed that the meeting took place in Helena Guergis's ministerial office.

Ms. Guergis resigned this month as status of women minister after Prime Minister Stephen Harper passed unknown allegations on to the RCMP. There have been reports that Mr. Jaffer, who lost his Edmonton seat to the NDP in the last election, had used Ms. Guergis's office for his private business.

He denied this when he appeared before a parliamentary committee last week, saying that he had used her office for work that a spouse would do, such as signing Christmas cards, sitting in on scheduling meetings. He said he "rarely" went in there.

A new Harris-Decima poll, meanwhile, shows the Tories are paying a price for the scandal. But the Conservatives maintain Mr. Jaffer never received any government contracts.

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The Liberals pushed, too, on the so-called Conservative "culture of deceit." Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff led off questions, painting a picture of the Harper government as secretive and controlling. Mr. Ignatieff wanted to know why the American public knows more about the mission in Afghanistan than Canadians.

According to media reports, new combat operations will be beginning in Kandahar in the next few weeks. The reports suggest this could be a decisive battle.

"We are hearing nothing about it here from this government. … Is the Canadian military taking part in the operation?"

Laurie Hawn, the parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister, couldn't comment as "it would be premature at his time."

This of course provoked an accusation from Mr. Ignatieff of a "draconian, Orwellian" government led by a Prime Minister "obsessed with secrecy." This is, according to Mr. Ignatieff, another example of the Conservative culture of deceit.

"The Conservative government has said nothing to the Canadian people about this important matter … What will Canada's involvement in these operations be? And why can't this government tell Canadians the truth about it?"

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Transport Minister John Baird, who was filling in for an absent Prime Minister today, avoided all that. Instead, he said Canadian troops are making progress and "getting the job done."

According to the government, that's all Canadians need to know.

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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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