At the Canadian Club of Toronto meeting last week, Finance Minister Joe Oliver delivered the fall fiscal economic update, where the number 800 began to garner headlines. No, $800 won’t go to Canadian taxpayers with the other “tax breaks.” As it turns out, $800 is the cost per table for that luncheon. The Minister’s decision to announce the fall economic update in front of the Canada Club got the Opposition NDP’s knickers in knots.
Nathan Cullen, the NDP finance critic, complained that this sort of update was not the type of information that should be shared with a “blue-chip crowd” of “bankers and financiers” before being shared with parliament. According to Mr. Cullen, such action flouts the democratic principles. The NDP has even suggested the action could constitute contempt of parliament.
That might be an impressive threat. However, the last time the Harper Government was found in contempt of parliament, an election was forced; Harper went from a Prime Minister with a minority government to a Prime Minister with a sweeping majority of Commons seats. With the majority Harper still maintains today, a motion of contempt wouldn’t have a chance at passing. It took 156 MPs to force the Harper government to fall the last time; all were in the opposition.
Part of Cullen’s reasoning for the contempt accusation was that, by announcing the state of the country’s finances at a closed event, it impeded parliament’s access to this information, thereby forcing them to rely on second hand reports from the media. Cullen seems to think such a closed door atmosphere wouldn’t allow MPs to ask questions.
That might be true, but $800 a table is an awful lot for a luncheon. The Canada Club isn’t exactly The Skulls, or the Board of Internal Inquiry. You are allowed to buy tickets to events hosted there, even if you don’t have a membership. The events are organized well in advance, and Oliver’s Luncheon even stipulates “Canada’s Fiscal Update” to be the topic. A membership is recommended, since you can save $10 a plate and $100 a table. For members who attended Oliver’s event, it would only be $700 per table!
Nothing stopped NDP MPs from attending the event. Nothing stopped them from asking questions about the event. Government House Leader Peter Van Loan highlighted the potential for MPs to ask questions.
Despite Mr. Cullen’s rhetoric, the Canadian Club of Toronto is not entirely a capitalist institution welcoming only the rich and white. It isn’t closed. In fact, several prominent members of New Democrats have spoken there, as have foreign leaders and prominent Canadians of all political inclinations. A few short months ago, Oliva Chow spoke there as a mayoral candidate, as did John Tory. Shortly after his election as leader of the NDP, Tom Mulcair spoke at the club two years ago. For an MP, $700 a table is hardly limiting when they make enough in a year to live comfortably in the Upper Middle Class to Upper Class bracket on Canada’s fiscal stage.
There shouldn’t be any issue with the Finance Minister’s actions. MPs can afford to attend those events. If Cullen chose not to attend or decided to not ask questions about the update just because he read about it in the news instead of being told about it in the House of Commons, that’s his problem. MPs can afford that kind of luncheon. It’s the rest of us who have to brown bag it or buy a two dollar slice of cold pizza at the cafeteria.