In a heated session on June 2, Parliament debated the costs of the G8 and G20 summit being held in Toronto. Alan Tonks asked a rather strange question of the PC defenseman Phil McColeman.
McColeman had given his justification of the costs of the summits. He said, in short, that the costs were the price of being on the world stage and within the realm of reason.
After a preamble, Tonks asked the following:
I know it is difficult to ask a question based on intelligence, but could the member share any intelligence that would be of the proportion that he has described with respect to nuclear threats, and so on, such that Canadians could say, God bless the government, that it is taking the appropriate initiative in keeping with that degree of possibility?
It is not at all clear what Tonks meant.
Tonks may have been asking whether the G8 and G20 summits are threatened by nuclear attack, and whether the $1B expense is to protect us against rogue nukes. At no point in the debate, though, had anyone else mentioned such a horrible possibility.
McColeman had said that the G8 would discussing how to reduce the chance of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons. Sensibly, he did not mention the possibility that the G8 would be the target for such an attack—doing so would inspire panic. Perhaps, then, Tonks meant to ask: Is Canada ensuring that terrorists don’t ever get nuclear weapons? That would match McColeman’s passing remark but not the rest of the discussion (why the G8 is costing so much). Interpreted thus, Tonks would be would be both wildly off topic and asking odd, slow-pitch questions. Would McColeman really answer “Nope. We’re not worried at all about nuclear-armed terrorists!”?
It is hard to see what Tonks could have been getting at. If he wanted to know whether the $1B was being spent on preventing nuclear attacks at the G8, he could have asked directly—if irresponsibly. The answer, however, is obvious: of course (some of ) it is. If he was interested in knowing whether the government worries about nuclear attacks on Canada, he should seen that such a question hardly suits his role in the official opposition. The question implies that Liberals are either unconcerned about nuclear annihilation or hopelessly naive about the duties of government.
McColeman had no idea what Tonks was talking about either. In what seems like a pointed rejoinder, he said:
Mr. Speaker, I believe the member’s question is what are the comparable costs. The one example that I would point out to the hon. member is, in Japan, when it hosted the G8, the costs were $1.7 billion just to hold the G8 in Japan.
Normally, avoiding the question is unbecoming. In this case, it was quite decent of McColeman to leave Tonks’ dignity intact.