In the Second World War, C.D. Howe was Canada's minister of munitions and supply, and was responsible for all the economic management and manufacturing in aid of the war effort. As such, he periodically brought bills before Parliament asking for really enormous amounts of money to support the government's supply program.

In 1945, one such bill (called a war estimate) was for more than $1.3 billion. The opposition Conservatives rejoiced in spending day after day asking questions about the estimates, looking for patronage and corruption and anything else that might make the governing Liberal Party look bad.

Eventually, Howe lost his temper. Hansard, the official record, has him barking: "I dare say my honourable friend could cut a million dollars ... but a million dollars from the War Appropriations Bill would not be a very important matter."

The next day, future Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker went after the Liberals again, loosely quoting Howe as having said, "We may save a million dollars, but what of it?"

Howe objected -- pretty much called Diefenbaker a liar, actually, which is strictly forbidden according to the rules of order -- and they shouted back and forth at each other.

Reporters, who'd not thought much of the original remark, found Conservatives quoting the minister as having asked, simply, "What's a million?", and the story -- false, but certainly plausible, given the government's recent behaviour -- appeared everywhere the next day. It came to represent the height of Liberal arrogance, condescension, and general lack of interest in regular folks, to whom a million dollars was a very important matter indeed.