Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In and out day two, a few textual thoughts

I'm feeling under the weather today so I'm home sick, and after a morning of rest I've been drinking plenty of fluids and watching the ethics committee hearings in the Conservative In and Out election financing scandal on CPAC.

I missed most of the morning session, but then I hear so did CPAC. They did replay the morning session during the lunch break though, and so I caught most of that and then the afternoon session.

From what I can gather most of today's activities were bogged-down in procedural wrangling. Not overly exciting viewing unless you're a bit of a parliamentary procedure wonk and Roberts Rules fan. Which I am of sorts, so I found it all mildly entertaining.

Elections Canada boss Marc Mayrand was dismissed early around midday, although not before the Conservatives complained bitterly about sending him home early. Hard to believe there was a time they didn't want much to be here, now they don't want to leave. The wanted another 8 rounds of questioning at least, while the other parties seemed to be done. The Cons though claimed to have tons more blockbuster questions that, if they could only ask them, would blow the lid on the grand conspiracy about how Elections Canada, the Liberal Party and the Stone Cutters are all out to get the Conservative Party.

The problem is, their questions were are are all outside the scope of the terms of reference the committee has agreed to for the hearings, or they relate to the court case launched by the Conservative Party themselves (actually several of their candidates' official agents to be specific) and so can't be addressed by Mayrand.

If the Conservatives really had any blockbuster questions they would have asked them during the day and a half of questioning. Instead they spend the time flailing asking irrelevant questions trying to support their conspiracy theories and failing spectacularly. On day one, Mayrand indicated clearly he instructed his officials to investigate if there were other returns (filed by candidates from other parties) in the last election of a similar nature. There were not.

And the Conservatives have yet to provide any conclusive evidence that there were. They've been fishing for months and they've come up empty. They keep harping on transfers made by the BQ that are similar. This is true. But it was also during the 2000 election, when the law was different. The courts have upheld the legality of those transactions.

The Conservatives though ignore the law (which they seem to do a lot) and try to create a smokescreen to support their utterly discredited “all parties do this” thesis. A rational examination of their case though shows their claim to be groundless. And by the way, let's say there was something here, why would the Liberals want to hide alleged BQ wrongdoing? Doesn't make sense.

They also have some supposed evidence against the NDP's Libby Davies that is similarly uncompelling. The best they can do against the Liberals is to complain that Elections Canada didn't investigate the sponsorship scandal. Yeah, that whole thing was ignored wasn't it? Unless you don't count investigations by the HoC Public Accounts Committee, the RCMP, forensic accountants, and a Judicial Commission of Inquiry televised on national TV.

After lunch it was on to discuss the next round of hearings on In and Out in mid-August (mark your calendars now for the week of Aug. 11) and who the potential witnesses will be. Each of the parties submitted names in the morning, the duplicates were purged and the list is to be considered by the committee.

Ethics is one of the few committees where both the chair is from the opposition and the opposition MPs have a majority, and it looks like the opposition has been able to secure a few pages from the infamous Conservative Big Book of Committee Trickery. The chair, Liberal Paul Szabo, rules a bunch of proposed names as out of order as they're outside the committee terms of reference as discussed above.

Before the Conservatives can contain their rage enough to object (as pretty near every name disallowed was from their list) Liberal MP Marlene Jennings breaks-in with a non-debatable challenge the chair motion.

Why would Jennings challenge the chair, I'm thinking. But it's all perfectly clear, as the Conservatives quickly shout in protest: it's Liberal trickery! The NDP and BQ join in the Liberal trickery and uphold the chair's ruling. Debate on the ruling pre-empted, the exclusion is a done deal.

The NDP's Pat Martin moves a motion to invite the remaining witnesses with the exception of Robin Sears (ex of the NDP, more recently an advisor to Brian Mulroney, and defender of In and Out) whom he moves be struck from the list.

At this point, to their chagrin, the Conservatives realize every single name on their proposed witness list has been struck, with Sears being the last one. Ha. Well guys, that's because all the names have one thing in common: they have nothing to do with the committee terms of reference, and everything to do with your diversionary and irrelevant fishing expedition. So it's hard to have much sympathy for them.

Jennings for good measure moves to strike a few more names that the Cons didn't submit, and amends the motion to let the chair compel some witnesses to appear if necessry. This is no doubt aimed at some of the senior Conservative Party strategists on the list who are unlikely to be energetic witnesses. Also on the list are many Conservative MPs flagged as taking part in In and Out. They can't be compelled though, and Pierre Poilievre makes clear they won't be coming to this “kangaro court.”

The motions pass, and Jennings quickly moves to adjourn, which is passed. Conservative MP Scott Reid has some motion (of which I don't know the details) that was left on the agenda and he seems pissed it won't be heard. I don't blame him, although if it was a stupid motion I reserve the right to change my mind.

Anyway, Reid et. al. leap to their feet in anger as CPAC cuts the mic to end coverage, and can still be seen shouting as the screen fades to the accompaniment of classical music. The juxposition makes me smile. And I might feel bad for them had they not made a history in this parliament of using every bit of the procedural handbook to their committee advantage. Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik.

Of course, for the definitive live-blogging coverage see Inside the Queensway.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


RuralSandi said...

And the Conservatives have yet to provide any conclusive evidence that there were. They've been fishing for months and they've come up empty. They keep harping on transfers made by the BQ that are similar. This is true. But it was also during the 2000 election, when the law was different. The courts have upheld the legality of those transactions.

...and...for what it's worth - Mayrand was Chief Electoral Officer then - later "appointed by Harper"...Liberal bias???

RuralSandi said...

..Whoops....meant to say "wasn't" Chief Electoral Officer then....


Jason Hickman said...

I was working so I didn't get a chance to see any of this. But based on your description: well played to the oppo, I guess. And as you say, the Tories can't exactly complain about procedural fun.

But now, neither can the Libs, BQ or NDP. As you say, sauce for the goose. Nobody gets to get on their high horse anymore, it seems. Not that it'll stop either side from doing so, of course...

Barcs said...

I was once told that in order for a panel to be productive and have clear workable proposals it should consist of 3 people... 2 of whom should be absent.....

As evidenced by your own take on the events of the inquiry.... (more interesting to someone interested in procedural motions than actual business of the committee).

This seems to be much more about who can score the political points than actually getting to the bottom of the issue.

Mulroney-Schreiber anyone?

Isn't there something they could be doing that might actually be productive?

Leave the actual investigating to people (qualified) to do it?

The only impression I am left after hearings like theses is that we have too many MP's who are overpaid to do 4/5 of _-all but self-promote their own interests. All of em.

Ken S from Ramara said...

Shame on the 4 CPC members on the Ethics Committees whose actions and filabustering stiffled debate for the past two days.

They Tories have used these same tactics to paralyze the current minority parliament. God help us if the voters give Harper the absolute powers of a majority government.

Canada will not be a country I'll want to call home!

Jeff said...

That's another good point Sandi, Mayrand was appointed under this government. I think technically it's parliament that makes the appointment, not the government, but it would have been Harper/the Cons that out his name forward (after they pushed-out Jean Pierre Kingsley). So it's hard for them to complain he's biased or play the Liberal appointee card.

Jason, all sides use procedure to their advantage to be sure. Putting it in a trickery handbook though, that was a new one by the Cons... As a Liberal partisan though, on this point it behooves be to point out one difference: if we're not getting our way we don't have the chair just get up and leave in a pout, leaving the meeting in limbo. Anyway, the sublties are lost on most, and no one really cares about committee behaviour anyway, I don't think. C'est lat guerre. I just found the use of these tactics against the Cons, and their outrage, amusing given the history.

Barcs, Wednesday was much more a procedural day, hashing-out the witness list for the next set of hearings. On Tuesday though, and early Wednesday, there was a lot of interesting stuff with the question of Mayrand. So the exercise wasn't a waste at all. Wednesday though was a procedural nonsense day. The saying, I think, is there's two things that you don't want to see how they're made: laws and sausages.

Ken that's why I don't have much trouble with the opposition using strict procedure to keep things moving here. The Cons already delayed these hearings by many months. Give them an inch, they'll filibuster a mile.

Sudipta Das said...
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