- Yesterday’s highlights are here and here.
- First part of today’s hearing is here.
- Overview of potential witnesses here
We have witnesses! I repeat, we have witnesses: three of them, in fact: Doug Lowry, David Marler and Geoffrey Webber. Coincidentally, all three are what we like to call Hostiles: two official agents and one former candidate, all of whom have spoken out about the program in the past, and one of whom has filed an affidavit in support of Elections Canada’s contention that the money was spent by the national campaign, not the locals.
It’s odd, really, how the only witnesses who seem to be willing to show up are the ones who wouldn’t be bullyable by the Conservative Party; not, I should note, that I am suggesting any such bullying took place.
The room, incidentally, is packed – cameras, reporters, staffers – and witnesses! That makes all the difference in the world.
It’s on! With *300%* more witnesses, even! That’s a 50% attendance rate. Go team! According to Szabo, two of the no-shows had reasonable excuses for rejecting the summons: one had health problems, the other is willing to testify, just not today. The third, Michael Gilmore, “expressed reservations” at the initial invitation, was summonsed, and — isn’t here.
David Tilson is now rambling on, suggesting that this morning’s renegade witnesses “may have all been travelling in the same car.” Or train. Or time machine, where they were headed back to 2005, where they would decide not to sign on as official agents for star candidates in Quebec.
Anyway, he’s angry – yes, I know – that the chair shut down the committee without consulting with the members; maybe they were just late. We’ll never know! This isn’t the chair’s committee; it is “everyone’s show”. Really? Can I quote you on that? Because I probably will.
Szabo tells Tilson that there was no explanation from this morning’s non-appearing witnesses, so that’s why he adjourned. He’s also willing to give the letter from the clerk to the members of the committee, but not the rest of us, since there are “privacy concerns”, since there are personal phone numbers included in the document.
Bah. Ever heard of redaction? Problem solved.
Gary Goodyear has a point of order, he says, but it turns out he doesn’t: he’s accusing the chair of intimidation, which is a remarkably good example of projection — he issued subpoenas, he had Doug Finley removed by force, he didn’t tell witnesses that they needed legal counsel, he failed to extend the “Mayrand accommodation” for sub judice issues to random witnesses who aren’t party to the lawsuit, and — is anyone buying this? I mean, it would be funny if it wasn’t so outrageous.
David Tilson is smiling the most sinister smile I’ve ever seen, and rubbing his lip with his forefinger.
“Shut up,” snaps an opposition member, adding hastily to Szabo, “Not you, him.”
Gary Goodyear is psychic! I know, it’s amazing, but somehow, he knows that the remaining witnesses are “beginning to realize that this isn’t the right forum” for this investigation. It needs to happen in a proper court, with “trained professionals.”
What court, exactly? Not the federal court, clearly, since none of these witnesses are party to that case. The eventual criminal trial? That’s a rather bleak forecast for his party’s legal case.
Gary Goodyear is still going – he’s demanding various things “forthwith” – proofs of service, correspondence, the “script” the clerk used when contacting witnesses.
Still going. I’m not going to transcribe it – there are kangaroos, puppets, more claims of psychic knowledge, more exhortations to bring this to a “real court” – which one? Again, he doesn’t specify.
Karen Redman and Pat Martin just spontaneously snapped, and are yelling for order. I think the opposition may have had enough, y’all.
“Is that a point of order or not,” wonders Proulx.
The room is absolutely silent, by the way – with the occasional burst of snickers from the media table.
Szabo explains that this is a place for free speech, which is why he allowed Goodyear to go off on the preceding tirade, despite the fact that it wasn’t a point of order. He is showing remarkable equanimity, given the scattershot attack on his character, competence and integrity that just took place.
Now Dean del Mastro is up, and he’s fingerwagging the chair over his decision to adjourn because of the lack of witnesses. Wait, this is a filibuster, isn’t it? Why are the Conservatives trying so hard to run down the clock without hearing from the witnesses who are waiting so patiently?
He’s so mad that the chair didn’t make them sit there for two hours staring at four empty chairs, y’all. It cost money! Actually, no, it didn’t cost any more money to adjourn. The room still needed to be lit and heated, and the staff had to be here either way.
Szabo is attempting to explain himself. The clock ticks by.
And the filibuster continues! Dean del Mastro has a supplemental, which doesn’t actually exist, as far as points of order go. He demands that Szabo promise not to shut down any more meetings, which the chair takes under advisement.
Hey, remember when Gary Goodyear allowed Conservative MPs to filibuster Procedure and House Affairs for nine months before finally storming out in a huff? Which left the committee rudderless, and forced it to shut down for the rest of the session? What was that over, again? Does anyone remember?
Finally, the witnesses get to speak, and Marcel Proulx gets things started by asking David Marler about his experience as a candidate for the Conservatives in Brome-Mississquoi. He was a conscientious objector, you’ll recall – he refused to take part in the Perfectly Legal transfers because nobody would tell him exactly why it had to be done that way.
Which is what Marler tells the committee right now; he didn’t agree, because he asked Nelson Bouffard – the organizer who first contacted him, who, as it happens, is on the witness list for tomorrow – about the transfer, and was told that it was “none of his business.”
You could seriously hear a pin drop right now. Marler is just so — ordinary, and I don’t mean that in a dismissive way. He doesn’t seem to have any sort of hidden agenda; he’s just telling his story, and It’s an amazingly intense – and tense – moment.
For his final question, Proulx asks whether Marler is still a Conservative Party candidate; the answer, he says, is no.
Carole Lavallee picks up where Proulx left off, and tries to get Marler to speculate as to why the party “no longer wants him,” at which point the chair has to interrupt — really, now? — to remind the Conservatives not to have loud, off-mic whispered conversations, since they’re very distracting to the witness.
Lavallee wants to know about another transfer – $1,000 – from the Conservative Party, and this leads to some confusion as the witness tries to figure out what she means. “I believed that the party was reimbursing me for the $1,000 I had to pay Elections Canada to become a candidate,” he says.
It turns out the money was for signs. The official agent – Geoffrey Webber – explains that it was somehow cheaper for the party to buy signs in bulk; Lavallee, however, still seems uncertain as to why the Conservative Fund would have paid his campaign.
Apparently, the reason why the campaign was so eager to get the money sooner rather than later was that candidates during the last election “had trouble” getting their money back from the party.
Really? That seems — interesting.
On to Pat Martin, who wants to know whether David Lowry did, in fact, receive a summons, and he says he did. At first, he was invited, but he didn’t want to come – not surprising, admits Martin, to snickers from the government side. He then explains that he got home one day and found someone waiting to serve him.
More about money, and those famous in-and-out transfers, and Lowry speaks so quickly, and steps on the end of Martin’s questions. It’s like a very badly written screwball comedy without the humour. So far, at least.
Okay, and there’s the funny: a tangent about the advertising he heard on Q107 -“We’d never advertise on that station”.
Fireworks! Lowry gets snippy when Martin asks him whether his campaign “laundered” money, which seems to push the outrage button; it wasn’t laundering, he insists. It’s disgusting to call it that – it was an in-and-out transaction, and was perfectly legal — just read the Elections Act.
The chair interrupts, and warns Martin against badgering the witness, who then cracks up the whole room by attempting to move a point of order. Szabo suggests he get elected to Parliament, and appointed to a committee, and then he can move all the points of order he wants.
Turns out Lowry is a sensitive soul, and just doesn’t like it when people use the word “laundering” to describe financial transactions. “Don’t use that damn word around me,” he flusters. He also tries to go back on the attack, and suggests that the NDP did the same thing, and – hey, that sounds suspiciously like the Conservative talking point with which we are all so very, intimately familiar. Martin denies that his party did any such thing: if we did, we would have been caught by Elections Canada too, he points out.
Oh, what a happy coincidence: Gary Goodyear just happens to have a whole presentation on the expenses filed by one Olivia Chow during the last election campaign – expenses that included a regional media buy.
Except not, because the expense does appear to have been incurred by the campaign, which means it is (say it with me, guys) Perfectly Legal.
David Lowry obliges Goodyear completely by agreeing that Elections Canada is treating the Conservative Party differently from every other party, and gives a long, somewhat jumbled but earnest explanation of why the in-and-out transactions represented just good planning by the Conservatives to help campaigns raise more money, in pursuit of better democracy.
Redman just asked the magic question: Was Lowry asked by the Conservative Party not to appear? He notes that he’s under oath, so he has to tell the truth – which is that he “wasn’t exactly encouraged” to attend the meeting.
Dead silence on the other side of the room.
Who, she asks, as sweet as sugar.
Someone at “corporate,” Lowry says – that would be the party headquarters. Since he’s appearing here as a Conservative, it was only right to check with the party before agreeing to appear.
“I didn’t pick the ads, I didn’t hear the ads, I didn’t pick the stations,” says Lowry. “I had no input.”
And – scene. Wait, no, one more question from Redman, who suggests that perhaps he might want to read the Elections Act, since it requires official agents to, you know, be aware of stuff like how money is spent, and on what.
The saddest thing here is that Lowry thinks he’s helping his party.
Szabo has a few questions for him before moving onto the next round: why, he wonders, does he refer to the party headquarters as “corporate”?
And then Lowry goes on to explain, ever helpful, that “corporate” has a “war cabinet” which makes decisions, and that’s all very interesting, but what does that have to do with anything?
Dean del Mastro, you may be interested to learn, has never been to Conservative Party headquarters during all his years in Ottawa. In fact, he notes jovially, the Liberals have been there more than him! Also the RCMP, but he doesn’t mention that.
Anyway, Dean tells a sweet story about random people coming up to him on the street to give him money – note: not Karlheinz Schreiber – and isn’t that great? Don’t people love the Conservative Party? Doesn’t it have principles and ethics? Yes, yes and yes, agrees Lowry.
What was shaping up to be a mistily magical moment between Del Mastro and Lowry – at least, until the former sees that the latter is currently starring in an updated CP story that claims he confirmed witnesses were encouraged not to show up for committee – has now returned to the covertly adversarial with Carole Lavallee.
She wonders whether Lowry attended any sort of training before running his campaign, and wonders whether he realized at the time that what he was being asked to do was, in fact, illegal – which sends the Conservatives into a galumphing of points of order.
Gary Goodyear accuses Lavallee of “misleading” the witness, and then leads the witness through another ten minutes of how very legal these transactions were – very! – and whether he was informed of his right to have counsel present. “I doubt it,” says the witness, somewhat uncertainly.
Pat Martin gets Marler’s back up by asking if he refused the deal because it “didn’t pass the smell test” – I never said that, snaps Marler. He refused because nobody could explain it to him.
Back to Lowry – Martin wonders who within the party he spoke with about the committee request – someone named Carmen, another named Tamara, neither of whom have last names. It was those officials, Lowry says, who told him that it would be best for everyone – the witnesses – to “sing from the same book”, and they had talking points, even, but he decided not to use them. You know, that may have been a tactical error, if he plans on remaining in the party’s good books.
Oh, and the party “wasn’t thrilled” that he planned to attend, but he told them “tough” – he was going anyway.
This witness is like a quark: just when you think you know what he’s doing, he’s gone. One minute, he’s rejecting the talking points, the next he’s calling the rules on advertising expenses “flexible”.
Charles Hubbard picks up the ball for the Liberals, and quizzes Lowry on the transfers – did he ever ask whether the money could be spent on something else? Isn’t it true that he was able to get money back? Was that ethical?
This prompts a tirade from Lowry on the irony of discussing ethics in Ottawa, where the rules are crazy, and you can drive a truck through the loopholes, and — wait, what does this have to do with the question?
Oh, he doesn’t have as much money as the other two candidates – Tony Ianno and Olivia Chow – which is unfair. “Part of winning is about money!” He says – and it’s just wrong that he doesn’t have as much to campaign on behalf “of the party with the most seats.”
Gary Goodyear congratulates Lowry for his rare common sense, and chastises the opposition parties for trying to “catch him in a snag” — it’s his God-given right to spend money on whatever he wants.
Interestingly, he demurs from asking further questions, as does the other Conservative – Tilson – ostensibly because the Liberals are grilling him with such ferocity, but I suspect the real reason is that they don’t want to risk another outburst of unfortunate candour.
Marcel Proulx asks Lowry why he thinks there are spending limits in the first place, and he once again bemoans the fact that some campaigns – like his – don’t have enough money.
“I have no idea who Retail Media is,” he observes, appropos of nothing. “I assume some are members of the Conservative Party.”
Yeah, I can see why the Tories aren’t asking any more questions. This guy is a wild card, and he’s the only one who doesn’t even realize it.
Once again, Proulx walks the witness through his story — which sparks a point of order from Del Mastro, who accuses Proulx of trying to put false statements on the record by suggesting that the witness admitted that the advertising was national, when it was actually in support of the Trinity Spadina campaign.
Goodyear now tries a little witness-walking of his own by asking Lowry to acknowledge that the national advertising – that was bought with local money and was Perfectly Legal – helped his campaign, but he doesn’t really do that. Instead, he gives a long, vaguely coherent answer about advertising, and how it does “something.”.
Lowry does not, however, take the bait and talk about the “strong leadership” that Stephen Harper’s image sends to all and sundry, in his riding and in every riding. That was probably in the rejected talking points too.
Richard Nadeau again tries to explain to Lowry what actually happened in these transactions, and how he may not, in fact, have been following the law, and this is starting to feel oddly like an intervention.
This guy’s testimony is seriously just making me sad. He really, truly believes that he was following the law, and he can’t understand why Elections Canada may have a different view. But he doesn’t seem to have a dishonest or deceptive bone in his body.
Karen Redman reminds Marler – remember him? He’s sort of been forgotten during the all-opposition party efforts towards Lowry – that his riding was one of only two to refuse to take part on the scheme. She wonders how he felt about the way the party treated him, and his campaign, but he declines to comment on the motivations of other people, or the legality of the scheme. “Other people will do that,” he says.
Webber speaks up, and says, on the “business” about being summonsed rather than invited — he didn’t feel like he was being intimidated by the clerk; he felt as though the offer to send him a summons was actually to help him out.
Oh, and that bit about invoices being important, as well as agents signing said invoices? Also important, although he doesn’t elaborate.
In response to a question from Martin, Marler tells him once again that he didn’t refuse the offer to take part in the transfers because he was a lawyer, but because nobody was able to explain why it needed to happen.
Oh, it turns out that Lowry didn’t refuse the talking points — he was happy to take them, but the party didn’t send him anything. He thought maybe they’d email him some suggestions, but no.
Once again, Lowry tries to explain why he went to the party for guidance – he was appearing as a Conservative, he reminds Martin, which is actually not true: he was appearing as an individual. Therein lies the confusion.
We’re nearly done – with the witnesses, anyway – but Szabo takes advantage of the moment to speak directly – well, via the cameras – to any future witnesses on this whole “you need a lawyer” meme that some individuals seem so keen to pass on: All witnesses are protected by parliamentary privilege, and as such, have no need for legal counsel. About time someone said that.
An odd closing statement from Lowry, who begs the committee to “change the rules” if necessary, but insists that he followed the existing law.
Webber makes the point that it’s a bit strange for the parties to provide training to official agents; instead, perhaps they could pool their money and have someone from Elections Canada run the sessions. He feels terrible for Lowry, who has been “dragged through” this despite the fact that he believed he was following the rules. Okay, so he noticed too.
Finally, Marler gives his statement, and the witnesses are excused. The audience, however, is not so lucky — there are points of order to come, oh yes there are.
Wait, no there aren’t! Well, there was one – but it was mostly Gary Goodyear being angry over Szabo’s “commentary” – reassuring potential witnesses that they are protected by privilege – and it sort of peters out after a few minutes.
Everyone is heading out to see if any of the witnesses will scrum – no fear of missing out on the members, I’m sure – and ITQ is going to do the same. I’ll add a postscript if anything thrilling happens outside the doors, but if not – we’re back tomorrow at 10am, and it’s going to be a heck of a show.