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‘The tyranny of the opposition’


 

Below is the prepared text of government House leader Jay Hill’s statement in the Commons this morning, in which he laments for the state of Parliament’s committee system and explains why ministerial staffers will no longer be taking part. Those who delight in irony might wish to read Don Martin’s 2007 column on the government’s handbook for committee manipulation before reading the following.

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Government to address the issue of Ministers’ staff members being called before committees to testify. We recognize that committees do have the authority to call for persons and papers. However Mr. Speaker, just because they can, does not mean they ought to in every case.

Allow me to begin by reminding Members of the constitutional principles that underline relationships among Ministers, officials and Parliament.

In our system of government, the powers of the Crown are exercised by Ministers who are, in turn, answerable to Parliament.

Ministers are individually and collectively responsible to the House of Commons for the policies, programs and activities of the Government. They are supported in the exercise of their responsibilities by the public servants and by members of their office staffs.

It is the responsibility of individual public servants and office staff members to provide advice and information to Ministers, to carry out faithfully the directions given by Ministers, and in so doing, to serve the people of Canada. These employees are accountable to their superiors and ultimately to their Minister for the proper and competent execution of their duties.

Ours is a system of responsible government because the Government must retain the confidence of the House of Commons and because Ministers are responsible to the House for everything that is done under their authority. We Ministers are answerable to Parliament and its committees. It is Ministers who decide policy and Ministers who must defend it before the House and ultimately before the people of Canada.

Accordingly, responsibility for providing information to Parliament and its committees rests with Ministers. Officials have no constitutional responsibility to Parliament, nor do they share in that of Ministers. They do, however, support Ministers in their relationship with Parliament and to this extent they may be said to assist in the answerability of Ministers to Parliament.

Pages 32 to 33 of O’Brien and Bosc state:

“Responsible government has long been considered an essential element of government based on the Westminster model. Despite its wide acceptance as being a cornerstone of the Canadian system of government, there are different meanings attached to the term “responsible government”. In a general sense, responsible government means that a government must be responsive to its citizens that it must operate responsibly and that its Ministers must be accountable or responsible to Parliament………. In terms of ministerial responsibility, Ministers have both individual and collective responsibilities to Parliament. The principle of individual ministerial responsibility holds that Ministers are accountable not only for their own actions as department heads, but also for the actions of their subordinates; individual ministerial responsibility provides the basis for accountability throughout the system. Virtually all departmental activity is carried out in the name of a Minister who, in turn, is responsible to Parliament for those acts. Ministers exercise power and are constitutionally responsible for the provision and conduct of government; Parliament holds them personally responsible for it.”

Page 139, of the Second Gomery Report “Restoring Accountability – Recommendations” Mr. Gomery says: “Ministers need to understand clearly that they are accountable, responsible and answerable for all the actions of their exempt staff.”

There is a clear case to be made that the accountability of political staff ought to be satisfied through ministers. Ministers ran for office and accepted the role and responsibility of being a minister. Staff did not.

Committees will often need to seek factual information and explanations at a level of detail that Ministers are not able to provide as effectively as public servants.  In these cases, the information that public servants provide in such contexts is essential to our system.

But we should be very clear: this is no substitute for ministerial responsibility.  When Ministers choose to appear before committees to account for their administration, they are the best source of accountability and they must be heard.  Public servants and ministerial staff support the responsibility of their Ministers; they do not supplant it.  They cannot supplant it.

Like public servants, ministerial staff are not accountable to Parliament for governmental policies, decisions or operations.  Any information given by ministerial staff on these topics would be on behalf of their Minister.  Moreover, unlike public servants, ministerial staff are not involved in departmental operations and are therefore not in the same position to answer questions about these operations.

Despite having these views about ministerial accountability, the government had accepted that ministerial staff could appear before the Ethics committee after being invited by the committee. The Government Operations committee took similar action regarding the subject of lobbying.

There were expectations that due process and fair play would be part of the process.  As you know, and I commend you for upholding this principle Mr. Speaker, the minority relies on the rules for its protection. It demands certain rights to counter against the strength of the majority. These rights must be applied fairly. And they have not been at committee.

Normally witnesses are given a chance to give a statement. During a meeting of the Government Operations Committee the committee decided that the staffers would not be allowed any time for opening statements. Later, they were given a minute or two to introduce themselves.

The committee also decided, upon the instigation of the NDP member for Winnipeg Centre and the Chair, that if there was to be any resistance from the staffers to their invitation, that the clerk be authorized to serve them with subpoenas. Having served on committees Mr. Speaker, this is not the normal course. Witnesses are invited and presumed cooperative. Sometimes there are reasons to decline, or there are scheduling conflicts. Committees are usually respectful and do not, as the Government Operations committee did, threaten the witnesses right off the top. The whole process begins with intimidation and hostility.

It is also worth noting that, as an MP, the Minister of Human Resources had an absolute right, just as any MP has the right, to attend the committee meeting and participate in its proceedings. Nonetheless, the Chair told the Minister, and I quote, “you are not able to address this committee directly.” He made this ruling based on the fact that the Minister wasn’t invited.

Contrast that with the appearance of an HRSD official, Patricia Valladao, who appeared alongside her ADM, Peter Larose, in spite of Mr. Larose not having been invited to appear.   Unlike the standard applied to the Minister, the Chair allowed Mr. Larose to answer questions and participate in the proceedings at the committee.

Then there was the Chairman of the Ethics Committee who made threats of contempt in the Hill Times regarding the appearance of Mr. Togneri. An intimidating statement which was not his to make. It is for the committee to initiate and for the House to agree.

And then there was the Government Operations committee meeting of May 12, where the witness was not a Minister’s staff member. The questioning involved very serious allegations about people’s conduct, but was not subject to any rules or principles of fairness. The witness was repeatedly asked questions such as, “can you speculate?”  Questions that would never be acceptable in a court of law.

People’s conduct is being attacked without any of the fairness or procedural safeguards or principles of justice that would be found in a court or tribunal.

These are but a few examples of what is playing out in our committees.

It is not that different than what happened in the last parliament when the tyranny of the opposition made that parliament dysfunctional.

On March 29, 2007, you referred to the challenges of a minority Parliament saying, in part, “…neither the political realities of the moment nor the sheer force of numbers should force us to set aside the values inherent in the parliamentary conventions and procedures by which we govern our deliberations.”

On March 14, 2008, you further emphasized the need for all parties to respect the rules and principles of the House to avoid having committees “verging on anarchy” and being in a state of “general lawlessness”, as you had described it.

You also emphasized in your March 14 ruling, the first principles of our parliamentary tradition which Bourinot described thus:

To protect the minority and restrain the improvidence and tyranny of the majority, to secure the transaction of public business in a decent and orderly manner—

You went on to comment, “It matters not that the minority in the 39th Parliament happens to be the government, not the opposition, or that the majority is held by the combined opposition parties, not the government.”

While the problems of the 39th Parliament are still, to some degree, with us today, there is a new game being played. The tyranny of the opposition majority has turned its attention to the men and women who make up our political staff. Men and women who did not sign up to be tried by a committee – to be humiliated and intimidated by members of parliament.

The Chairman of the Ethics Committee rose on a question of privilege when the House last met complaining about being intimidated because the government began to push back on his conduct at the committee he chairs and his committee’s treatment of our staff appearing before it. He referred to it as “a chill factor” and he believes that he is the victim.

I agree with the Chairman of the Ethics Committee – there very well could be a chill factor – but it is not he nor the opposition who are the victims here. The activities of his committee may be causing a chill among some Ministerial staff who work very hard and competently advising their ministers.

They bring to us many talents – and I expect for many of them, when they accepted their jobs, they never imagined that one of the skills required was to stand up to the interrogation of a bitterly partisan parliamentary committee. They could not have expected, in our Westminster Parliamentary system of responsible government, that hostile committees and a tyrannical chairmen would deny them the protection of the rules and their Minister.

And I suspect that there must be a chill running through the political staff of the opposition. Things are safe for now. But in politics, things change.

Political staffers are under no delusions. They serve at the pleasure of their ministers and any wrong doing on their part will be dealt with swiftly by Ministers. Ministers, after-all, are the ones who are responsible and accountable.  For a committee to attempt to reach around a minister and take some action against a political staffer would be wrong and does not meet the doctrine of ministerial responsibility.

As I said earlier, we accepted, at first, that ministerial staff would appear before committees. We did so, maybe naively, and maybe expecting that the Speaker’s words in the last parliament would not fall on deaf ears, that due process and fair play would be part of the process.  But it was not.

When the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner appeared before the Ethics Committee on April 22, she said, and I quote, “There are a lot of people who like to criticize, but the fact of the matter is, these are people’s lives we’re dealing with….We are not a kangaroo court” That’s good advice for all parliamentarians.

Mr. Speaker, since parliamentary committees have not respected due process and fair play, hence forth Ministers will instruct their staff members not to appear when called before committees and the Government will send Ministers instead to account for their actions.


 

‘The tyranny of the opposition’

  1. "When ministers choose to to appear before committees to account for their administration…" I think specifies the problem in a nutshell.

  2. This is simply the latest tactic in the “long campaign” to totally discredit all those “squabbling politicians”.
    Unlike readers/commentors of blogs, the average citizen (the “swing-voter” at election time) sees these melodramas as further incentive not to vote. Low voter turnout means more Con MPs.
    whatever the battle:
    committees, detainees, nuclear safety, poisoned meat, ministerial accountability, FOI …
    the tactics are constant brinkmanship and obfuscation

    and it is working

    Harper would love to cause an election over this: "economy is recovering, give us a majority to stop all this unseemly squabbling" Its the detainee issue w/o the political landmines

    (disclosure: posted elsewhere)

    • I'm curious: why does low voter turnout mean more Con MPs?

      • the center-left is divided 4 ways – L/NDP/G/Bloc
        the Cons have a reliable undivided base
        the swing voters (many of whom would vote Liberal based on past behavior) stay home

        hence: more Con artists in MP seats

      • The Conservative Party is generally held to have the largest core support — those voters who are guaranteed to show up every election and reliably vote Conservative. Therefore the more the turnout of swing voters is whittled down, the more elections come down to a comparison of the size of the parties' core support.

      • Data doesn't bear out that conclusion, but it's hypothesized that a lower turnout increases the vote share of the Conservatives for a few reasons, one of which (that I can think of, off the top of my head) is that a significant proportion of young Canadians identify with leftward parties, and a significant proportion of young Canadians don't vote.

  3. While the problems of the 39th Parliament are still, to some degree, with us today, there is a new game being played. The tyranny of the opposition majority has turned its attention to the men and women who make up our political staff. Men and women who did not sign up to be tried by a committee – to be humiliated and intimidated by members of parliament.

    Remind us again, Jay, which party is unilaterally trying to filibuster, boycott, conceal information from, and otherwise obfuscate the work of committees?

    • Isn't "to be humiliated and intimidated by members of parliament" pretty much the job description of a political staffer?

      • only if you work for a Con MP

        then of course you get it from both directions ;-)

  4. The rapid and deliberate erosion of Canadian democracy continues unabated by the government.

    And they wonder why they remain mired in low support and the Prime Minister's personal numbers – on leadership, on vision, on direction, on trust – continue to creep downward.

    As has been the case for almost 4 years now, the best thing going for the Liberals is Harper and the only thing going for Harper is the Liberals. First party to show they have a solid competent, inspiring, substance-focused leadership, wins a majority.

    • First party to show they have a solid competent, inspiring, substance-focused leadership, wins a majority.

      You forgot compelling. Inspiring comes close, but you can inspire people without making them feel a compulsion to vote for you (how sad!).

      • Good point. Compelling is a key component to being able to connect with people. And our three national leaders are all seriously lacking in that regard: Harper – a career politician who breaks or discards campaign promises, fundamental principles and democratic safeguards like used Kleenex; Ignatieff – who has a hard time convincing us he has campaign promises and fundamental principles that he could break or discard; and Layton – who seems to be trying to sell us campaign promises and fundamental principles like he is selling us a used car.

        All three have an incredible inability to connect with your average Canadian.

    • The opposition parties have adopted parliamentary committees as their no-cost advertising channel. They started with Mulroney ($12 million), Cadman, Detainees, H1N1. They use committees to get tv time, press coverage, anything to keep the Conservatives within shooting distance. Committees have only occasionally been used for accountability of government policies. The Conservatives have served notice that they are not going to keep rolling over and allowing Parliamentary Committess to be used for political advertising when opposition parties can't seem to raise enough money to advertise on their own. You would have thought that the opposition would have learned that the CAP advertising extravaganza was a shot across their freeloading bow.

      • I don't remember the Cons having any problem with committees when they were investigating Adscam.

        • I may have forgotten but it was the Globe, the Auditor General and Gomery that investigated Adscam not a parliamentary committee. The opposition called for a judicial inquiry. Chretien prorogued parliament to duck the AG's report before Martin had to call the inquiry. If I'm wrong about the role of a Parliamentary committee please enlighten me.

          • You have forgotten. All the main characters were brought before the Public Accounts Committee.

        • In fact, it was the Conservative Party under Harper that promised to "increase the power of Parliament and parliamentary committees".

          Another broken promise from Say Anything Steve. Quel surprise.

      • So let's talk about this specific inquiry in this specific committee. The committee is investigating Access to Information requests. It turns out that a Conservative political staffer named Ryan Sparrow denied the release of a report that a nonpolitical bureaucrat prepared in response to a legitimate information request. The committee wanted to talk to Sparrow about why he did that. This is exactly the way in which committees are supposed to hold the government to account.

        The committee should not have let Baird speak, they should have had the Sargeant-at-Arms summon Soudas.

      • "not going to keep rolling over"?

        When did they ever even accept the authority of Parliament and its committees? They have blocked every committee move that threatened to hold them accountable, every committee that tried to do its job and hold the government accountable they have fillibustered and when that didn't work shut it down. They wrote a whole damn manual on how to make sure committees cannot function.

        The government does not get to decide on what issues it will be accountable and what issues it does not need to be held accountable.

        "They use the committees to… keep the Conservatives within shooting distance." Damn straight they do. If they weren't fighting to keep some bare scratch of accountability, this government would try to get away with even less accountability and treat government even more as their private tool of power.

        • Looking back on the Conservatives arrival in office they appear to have held many of the views of Reform with respect to the role of Parliament and its Committees. Their first effort to hand more power to Committees was the appointments commissioner. They got a clear political response. Then they tried Committee reviews of Supreme Court appointments. Since they appointed someone on the Liberal shortlist- no problem. Then came the decision on the Afghan extension-put it to Parliament- first time ever- appoint a Liberal to sit on the panel recommending the course of action. Does none of this count for expanding Parliament's role. The answer from the opposition was "let's screw over Mulroney in committee and see if we shove it up the a** of Harper."

          • Um, no, not quite. Not quite at all.

            Harper promised a public appointments commission in order to ensure competent, non-partisan appointments. Then he appointed a competent, major Tory fundraiser and bagman as the first commissioner. When such an obvious partisan was rejected, Harper refused to appoint anyone else. Broken promise.

            Harper promised public vetting of Supreme Court nominees. The process was public, yes, but irrelevant since the committee had no decision-making or approval powers. The first nominee went through public hearings. The opposition parties asked respectful, relevant and substantive questions. It was positive. The public learned a little bit more about SCC judges and this judge in particular. Then Harper ignored the committee and went ahead nominated a SCC judge. Another broken promise.

            He has been singularly focused on making committees dysfunctional so they are hindered from doing their job and keeping government accountable. His conduct would never ever be acceptable in the US, UK or Australia.

          • A competent commissioner who would do the job for a dollar. There are lots of good fund-raisers and successful business people helping to grow Canadian companies. You don't have to smear him by calling him a "bagman" to make your point.

            Constitutional practice and the Supreme Court Act requires the Prime Minister to make Supreme Court appointments- the election of 2008 unduly delayed the appointment so Harper consulted with the OLO to make the appointment because cases were backing up- the dictator.

            Parliamentary committees are dysfunctional when they are adopted as partisan tools of battle by the opposition. It's best not to whine when your enemy won't co-operate.

          • In a minority parliament where multiple parties must work together in order to pass any legislation, nobody should be looking at anyone else as an enemy.

          • Oh please.

          • We get it, you don't think a collaborative approach to governance is at all worthwhile in a democracy.

            Say it a little louder, so the rest of the country can hear you.

          • I'll say it as loud as I can since the battle between opposing views is what makes for a vibrant democracy and underlies all of our institutions. Consult yes, collaborate even- but someone or group must CHOOSE and DECIDE and take responsibility for deciding. That's why our system produces a responsible government elected by the public. The role of the opposition is to consult and oppose to ensure that in the battle of ideas the best one's win out. If ideas aren't being fought over we'll get the easy, stupid ones and everyone and no-one will be responsible.

          • Ok, so if someone has to take responsibility, why is it that the government is crafting memos and statements so that they can avoid doing so?

          • You are scrambling with your spinning, I'm afraid.

            The public appointment commissioner should be above reproach in both competence and partisanship, like the Budget Officer or the Auditor General. Especially since his or her defined role is to make public appointments non-partisan. There was never any question about his competence, but he was a major partisan fundraiser. Hardly the appropriate person to be the first Public Appointments Commissioner.

            Bastarache stepped down in June 2008. Harper broke his own law and forced an unnecessary election on us in October 2008. So you are excusing his further broken promise on (a) his slowness in setting up a new committee hearing and (b) because he broke his fixed election date law???

            Regardless, your excuse doesn't hold water. Rothstein was appointed on March 1, 2006, less than a month after Harper took office. Plenty of time to establish the brand new unprecedented procedure, select a qualified appointee that he liked, run through an entire public proceeding. And you are saying he didn't have 3 weeks to do it again from June to December???

            There was no need for Harper to break either campaign promise, but breaking campaign promises and throwing out fundamental principles is what he does best (and most often).

          • A Conservative government that truly holds the Reform values with regard to the role of Parliament and its Committees would not have found itself in a position to be in contempt of Parliament.

            It also would not have filibustered, boycotted, and directed its witnesses not to show up to committees.

          • In politics you don't bring a knife to a gun fight.

          • No, in a duel you don't bring a knife to a gun fight.

            In politics, you do, because the knife is more dangerous: it can't misfire and you don't need training to know how to use it.

          • You should run for office—– for one of the Opposition parties :-)

    • Isn't it Ignatieff and the Liberals both polling around the 25% support range?

      If anyone's numbers are creeping downward, it's your boy Iggy.

      • Who's denying that? The complaint was clearly directed at the lack of real leadership we have from all of the parties in national government.

        But just because Ignatieff is floundering and unable to connect with Canadians, does not mean that Harper is not floundering or is able to connect with Canadians. With all he has in his favour – a campaign war chest, experience (in 2006 he had even less than Iggy does now), government advertising, government expense accounts, government jets, the ability to call in the military for multimillion dollar photo ops, etc. – it is stunning and telling that he can't get ahead in the polls, especially with such a weak opposition.

        • It is funny how often the Tories trot out how bad the Liberals are doing.

          Yes, the Liberals are doing poorly in the polls. Very poorly. Perhaps HISTORICALLY poorly. They may be the least popular they've been in the history of the country. And STILL the Harper Tories can't get above their best electoral result in the polls.

          Eventually, constant laments at how terribly your opposition is performing will make people start to wonder, "Then why are you still barely beating them???".

          God help the Tories if the Liberals can find a leader who isn't one of the worst performing in the history of their party.

  5. "Ours is a system of responsible government because the Government must retain the confidence of the House of Commons and because Ministers are responsible to the House for everything that is done under their authority."

    In other words: don't like what we're doing? Call an election – pull the trigger, we dare you.

    Elections alone do not make a responsible system of government. Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq – they all have elections. Would Jay Hill describe those as responsible democracies?

    The contempt that the Conservative party shows for Canadian democracy continues to astound me. And here we are, yet again, with another unprecedented showdown between the government and Parliamentary tradition.

    • And here we are, yet again, with the Conservatives holding a lead in the polls. What does that tell you?

      • That public opinion polls and elections are two very different things.

      • "What does that tell you?"

        We have a weak opposition and the party in power is doing whatever it can to exploit the situation, Canadians be damned.

  6. Silly season in Parliament has arrived.

    I think we all got too much sun over the Victoria Day weekend. Although my tomato plants are doing well…

    • thanks d-dog

      you just proved my point (see above)

      • Your post is nonsense. You can attribute silly overheated debate before the summer break to an evil "Con" plot all you want but I think it's pretty obvious that's just your own partisanship speaking.

        No one says "wow, they're all so useless… I should vote for the Tories."

        • but lots of people say, "wow, they're all so useless… I'm not going to bother voting."

          • thanks pulex

            I am never sure if those folks are really as thick as they appear or do they just like acting dumb thinking the readers they are targeting (not us, btw) will fail to notice?

    • So are mine! I named them. Rona and Pierre.

  7. Sounds like they're laying some serious groundwork on a reason to call an election in September. Also known as, "Man we need an election before the stimulus photo ops run out and the Auditor General tells Canadians how that money was spent.

    It also dove tails nicely with the developing Conservative campaign narative about how after six years of minority governments Canada needs a majority.

    All in all, from a tactical standpoint, a pretty shrewd move.

  8. "fair play"

    nice

    says it all right there.

  9. Ours is a system of responsible government because the Government must retain the confidence of the House of Commons and because Ministers are responsible to the House for everything that is done under their authority. We Ministers are answerable to Parliament and its committees.

    As I understand it (from reading the other thread), Ministers are automatically granted immunity from being summoned to appear before a Parliamentary committee.

    So if staffers aren't going to be allowed to appear before a committee, and Ministers don't have to, that means that nobody in the Conservative chain of command is liable to appear before a committee, which pretty much renders Parliamentary committees useless.

    Thought: if the Liberals and NDP are going to be asked whether they are willing to form a coalition, perhaps the Conservatives should be asked whether their goal is a one-party state.

  10. Reminds me a of time, not that long ago, when opposition Tory MP John Williams, chair of the (Public Accounts?) committee stated:
    "This is not a court of law, this is a court of public opinion".

    The Tories certainly did like the court of public opinion when they were in the opposition….

  11. Wow. What a whiney statement by Jay Hill. These Conservatives are always trying to play the victim. I am so sick of these rightwing crybabies..

  12. It is about time all you l(L)iberals had a basic civics lesson. Your jealous paranoia is showing.

    • The Conservatives put forward a motion saying that they're allowed to contravene parliamentary practice and procedure that's 200-years entrenched, and Liberals need the civics lesson?

      Also, if the Conservatives view being called before committee as "Men and women who did not sign up to be tried by a committee – to be humiliated and intimidated by members of parliament.", I don't think it's the rest of the spectrum that needs an adjustment of their tin foil.

    • Yes, please give us all a civics lesson.

      Please point to the founding document or principle of our democracy that explains to us all that an important principle of Ministerial Accountability is that Ministers be provided with tax-payer funded political staffers who are ordered not to testify about what their bosses have them doing while they're working on our dime. Explain to me with a straight face how perfectly acceptable it would have been to the Tories had Alfonso Gagliano insisted that his political staffers not be allowed to testify about what their boss had them doing.

      I'd love to see someone try this sort of thing in the private sector. It's like the CEO of Enron arguing that since he's ultimately accountable for what happens at the company, no one else at Enron should be called to testify except him. He'd be laughed out of any room for such a suggestion, and that's how we should treat this move by the Tories. When the boss says they don't want their staff to testify because they're thinking of the best interests of their staff, there's not enough salt in the world with which to take that explanation.

      If Tory Ministers don't want their staffers embarrassed in public, the easier route would be to not have their staffers do embarrassing things on their behalf.

  13. I don't think political staffers should be called up and hounded by committees… it has been a pretty embarrassing show, and certainly not worthwhile. HOWEVER… and it's a massive however… that's my OPINION. The FACT is that the committee has the power to call who they want. I would rather Parliament maintain its authority rather than have the government unilaterally decide who will and won't testify. It's just yet another erosion of the power of individual MPs in favour of the executive if this is allowed to stand.

  14. The most ridiculous assertion in all this is the suggestion that the very fellow who most often appears as unnamed Conservative spokesperson, and frequently uses that opportunity to slag Opposition MPs, is somehow too faint of heart to appear in a formal committee hearing and answer direct questions from those MPs.

    That's followed quickly on the ridiculousness scale by the excuse that appearing to answer questions at Committee is making the staff accountable for the minister. For once forget the spin and just the question and you won't need to be responsible for anything but the truth Dmitri Soudas.

  15. @no more non-partisan – the Opposition using committees as their no-cost advertising channel.

    Seems fair to me – since the Harper government is using government resources and tax dollars to promote partisan moves…

    • nice.

    • That's fine- just don't call it "defending democracy" or "parliamentary responsibility" or some other high-minded purpose they are pursuing- this is just down and dirty politics played by a bunch of schlock artists

      • And that somehow makes it okay? If everyone plays dirty, then we can all continue to play dirty and that's fair?

        Over my dead body.

        • No one said it's OK. Just don't keep pretending that the Opposition parties are doing something noble while the evil Conservatives are undermining our civilization. Canadians delivered a minority government that has to rely on raw political tactics to survive and implement their policies – the Opposition is doing the same-so we have to get used to it until someone wins a majority or the system changes.

          • I think you'd be surprised what would happen if even one party said "we're not playing this game anymore."

          • Very surprised – since politics is a battle of ideas- some ideas win and some lose- consensus seeking results in happy mediocrity.

          • Allow me to be glib for a moment: I thought it was a battle of knives and guns and rhetoric?

            Also, if politics at this very moment in this very context in this very country were a battle of ideas, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation.

          • It started with the show trial "Mulroney Inquiry Part 2" of the Szabos and Martins. The government took the measure of the opposition then and our politics has suffered every day since.

  16. Its so hard for libs to be on the loosing team. As you can see here the best they've got is name calling and pathetic pleas for our dying democracy. Give me a break. Bring on the election. Let's see who the voters really trust.

    I'm sure your next leader — dominic…or justin…or maybe strombo will make it all better.

    • People who are paid out of the public purse are accountable to the public. which means that, yes they must appear before committees and answer questions. This is not a dictatorship.

      • If thats what you think then vote down the government. Force an election. Lets see who's right.
        Oh wait…better idea, maybe you should form a coalition and try and steal the government back. Then you can fix everything.

        • You make it sound like the Conservatives are trying to prove that Canada isn't, and shouldn't, be a democracy.

        • This is the punk attitude that we get from the Conservatives. They seem stuck in the school yard stage.

        • In 2004 and 2006 and 2008, we did vote as Canadians and we told our politicians to start working for us and not for themselves by making each government accountable in a minority government.

          The government does not get to pick and choose how and when it will be accountable. We do. They don't get to ignore accountability and democratic process and constitutional laws by claiming the only accountability they have to face is an election.

          Canadians have been surprisingly consistent in their message to our political class of overlords: get along and get back to work.

          Are the opposition parties being as stupidly partisan as Harper? Without a doubt. But unfortunately for Harper here and on detainees, the law and democratic process happens to be on their side so too bad.

    • See, Demetri has better things to do

    • So, this is what you chunks think makes good governance, huh? A bunch of goombahs in ill-fitting pinstripe beaters standing by the schoolyard fence chanting in furious unison' "nyah-nyah-nyah-nah-nah, you can't make me." Wherein accountability equals 'Call an election, I dare ya'.

      The inability of the opposition to articulate a coherent and articulate response to these juvenile taunts is maddening, but the abject refusal of the government to rise to a level of adult maturity is more so. Gah.

      And yes, 'loosing' is the new 'teh'.

  17. A very thoughtful well-reasoned, non-partisan analysis from a Conservative blogger here.

    On the one hand, a legal obligation for staffers to attend coupled with a fundamental constitutional principle of Parliamentary supremacy as well as the reality of the dangerous accountability and even democratic consequences of seeing Harper's new unprecedented policy through.

    On the other hand, a trust in committees not to abuse their discretion, even if they are entitled to do so.

    But the question, the big question, is why does Harper continuously challenge (if not break) and walk on the edge of (if not cross over) and push the envelope (if not burst it open) on issues of accountability and basic democratic governance?

    Why do significant issues of accountability and democratic deficit constantly arise under Harper's rule?

    I think in answering that, you understand why Harper remains low in the polls even though there is a weak opposition which is even lower in the polls.

    • He can climb no higher in the polls.
      He can increase his seats on election day – by lowering voter turnout.

      and it is working

  18. Those who delight in irony might wish to read Don Martin's 2007 column on the government's handbook for committee manipulation before reading the following.

    Actually, I think we all might like to read the handbook itself. Over to you, Don…

  19. poor 25 year old's have to be protected from the committee. how about protecting Canadians and the public intererest from 25 year old staffers?

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