And we’re back – for the second day in the row, ITQ has managed to snag the best seat in the House (well, other than the ones around the committee table) for the second day of hearings into the In and Out affair.
Normally, this is the point at which I’d give a quick summary of what happened yesterday, but due to the traditional Ottawa summertime traffic hazard that is the Changing of the Guard, I made it to the Hill with only moments to spare.
You can relive the whole day in painstaking – and occasionally punchy – detail by reading yesterday’s liveblog, but in a nutshell: Mayrand stuck to his guns, the opposition parties played straight man to Elections Canada and the Conservatives dared call it conspiracy.
The question-and-answer session continues today, the chair having perhaps unwisely vowed to keep Mayrand there until every single member is satisfied, or at the very least has run through his complete list of questions.
Ooh, the Liberals’ proposed witness list is out, and it’s a doozy — I’ll try to type in the full list later, but a few highlights: every sitting MP identified by Elections Canada as having taken part in the “regional media buy”, various former candidates who have spoken out in the media; a gentleman by the name of Doug Finley, PMO Deputy Smartest Guy in the History of Ever Patrick Muttart, and various other party officials.
So far, nothing from the other parties as far as wishlists, but they’ve got until this afternoon to file it with the chair, so that’s not all that unusual.
A short technical note: If you were refreshing the liveblog like a good little committee junkie, and it suddenly vanished with nary a word of explanation, I can assure you that there was nothing sinister at play, unless you consider WordPress’ decision to put the “save” and the “delete” buttons right beside each other on the mobile interface. Thank goodness I’d copied most of the text, or this would be a far more stressed out entry.
Meanwhile, the meeting has, in fact, begun with a stern warning to all and sundry to treat witnesses – *all* witnesses – with respect, courtesy of the chair. He then hands the floor over to Marc Mayrand, who has a few things to say to the committee before taking questions, mostly clarifying his previous testimony, and how he applied the now familiar Five Factors when considering claims from the Conservative Party.
Mayrand seems downright disturbed by the possibility that he could inadvertantly stray into areas currently under controversy at the Federal Court; he doesn’t want to be accused of trying to interfere with the ongoing case through the committee process.
Oh, and he’s not wild about the proposed motion to order him to hold an independent investigation into the possibly entirely non-existent leak, although he seems willing to comply with the committee if given no alternative.
And — a point of order from Pierre Poilievre, and really, it’s about time. I thought he’d sprained his waving hand. He doesn’t see why Mayrand shouldn’t have to answer questions that are also pending in court — he and his fellow Conservatives *warned* the committee that it was a bad idea to go ahead with the inquiry, but nobody listened. Hah! That will teach them to ignore Poilievreian wisdom.
Szabo explains that he had an understanding with Mayrand that dealt with exactly this issue; he sent a letter around to all members, and nobody raised a peep of protest. Probably because none of them actually read it.
Point of Crankiness(tm): He takes issue with Szabo’s characterization of this as “standard practice,” and cites his past testimony to back himself up. “The two of you are going to decide which questions are okay,” he fumes. “That’s not the way to hold a hearing!”. It’s a lot of nonsense, and they should be able to ask whatever they want. In response to his tirade, the chair replies thusly: “That’s debate, not a point of order.” I know someone whose mic is going to be cut off soon!
As Szabo attempts to explain the tradition surrounding sub judice matters, thereby stoking the notorious Tilson rage even further. Absolute nonsense! There are no specific rules governing questions!
Szabo – who is disarmingly calm, although who knows how long he can keep that up – goes mano a mano over the different interpretations of Marleau and Montpetit.
Hey, a chair challenge! We haven’t had one of those yet.
False alarm: no challenge, no vote. Szabo explains that he was under no obligation to contact members; he was just supposed to make arrangements so the witness could appear, which is what he did.
I think he may have misspoken earlier, actually – I’m pretty sure he mentioned circulating a letter, but I may have gotten confused. That does happen sometimes.
Oh, and no, they’re not back to business yet, although Szabo is trying valiantly to do so. Alas, he didn’t take the undauntable Pierre Poilivre into account, and he immediately calls another point of order on the issue of sub judice matters. Is that the right construction? Latin is hard. Let’s go shopping!
I just noticed that, in this light, David Tilson’s hair is exactly the same colour — let’s call it cream, or dirty polar bear — as Scott Reid’s suit.
He’s now explaining that he won’t challenge the chair – Reid, that is – because he knows it will be sustained by the “other side”, just like he predicted. It’s hard being Cassandra, y’all.
Marc Mayrand is sitting patiently through this entire debacle, by the way.
Someone’s mic just got cut. Now it’s an Ethics meeting!
After Szabo reads the Conservatives the riot act – well, the friendly warning that comes before the riot act, really – on what kinds of points of order can legitimately be moved: relevence, repetition and procedural.
“Point of Privilege,” Tilson announces. Ooh, privilege. That trumps everything! Everthing but the gavel, that is, which Szabo just brought down with a resounding bang. Sitting suspended for five minutes.
This is going well, isn’t it?
Okay, I *did* hear him correctly — there was a letter circulated amongst MPs laying out the details of his discussions with Mayrand. It’s not his fault.
Poilievre, incidentally, is now snuggled into the media table, and is having a lively debate with Pat Martin – who also gravitated to the press – over why Mayrand might not want to testify on sub judice matters.
The chair is still MIA, from what I can see, which gives MPs free rein to wander around looking for reporters in need of quotes; Mayrand, meanwhile, is sitting placidly at the witness table, no doubt wondering whether he’s going to get to answer any more questions.
The chair has rematerialized, and looks a very little bit less like he’s considering the pros and cons of using his gavel as a weapon.
Back in session, and – was that an apology from David Tilson? It was! He tells Szabo he’s sorry for his comments, which were inappropriate, and the chair accepts it wholeheartedly. Has that ever happened before? Does that mean Szabo’s going to make it through two whole meetings without being accused of fascism? He’s sticking by his decision, however, on sub judice matters because “that’s the deal that he made.”
A point of order from Marlene Jennings, which prompts Szabo to read the official definition of such. This is getting a little bit tiresome even for me, and I love this stuff.
Turns out it’s not a point of order, but a request for the transcripts from the Vezina cross-examination, which are now public.
Finally – *finally* – the Q&A with Mayrand resumes – a mere hour and six minutes after it was supposed to begin.
Sukh Dhaliwal is first up for the Liberals; he wants to know more about the seventeen candidates invovled in the in and out scheme, and whether any of the public office holders received reimbursement for expenses.
Is it possible, Dhaliwal wonders, that these candidates may use this money in *future* campaigns, even though it may have to be returned to Elections Canada? Mayrand admits that this could happen, since he hasn’t begun taking steps to recoup the rebates handed out before he concluded that the expenses weren’t refundable.
Wow, I forgot how quickly a five minute round can go by. The Conservatives are at bat, which means more questions from Russ Hiebert on the Five Facts, which Hiebert wants to unpack, since he believes one is based on a false conclusion, which would “unravel the whole house of cards,” and I swear I did not make that up. Metaphor mixer, thy name is Hiebert.
You know, I’m not sure if this is the best strategy for the Conservatives — Hiebert repeating the phrase “Five Facts”, that is. It reminds people of the reasons why he found the claims out of order, and I’m not sure that’s the best way to shape this story. Then again, I also wouldn’t keep bringing up the fact that my party headquarters had been raided, so maybe it’s just a failure on my part to see the big picture.
After more not so veiled accusations from Hiebert – who at one point comes close to threatening Elections Canada’s budget for the next election – it’s onto Carole Lavallee, who seems to be getting frustrated. Not at the witness, or the chair, even, but at the fact that they’re still quibbling over conclusions that seem perfectly clear to her. This takes up four and a half minutes of her allotted five, so the chair gives Mayrand the remaining seconds to reply to her musings.
Back to Russ Hiebert – yes, again – who chides Mayrand for not being able to tell him the advertising budget for Elections Canada, including a full breakdown by media, and – oh, it turns out that was a thing!
A trick! A legal sleight of hand by the wily Hiebert, who notes that Mayrand can’t give those details – yet he finds it suspicious when an official agent is similarly unable to answer the question! The hunter has become the hunted!
Some might point out that comparing the federal agency responsible for running elections to the official agent for a local campaign is — a bit of a stretch. Troublemakers, each and every one.
After Poilievre tries to get the chair to make Mayrand answer the question, Hiebert moves onto the timing of the Five Facts. Mayrand repeats that new information has come out since his investigation, and Hiebert eventually wraps up. Well, for now. I’m betting he’ll come back to that.
Pat Martin finds this whole thing disturbing – very disturbing, what with the Conservatives failing to show confidence in Elections Canada, and the treatment of Mayrand himself as an Officer of Parliament. Mayrand can’t very well agree, but he once again tells the committee that he and his office are committed to fair elections for all.
Pat Martin wonders what the “red flag” was that triggered the initial examination, and has a Hiebert-worthy metaphor involving cookie jars and hands and gall and greed. I can’t really do it justice, but now he’s serving notice that the NDP is ready to move on. He has a motion to prove it.
“You won’t shut this down like Procedure and House Affairs,” he snarls across the table, which prompts Gary Goodyear to taunt him by claiming that they have a “smoking gun” that involves *his* – Martin’s – party. “Smoking gun, smoking gun, smoking gun,” he elaborates.
The chair accepts the motion, and proposes that the committee suspend until 1pm – excusing Mayrand, of course, first.
Martin explains the reasoning behind his motion – the committee had two two-hour sessions yesterday to ask substantial questions, and now they’re just trying to use it as a smokescreen – a smokescreen that is also a political grandstand! But is it bulletproof? Will it stop a shot from the smoking gun?
I have a solution, everybody! Why not bring Mayrand back after hearing from all those other witnesses? Wouldn’t that make more sense?
David Tilson responds to the motion by complaining that he’s only had five minutes to ask questions – that’s nowhere near enough time, he assures the committee.
What is this, Drive Kady Bonkers With Bad Metaphors Day? Pierre Poilievre – he’s up, by the way – just had a doozy; something about tainted fruit – but before I could capture it, he went on to the most fantastically rose-coloured view of how the hearings have gone so far. Apparently, the media coverage has been nothing but bad for the opposition, and fabulously wonderful in every way for the Conservatives. He then proposes eight more rounds of questioning – oh, why not make it eighteen; it has as much chance of passing – and accuses the other side of plotting to shut the inquiry down.
I can’t remember – is the Red Bull safe to drink through the Looking-Glass?
Okay, it must be Drive ITQ Crazy With Mixed Metaphor Day, because Charles Huibbard just came up with a baseball analogy – don’t kick sand in the umpire’s face – and then moves to Watergate – the coverup is worse than the crime – with a brief stopover in criminal law as he notes, owlishly, that It doesn’t take Five Factors to convict someone of murder.
Gary Goodyear is going on and on and on and on and on about how willing the Conservatives are to “open the books” for the last two elections (very, very willing). Which is awfully sporting of them, but unnecessary, since the books are already wide open and available for perusal at the Elections Canada website.
Oh, now he’s citing an NDP email chain that, he claims, violates the Five Factors by “shoving through” expenses. I have no idea if there’s anything to it – and I don’t know where he got the email – but I’m sure he’ll go into all the gory details after the meeting is over.
He’s also fully supportive of the eight-more-rounds subamendment – Eight More Rounds! Eight More Rounds! – and rockets to the top of the ITQ Tortured Metaphor countdown by comparing a summer committee meeting to the sponsorship scandal, because both involve Liberals and taxpayer dollars.
Sukh Dhaliwal speaks up in support of the motion – there’s a shocker – and goes off on a long tangent to which I sort of forgot to listen, but it turns out it was just a teensy bit off the issue – the eight-more-rounds subamendment, so I didn’t miss much.
Scott Reid is talking. And talking. And talking. When does this officially turn into a filibuster? It’s starting to feel oddly familiar.
He gets points for using the word “cavalier” however; at least when he uses a word, he does so correctly. Unlike certain other MPs sitting one seat over from him and not Gary Goodyear.
A double standard. That’s what this comes down to, as far as Reid is concerned. The Conservative Party was subject to a more vigourous investigation than the other two parties.
Oh, are you wondering why he’s allowed to keep talking? He’s giving examples of some of the qustions he would ask Mayrand if he went for another eight rounds, which is even more fun than asking him directly, since he doesn’t get to answer.
Something else that matches Scott Reid’s suit: his coffee cup. The marble trim around the fireplace. Gary Goodyear now that he’s taken off his jacket.
I wonder if that fireplace actually works. If it does, we should have winter singalongs, and roast chestnuts, or conkers – are those the same nut? It would be a lovely way to wile away those long winter nights of filibustering.
Did I mention that Mayrand – and Bernier – are still here? I’d actually forgotten until the former got up to stretch his legs. He even looks interested in whatever it is that Poilievre is droning on about in the bacgrkound.
The chair gently reminds Poilievre that a few examples of questions are fine, but they can’t deliver lengthy arguments in support of them, and he promises not to get carried away. Then, he begins a long and involved explanation of something the Bloc Quebecois did, and you can feel the entire room tune out — including his colleagues.
Marlene Jennings attempts to free the hostages with a point of order – relevence, if you care – that questions the introduction of BQ election expenses from 2000. The chair agrees that it may turn out to be out of bounds, but he doesn’t want to get into that question at this point.
Pierre Poilievre is driving towards a thesis! It’s a procedural road trip – and everyone is invited! He accuses the opposition of trying to silence the brilliant and penetrating arguments coming from the government side, and changing the rules to protect Mayrand from being exposed as – it’s not clear what, but it’s not good.
Two can play that game, Mr. Poilievre! Now Carole Lavallee is giving the case against the Conservatives, particularly Josee Verner, in the instant case (as opposed to the 2000 election).
This committee is never, ever going to end, is it?
I wonder what media outlets Russ Hiebert is thinking of when he calls this a failed political stunt by the opposition. It seems to me it’s been pretty effective in getting the story back on the front page.
Gary Goodyear would totally buy ads featuring Stephen Harper, but not him. In case anyone out there was consumed with curiousity by that question.
Shorter Gary Goodyear: His party was against this inquiry from the start, but now that they’re here, they’re going to make the best of it, even if it involves creative interpetation of the resulting media coverage. Also, the sponsorship scandal. Don’t forget the sponsorship scandal!
Hey, how about that? It turns out we’ve actually heard from every member of the committee, so the chair wants to take the vote – on the amendments, subamentments and the motion itself. Charlie Hubbard asks a good question: would this be eight rounds *now*, or at a future meeting?
Marlene Jennings, by the way, is simmering with rage at not having been allowed to speak out on the motion, but the chair goes ahead, and the Eight More Rounds! amendment dies a quiet, dignified death.
The chair is putting the question on the main motion – to let Mayrand go run the electoral agency instead of sitting silently at the end of the table – amid widespread grouching from both sides, but it passes anything. The committee will complete the current round, and then excuse the witness.
Having lost the battle, the Conservatives aren’t ready to give up the war; Gary Goodyear wants a brief recess to discuss the best questions possible for the five minute slot remaining for his party, but the chair – just isn’t going to do that.
Remember that two hour break we were going to have? Yeah, that isn’t going to happen, as it turns out. I’ll consider myself a very lucky liveblogger if my thumbs get an hour to recover.
Gary Goodyear has more points of order, as does Marlene Jennings, but it looks as though I have company in the Bad Low Blood Sugar Place; everyone is cranky now. David Tilson doesn’t even stand out. Well, actually, yes he does. He has that growl.
What is particularly deliciously ironic, of course, is the fact that Goodyear presided over the meltdown of the Procedure and House Affairs committee – brought on, of course, by in and out-related filibustering.
Somehow, Marlene Jennings managed to work a reference to the Light Rail Transit fiasco, which is impressive, before moving onto the riding of Cardigan. Which isn’t one of the campaigns targeted for investigation by Elections Canada, yet showed no expense for an ad buy that was ostensibly regional.
You know when I said it wasn’t all that difficult to follow? I take that back.
And now, the final Conservative round, which goes to Poilievre, who gives Mayrand heck – yes, holy heck – for not inventing a time machine and going back to the year 2000 to investigate the Bloc Quebecois’ scheme to transfer expenses. He doesn’t get the chance to answer, alas – Carole Lavallee questions the relevence; ITQ’s will to live is slowly slipping away.
Hey, look – it’s 1pm. Also, Mayrand can’t answer Poilievre’s question, but he’ll get back to the committee with the information. Finally – *finally* – Poilievre gets to call Gilles Duceppe the father of the in and out scheme, although as far as I know, what the Bloc did was perfectly legal at the time.
There have been – what, three major amendments to the Elections Act since 2000? In fact, wasn’t it legal *then*? Didn’t Elections Canada look into that? Where am I? Who are these people?
Oh, for goodness sakes: Pierre Poilievre just ended his five minutes with a motion, which the chair won’t let him introduce because it’s actually *Scott Reid’s* motion. Oh, that’s harsh.
Pierre Poilievre is unstoppable, however: He has a superseding motion! It’s super! It sedes!
Sadly, we won’t get to find out what it is because he doesn’t have the floor. The chair sparks general outrage and gallows chuckles from the Conservatives, and the chair then takes a few minutes to consult with the chair.
I really wonder if anyone is still reading this, or if we’ve been given up for dead: the Oceanic — oh, I can’t count all of us, and I just missed the explanation of the motion, but it was defeated anyway so I’m not sure if it matters. Oh, to continue on with other business. That was the motion – and it is defeated.
In perfect deadpan style, Szabo turns to Mayrand asks,”Do you have any final remarks for this perfectly functional committee?”
Marc Mayrand is freed! Free! And, as it happens, so are the rest of us — until 2pm.