General

Liveblogging the Procedure and House Affairs Committee: Filibuster ahoy! (From the archives)

(originally liveblogged on February 5, 2008)

11:03:27 AM
Order, order! Actually, it was far less dramatic than that. The chair just gavelled his way into control of the meeting, which we’re joining already in progress. The meeting was in camera ’til now, so the reporters who have shown up — and there are a surprising number of us — will have to catch up via deductive reasoning and/or tipoffs from members’ staff.

Michel Guimond is making disturbing half-references to something that sounds suspiciously like a possible filibuster. He’s discussing what happens if there are no “motions to adjourn” when 1pm rolls around. Basically, the committee keeps going, and going, and going, and going, and eventually, a committee made up of the great-great grandchildren of today’s members, as well as superintelligent robots, will find our dessicated bodies, still wearing earpieces.

11:07:34 AM
Yeah, it’s as bad as I thought: the Tories are filibustering a motion to reopen the committee’s investigation of the ‘in and out’ election ad funding scandal, which, according to Tom Lukiwski, is just an excuse to embarrass the government.

11:10:06 AM
This is an itty bitty committee room, by the way. There is only one media table — which itself has only two spots — which means the rest of us are relegated to the sidelines, literally. And that often means sitting amongst the staffers, which can be awkward or useful, depending.

11:13:14 AM
Tom Lukiwski says the Conservatives “brought forward a court action” to oppose the decision by Elections Canada that only the Conservatives had been naughty with their financing jiggerypokery, despite the fact that every party does it. Wait, wasn’t that an appeal? He makes it sound like the Tories just spontaneously decided to launch a court case, and aren’t on the defensive after Elections Canada ruled against them.

11:15:21 AM
Okay, a bit of meta — now Lukiwski is talking about the Ethics committee, and the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. Stop confusing me, filibuster-er. I may be the only person actually listening to him at the moment – possibly including himself. The rest of the committee isn’t even pretending to pay attention; even his fellow Tories are chortling behind their fists, and the Liberals keep wandering away from the table, like hedgehogs in a Wonderland croquet match.

11:20:01 AM
The Tories just want to bring light to the darkness of current election practices, y’all. Why do the opposition members hate light so much? They’ll gladly open their books – start an investigation today! – if the other parties will do the same. That, by the way, is the substance of the motion that the committee is… not really debating, more like enduring. It’s also, coincidentally, the Conservative party’s defence in court. Right now, to give you a sample, Lukiwski – yes, still – is explaining how the ‘in and out’ works. (It is a practice, and not a scheme, no matter what the opposition or the independent regulator charged with enforcing the Elections Act might say.) Apparently, less informed members of the public – like, say, the Chief Electoral Officer – might not be sophisticated enough to appreciate how utterly legal it was, but that’s not the Conservatives’ fault.

11:25:19 AM
An emissary from the land of Peter Van Loan has arrived! Which isn’t surprising, since he usually takes questions about this in the House. At least he did back when the Consevatives were asked about it. Also, a Liberal or Bloc (I can’t tell) staffer just arrived with a procedural bible bursting with yellow stickies. I sense an end to the filibuster may be at hand.

11:28:01 AM
Still. Talking. In case you wondered. The Conservatives, incidentally, are the only party that is ideologically opposed to campaign spending limits, which is actually entirely consistent with the small l libertarian policies of — that party that used to exist, and began with an R, whose name escapes me.

11:32:52 AM
Oh boy, Lukiwski just brought up the sponsorship scandal! Remember that? ‘Tory books examined!’ That’s an example of a headline that the opposition wants, he says. Leave the headline writing to us, guys.

11:35:17 AM
The committee has strayed away from its noble purpose, apparently. It has been hijacked by nefarious opposition parties for political purposes. Wait, wasn’t that what happened with Public Accounts during the sponsorship scandal? And really, what else do they have to do at Procedure and House Affairs.

11:37:20 AM
Lukiwski “looks forward” to the coming court case. I seem to remember a certain Lord Black of Crossharbour saying something remarkably similar. Later, he looked forward to his appeal, and his sentencing, and his bail hearing. Everything was coming up Conrad!

11:41:22 AM
There is an exquisite irony in the fact that the only reason why this scheme — er, practice — came to light was after a handful of defeated candidates ran afoul of the obsessive control freakiness of the party. Especially since it would’ve been totally legal for candidates to run national ads if it was on their own initiative, and not part of a meticulously micromanaged central strategy.

11:44:51 AM
The chair thinks the committee should order lunch, since otherwise, everyone will get cranky. It’s not clear what the final decision is, but I’m pretty sure I won’t get any of it.

11:48:29 AM
Now Lukiwski is going over all the other candidates of a non-Conservative variety — in this case, Libby Davies — did exactly the same thing as Tories, but didn’t get in trouble. Elections Canada is so mean and unfair.

11:51:43 AM
Seriously, is one guy going to talk for two hours? Really? I know it’s a filibuster, but couldn’t we hear from one of the other Tories? Joe Preston looks like he has thoughts on the matter. Scott Reid got up and left, he was so bored. Or so I’m wildly assuming. It’s possible he had vitally important things to do.

11:53:38 AM
Now Lukiwski is making the argument that it’s just nutty to make Elections Canada the sole arbitor of whether a party is in compliance with election law.

You know, I don’t think the Conservatives realize how fundamentally at odds they are with Canadian public opinion on the importance of regulating elections. It’s strange that the other parties don’t capitalize more on the fact that there is a strong element within the current Conservative party that backs a far more laissez faire system: a — dare I say it? — American-style system.

Yes, these are the thoughts I’m having as I sit here and listen to Tom Lukiwski. Who is now going to talk about a Liberal candidate who did the same thing as Libby Davies: Pablo Rodriguez.

11:59:23 AM
Ooh, someone is getting snippy: Before getting into an extensive description of the bad things Pablo Rodriguez did (short version: he, too, was bad, except not bad, because it’s perfectly legal), Lukiswki griped that Yvon Godin was “talking to members of the media” at the back of the room. He even named his “friend” Tim Naumetz (shoutout to Tim!) who was clearly “rapt” with attention.

I don’t think the Tories are happy that we’re here. I mean, they’re never happy that we’re anywhere, but moreso — or less so — than usual in this case.

12:04:27 PM
Wait, is he suggesting that the committee table a report advising Elections Canada that it is misinterpreting the law? How well did that work on veiled voting, guys? Must Marc Mayrand come back and make the committee look silly again?

12:07:38 PM
So basically, the Conservatives want to hold an investigation into all four parties in order to prove that no one broke the law. Also, Monique Guay just showed up, and is wearing a really awesome pair of stockings. They’re like wide-tooth fishnets. Very cool. Oh, and Scott Reid is back. Just in case anyone wondered.

12:10:59 PM
Tom Lukiwski has gone back to naming names of more candidates who did exactly the same thing as the Tories, but weren’t investigated by Elections Canada, like Peter Stoffer, the NDP MP who has won the Maclean’s Parliamentarian of the Year award for most gregarious twice in a row. Number of parliamentarian of the year awards won by Tom Lukiwksi: 0.

12:15:59 PM
Is his theory really that Elections Canada is biased against the Conservatives? I just don’t see that going over well with Canadians. Also, when Elections Canada rules on something, it is called a decision, not a ‘suggestion’. His attitude seems to be that somehow, election law is a somewhat dubious voluntary system.

12:20:51 PM
Food is here! Which means a five minute break, which is more than we got at Natural Resources last week. Three minutes was just ridiculous. Wow, the food looks good, too. Wee little spinach wraps, sandwiches with crusts cut off and – are those cookies? I think so.

12:28:55 PM
We’re still on
lunch, and the MPs are playing nice while the cameras are off. Not that
there are any cameras, but we’re here. I am a camera!

12:31:40 PM
And
— back. When we left our hero Tom Lukiwski, he was detailing the
anti-Conservative bias of Elections Canada, but now he has to make a
tiny correction to his original point. Apparently, the party wasn’t charged but investigated, which led to “findings.” Charged implies, you know, wrongdoing, and he doesn’t want to give that impression.

12:37:06 PM
I
just ate a taxpayer cookie, and it was delicious, after which point the
chair gave us the okay to hit the leftover sandwiches. One green veggie
wrap later, I am feeling entirely rejuvenated.

12:41:12 PM
Yvon
Godin complains that the chair is supposed to keep filibuster-ers from
repeating the same story four times, and Lukiwski, he says, is on his
third strike. I didn’t know there were actual rules for this stuff, but
this is parliamentary procedure; there are rules for everything. Good
on Godin for actually noticing, though. The rest of us wouldn’t notice
if he started speaking in tongues at this point.

12:43:56 PM
Okay, Lukiwksi is now bending over backwards to say that he isn’t
accusing Elections Canada of anything untoward; he thinks they just
made an honest mistake. Mistakes are made. I wonder if he realized that
the persecution complex by proxy riff made him a bit irrational.

12:49:50 PM
We’re getting close to the moment when this meeting should,
in theory, be wrapping up. I’m not sure what happens during a committee
filibuster; this is actually my first one, believe it or not.

12:53:45 PM
Slowly
but surely, the original set of MPs are being replaced by seat-fillers,
which is a little disturbing, since it suggests they’re prepared to let
this go on as long as it takes.

12:55:09 PM
Another
reference to Mulroney/Schreiber – another example, as per Lukiwski, of
opposition MPs trying to smear the government. Oh, and since it’s up to
the Liberals to bring down the government, it’s all about the next
election, and the practice of “smear, fear and innuendo.”

1:00:26 PM
Ahhh,
mystery solved! This is the very last day of allotted filibustering
time for the Conservatives, which actually started back in August (!).
Once he’s done here, it’s over: The Tory motion goes to a vote, is
soundly defeated and the committee moves onto the original motion from
the opposition to investigate the ‘in and out’ scheme. Or practice,
depending on your perspective.

That means they may have to let
him tire himself out, but I’m confident there’s no way the Liberals
will let it go on long enough to threaten overlap with the
Mulroney/Schreber hearing this afternoon.

1:07:53 PM
If you’re going to be held hostage by.a guy ranting about electoral law, it helps to have cookies.

1:11:31 PM
Apparently,
the Liberals are craving — jonesing for, even — “political smack”,
which is why they’re trying to make scandal out of nothing, and smear
the Conservative brand.

1:12:32 PM
And,
suddenly, we’re onto Afghanistan! Apparently, Lukiwski has already
written off this afternoon’s meeting between the PM and Dion, during
which Harper would reach out with his olive branch of peace, because
he’s mocking the Liberals for not having a clear position.

1:16:13 PM
And
the infamous veiled voting debate makes an appearance. Lukiwksi went
there, oh yes he did. He’s using it as an example of how partisan
interests override common sense. Yeah, I’m not sure what that has to do
with anything either; I think he’s complaining that this poor committee
has all sorts of important work to do, like preventing the scourge of
veiled voting from spreading like a virus.

1:23:21 PM
“Committee
investigates Tories” – that’s another headline he doesn’t want to see,
which is what the opposition is trying for. Actually, right now, the
headline would be “Tory tries to shut down committee investigation into
Tories,” and I’m not sure how much better that is.

1:26:29 PM
If
the committee would just bend to his mighty will and vote for the Tory
motion, Lukiwski says, his party would be ready to get ‘er done right
away. Pitter pat! But they won’t. They’re stonewalling the committee by
letting him run out the clock with long, rambling diatribes against the
Liberals, the opposition in general, and occasionally Elections Canada.

1:36:28 PM
Lukiwski has taken to occasionally chanting, ‘in and out, in and out’ in a slow, rhythmic manner.

1:38:46 PM
There
is much movement on the government side of the room, where staffer row
is rapidly filling up: eight aides total, compared to four for all
three opposition parties combined.

1:44:07 PM
Okay, Lukiwski is totally
cheating with his examples — he’s used Libby Davies twice just today.
That’s not allowed. He has to at least come up with different
candidates whose expenses he will labouriously analyse to demonstrate
that they hadn’t broken the law.

1:54:10 PM
The
chair is making a move: he wants to suspend for Question Period, as
well as vote calls. No deal, says the opposition. Sudden death
overtime. The committee will carry on through QP. Opposition members
look smug. Government members look cranky. Reporters – there are two of
us left – look wistfully at the now-empty dessert tray. (For the
record, we only had two squares total; one each.)

1:58:05 PM
Keeping
MPs from the House during QP is like preventing Eloi from heading back
to the compound when they hear the siren. Everyone around the table is
getting progressively more leg shifty as the magic quarter hour
approaches.

2:03:31 PM
Hey,
anyone out there have any exit polls to share? I’m feeling so cut-off
from the universe right now. I wish Tom Lukiwski would make himself
useful and read the latest Super Tuesday coverage.

2:09:03 PM
Scott
Reid has come back to hang out with the reporters, because apparently,
even he’s tired of sitting at the table, pretending to listen to
Lukiwski. So what are we discussing? Oh, take a guess. Frustratingly,
he doesn’t seem to have any exit polls either.

2:17:21 PM
If you have
nothing to hide, what are you hiding? A fine question, Tom Lukiwski. A
fine question. Of course, this is the seventy third time you’ve asked
it, which takes away from the fineness, but still.

2:20:46 PM
Okay,
here’s the deal: Apparently, the Tories are really truly ready to go
all night, even if it means overlapping with Ethics this afternoon.
Since that’s clearly a must-blog event, I’m going to have to bail on
this committee, at least briefly, in order to cover the Rock/Spector
show. Afterwards, I’ll come back, at least to check on the water dishes
and air supply. I feel guilty, cutting out early, but it’s not like I’m
going to be slacking off. In fact, this whole day is going to be the
opposite of slackful.

2:30:24 PM
Meille
Faille, whose name I have just horribly mangled, is sharing a French
magazine with Pauline Picard and Yvon Godin. John McCallum, of all
people, just showed up – he’s spelling off Marcel Proulx, who is now
hurrying to the House, where QP is still in full swing. Meanwhile, down
here, it feels like time stopped a few hours ago, and we’re now just
trapped inside Tom Lukiwski’s brain. Like that John Cusack movie –
Identity? – but with much less serial killing.

2:35:31 PM
Tom
Lukiwski is explaining presumption of innocence, and how just because
the police arrest you for a crime doesn’t mean you’re guilty, and just
because Elections Canada thinks you’ve broken the law doesn’t mean —
yeah, it’s not a perfect analogy, admittedly, but he’s trying. And I do
like to see Conservatives embracing the idea that one is innocent until
proven guilty.

2:37:16 PM
Okay,
now I’m scared – I just recited Lukiwski’s next line along with him,
with eerie accuracy. I could clearly take over this filibuster if he
needed a break.

2:40:28 PM
Yay, sponsorship scandal shoutout! Again! Some more! The Liberals only wish
this totally-not-a-scandal-at all legitimate accounting practice was
that juicy and potentially damaging. They can’t score points, so all
they can do is try to create a scandal. Okay, yes, technically, Elections Canada also found fault, but the rationale behind the ruling was questionable. The Conservatives are questioning it, anyway.

2:43:50 PM
The
chair – a Tory, and a very grumpy and tired-looking Tory, for that
matter – just pointed out – gently – that he has discerned a slight
tendency towards repetition in the Hon. Member’s speech. Really? Many
guffaws from the opposition; Lukiwski looks annoyed, but quickly
recovers.

2:45:56 PM
Do
you think the fact that I’m feeling guilty for planning to abandon this
committee in mid-filibuster is a bad sign? I mean, it just feels like
giving up. I hate giving up. And what if they’re waiting for all the
reporters to get bored and leave, so the chair can shut down the
meeting on a flimsy pretext? Not that I’m suggesting that would happen,
but what if? I’ll have to make sure someone sticks around.

2:49:01 PM
Another
curious semantic tic: Lukiwski just referred to election “laws”, and
then corrected it to election “guidelines”. Clearly, the political
defence, at least, is that the Elections Act isn’t really a law, per
se, but just a bunch of helpful suggestions.

2:51:41 PM
Because the chair is merciful and kind, and doesn’t want anyone to get ‘clots’, he’s suspending the meeting for three minutes.

2:55:19 PM
We’ve
gone over the three minute limit, but the members don’t seem to care;
the Conservatives – other than Lukiwski, who is probably conserving his
voice – are talking primaries with the opposition. Everyone seems
remarkably jovial, considering they’re about to spend the night here.
Then again, they can have House minions deliver coffee, snacks and
whatever else their little hearts desire.

They’re now
discussing past filibusters – the great and the not-so. Michel Guimond
recalls speaking for five hours on the Clarity Act. Karen Redman,
meanwhile, is fuming over the nambypambification of the noble
filibuster, and calls the chair’s decision to allow health breaks
‘unprecedented.’ And that’s all for the congeniality – back to
business.

3:07:00 PM
Okay, I have to sneak out of here to cover the other
committee. Never fear; there will be a journalist on site here, so any
funny business by any party will be recorded for future generations.
See you from another dingy meeting room in 15-20 minutes.

(Due to a previous committee engagement, the liveblogger was unable to make it back before the meeting wound to a close; at that point, with God as her witness, Scarlett O’Hara-like, she vowed never to miss a single moment of PROC again.)