Can you believe this may be the very last time I get to liveblog the Ethics committee before the summer break? If the House rises on Thursday, that is—as everyone seems to think will likely be the case—and they don’t bother scheduling a final meeting for that afternoon. I guess it depends what happens today, really: the in and out motion is still on the table, and that could eat up the whole two hours, plus a few other loose ends to tie up—the letter from Brian Mulroney’s lawyer declining the invitation to make a follow-up appearance and a motion from Pat Martin to do we don’t know what. Well, I don’t know; I expect the committee members have a copy, though.
The mood seems surprisingly buoyant on both sides of the table—the Conservatives, and especially Mike Wallace, are downright giddy with delight. They’re teasing the opposition side over the fate of the in and out motion: “Do you really think it’s going to pass?” Wallace asks Sukh Dhaliwal. “Were you smoking something during the break?”
When Charles Hubbard finally shows up, they give him a spontaneous burst of applause and the chair opens the meeting with the now familiar tap of the gavel.
Russ Hiebert pipes up with a superceding motion—he loves those things—which would reverse the order of business so the committee would deal with the Pratte letter and the Martin motion before getting back to the Hubbard motion. It’s a tacit admission that the government members fully intend to drag out the debate until the clock runs out.
The motion fails—not surprisingly, really—and the chair hands the floor over to Mike Wallace, first up for Team Filibuster.
Some confusion results when he asks the chair to read back the motion and the accompanying amendments and subamendments; somehow, he ends up giving up his slot in favour of David Van Kesteren, otherwise known as DVK. Otherwise known by me, at least, since I always misspell his last name, thereby risking rousing the savage ire of the Dutch.
DVK manages to rouse the no-less-savage ire of the Bloc Québécois when he describes the party as the “father” of in and out—which is perfectly legal, he fails to point out, so I’ll do it for him. We’re all in this together seems to be gist of his argument: if it could happen to the Conservatives (‘it’ being invoking an investigation by Elections Canada through one’s questionable accounting practices), it could happen to any party! Except it really couldn’t, not according to the other Conservative article of faith: that Elections Canada is picking on them for unspecified but clearly nefarious reasons.
When the chair tries to cut off DVK’s speech on the grounds that he’s repeating what has already been said by previous speakers, Ken Epp notes plaintively that he wasn’t at the last meeting. Well, that’s what the blues are for, pumpkin. That, or the liveblog, which is slightly less detailed, but more fun.
Oh, in case anyone is wondering why he hasn’t yet made an appearance, David Tilson doesn’t seem to be here today, although Hiebert and Pierre Poilievre—a slightly less hangdog Poilievre than when last we saw him—are on hand should any dubious points of order need to be made.
DVK, meanwhile, is describing the Bloc as the “mastermind” of the in and out scheme, while simultaneously reminiscing about all the friends he’s made during his time in Parliament—the good times they’ve had. It’s like the song says, he notes (but sadly doesn’t sing), “people are the same wherever you go.”
Okay, am I the most culturally-deprived person in this room? I have no idea what song he means. I thought that was just a mealymouthed platitude—I had no idea it had been immortalized in lyric form.
(Ed. note: It’s from Paul McCartney’s “Ebony and Ivory.” I really hate myself for not having had to look that up.)
(Note from Kady: It’s like I don’t even know who you are anymore.)
Pat Martin is still not here. I was just thinking that the Tories should force a snap vote, since it would result in a tie, but since the chair is a Liberal, that wouldn’t really help. They need to win over the NDP, or there’s no way this motion can fail. (Unless the committee collapses under its own weight like the late, lamented Procedure and House Affairs.)
Mike Wallace is wearing his manic clown grin again. I think it may actually be his thinking face; he’s like the opposite of Russ Hiebert.
With his most wide-eyed, I’m just asking questions look, Ken Epp notes that he’s a newcomer to committee, but darn it, he just doesn’t see why the chair ruled this motion in order in the first place.
In response, the chair hisses an explanation at him—really, I don’t blame him for getting a bit testy, given all the grief he has already gotten from various other government members since this interminable debate began, but when he tries moves on, Epp raises his hand again, and assures the chair that “this is a genuine point of order.” I thought they were all genuine—at least, that’s the official story.
Ooh, sneakiness—noticing that a Liberal just popped out, the Conservatives moved a motion to adjourn, but not quite quickly enough to shut the committee down while Sukh Dhaliwal was in the washroom. (Wouldn’t he have been surprised!)
Now Russ Hiebert is grumbling that he didn’t hold the vote right away—and he started the meeting late, too! Even though they had quorum!
Oh, okay – now they’re going to hold the vote: It fails. Surprise, surprise.
Paul Szabo is definitely losing patience, although David Tilson’s absence lowers the temperature considerably. He points out that there have been seven—seven!—points of repetition since the meeting began, and makes it clear that he won’t put up with that kind of malarkey. In fact, if they don’t smarten up, he’s going to take it as indication that the committee is ready for the vote—a threat that prompts more grousing from the government side.
Back, finally, to DVK, who is appealing to the “moral sense of right and wrong” of the rest of the committee members. If they don’t have anything to hide, why not expose it? Wait, isn’t this also the privacy committee? Just checking.
And now, to wrap things up, he has a story about one time when he was in Taiwan, but the Bloc Québécois contingent yelps in protest, and eventually, the chair gives DVK a two minute warning. No long, rambling anecdotes about life lessons learned in foreign lands for you, DVK. Save it for the kids. Or the grandkids. Or maybe Mike Wallace, since he seems absolutely enraptured.
“You’re back at the start of your speech again,” snaps the chair, and gives the floor back to Mike Wallace, who asks the committee to indulge him for a moment and imagine what will happen if this motion actually passes. Which shouldn’t be that outlandish a hypothesis, given that the opposition parties support it and have the tyranny of the majority to back it up, but this is indeed a disturbing universe. Parliamentaria Minor: Here there be filibusters.
Rhéal Ménard and Pierre Poilievre are mouthing at each other from across the floor, but I’m pretty sure it’s just pleasantries, and not a death feud in the making. The discussion between Wallace and the chair, however, is taking on a distinctly hostile tone: Mike Wallace is yelling, Szabo is trying to declare him out of order.
“Wipe that smirk off your face,” he snarls at Wallace. “I’ll wipe that smirk off my face when you start living by your rules,” Wallace shoots back. Rhéal Ménard is shocked by this behaviour. “Be polite,” he urges Wallace.
Aw, Rhéal. This is polite. You should see them when they really get ornery. Why, Russ Hiebert hasn’t even called the chair a fascist.
Szabo breaks off in mid-explanation to observe, vis a vis Wallace, “You’re laughing at me again.” I guess the manic clown face gets on *his* nerves too.
Oh good, more debate over the definition of “public office holder.” I was worried that we’d exhausted that completely, but clearly, I’d underestimated the Conservative skill at diversionary tactics.
Basically, the upshot is that Mike Wallace can’t go through the entire Canada Elections Act, or so says Paul Szabo. Insert wailing and complaining and protestations of oppression here.
Rhéal Ménard calls it a “sad spectacle” that his colleagues don’t respect the chair’s decision, but that just sets off Russ Hiebert, who wants the chair to live up to some ruling he made last fall—Mulroney-related, I’m guessing.
Wow, the chair just shut Hiebert down with the ominous ruling that “he doesn’t hear him” at this meeting. “Unplug his mic,” he instructs the clerk. Unfortunately, Hiebert voice can still carry pretty far; unless there’s a procedure whereby the clerk can muzzle him, I don’t think it’s going to do much good.
“Respect the chair,” admonishes Ménard. When he moues, Wallace says that he would love for a Bloc member to come to his riding, and bursts into a particularly unsettling giggle. Why is the theme from Deliverance suddenly going through my head?
(My apologies in advance to Mike Wallace’s constituents; I’m sure you’re all wonderful people and would show Rhéal Ménard—or any other Bloc MP—a great time.)
I think Szabo is losing his enthusiasm for keeping the committee against all odds; he notes that he has a few options, when confronted with disorderly behaviour, from adjourning the meeting to removing the source of the unrest, which would be Hiebert, at the moment. But I’m sure if he managed to have the clerk bodily remove him from the room, one of the others would take his place.
As the committee enjoys what will, alas, be an all too brief interlude of relative calm, during which Mike Wallace recalls his long history in politics, as a volunteer, a campaign manager, a candidate, a… Tweet! Twenty points from Slytherin—er, the Conservatives for repetition.
After delivering a grim warning, the chair gives him the gimlet eye. “Is he allowed to yell at me like that?” Wallace wonders, which elicits mock coos of sympathy from the opposition benches.
Apparently, the government really does want to get out of here tomorrow afternoon, despite all those earth-shatteringly important bills that Peter Van Loan was so adamant had to go through before the summer break. Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your point of view—the other parties don’t seem all that keen on the idea. Perhaps they can get together and issue a press release condemning the Conservatives for not wanting to work. They can just borrow the text from PVL’s last missive, and do a search and replace.
Point of order from Rhéal Ménard, which prompts carping from Wallace. Szabo warns against moving too many points of order—it’s like crying wolf; eventually he’s just going to start saying no. Menard claims that Wallace is repeating himself and Szabo demonstrates that he has, in fact, been listening by giving a brief precis of the speech so far. He warns Wallace not to go too much farther in his musings over past and present election law, and Wallace moves on, albeit sulkily.
Wallace implores the Liberals to withdraw the motion – it will open a “big can of worms,” he predicts. You’d think he’d be in favour of it, in that case.
Isn’t this the government of transparency, accountability, and getting to the bottom of things? And isn’t that getting perilously close to parliamentary extortion? “That’s a mighty nice financial return your party has there. Wouldn’t want a House committee to do a line by line audit of it.”
All Mike Wallace wants is to see what transpired during past elections. Is that so wrong? It’s not so much wrong, the chair allows—but he’s already made those points. Wallace then points out that there are no ethical standards listed in the handbook provided to candidates by Elections Canada. Maybe there should be, he notes—but there aren’t at the moment.
Ken Epp just rummaged through his briefcase in search of a bright pink highlighter, which he’s now applying to an unknown document in front of him. Ooh, and now he’s broken out the blue, too. This is one sophisticated system.
The chair warns Ménard against making any more comments during Wallace’s speech. “We only have 35 minutes left,” he reminds the committee. “I promise to only take up 34 of those,” says Wallace, in an attempt to be impish. Actually, he does remind me of a mythical character of some sort—more like a dwarf, though. Or possibly a hobbit. I’d have to check his toes to be sure.
Carole Lavallée thinks that seat-fillers should read the blues before coming to committee so they know what’s been discussed to death at previous meetings. Szabo, sounding more like a frazzled substitute teacher than a committee chair at this point, once again exhorts members not to speak over each other.
Rhéal Ménard can’t quite believe this. Then again, he’s used to Justice, where the chair doesn’t put up with shenanigans like this. Or calling a vote, or holding regular meetings – or holding meetings at all, come to think of it. Man, I miss you guys.
Somehow, Wallace’s speech has turned into a paeon to the Accountability Act. Russ Hiebert isn’t even pretending to listen to his colleague; he’s entirely preoccupied by his copy of the Hill Times.
“This isn’t just politics,” Wallace says. “It could get complicated!” Not that he has a problem with that, mind you. The committee could study it for a year, he says.
“Respect the chair,” thunders Ménard when Wallace seems on the verge of getting snippy.
A point of order from the Bloc Québécois once again: Carole Lavallée doesn’t see why Wallace is allowed to go on about irrelevencies. She’s had enough and she wants to go to a vote.
And this is why she’s the Voice of Sanity. Any questions?
When he carries on, as if she’s never said a word, Lavallée tells Wallace that she’s “fed up,” and he blasts back: “Leave, then.”
There’s something about the use of the honorific “Madame” by itself that seems downright cheeky. At least, in English.
Wallace finally managed to push Szabo over the edge and loses the floor. “Unbelievable!” He grunts. The opposition members applaud.
Sukh Dhaliwal is up now—the first opposition MP in what feels like weeks to get a word in edgewise, other than points of order. He doesn’t get to say much, though, before Wallace point-of-orders him right back. Dhaliwal, he says primly, used an unparliamentary term: “C-R-A-P”—and should apologize and withdraw.
Somehow, Lavallée has wrestled the mic away from the Liberals, and she’s venting: she wants the chair to be even more vigourous in enforcing the rules and imposing order. She then goes into a longer explanation of what she’s seen and heard from the Conservatives during committee meetings past, which sends the government side into a collective fury. Wallace tries to call her out on grounds of relevance, but the chair isn’t buying it. He notes that Lavallée has been “very patient” and tries to get the meeting back on track.
Carole Lavallée says many sensible, if acerbic, things, and begs the Conservative members to admit that they’ve put forward all their arguments against the Hubbard motion, and agree to call the vote.
Sorry, no deal.
And finally, Ken Epp gets to speak; his words will most likely play the committee out, as there are only ten minutes left until the bells go off for the vote. Unfortunately, he seems to be more interested in listing his grievances against the chair—of which he has a surprising number, considering he’s only been here for one meeting. Eventually, he gets the hook and Rhéal Ménard takes over.
Pierre Poilievre—hey, hi there, Pierre, we haven’t heard from you all afteroon, have we?—is hurt that Ménard implied his party was dishonest. The chair, perhaps realizing he’s in the home stretch, tries to move it along. Just a few more minutes, and it’s all over.
Okay, maybe I’m projecting just a little bit.
Ménard winds down with a brief prayer to the gods of democracy to smile upon the committee; just as DVK is getting ready to respond, the lights start to flash, which means it’s votin’ time, and the meeting comes to a somewhat unsettled close.
I’m not sure who, if anyone, was saved by the bell, but it’s over. That’s something. At least, until Thursday, when we’ll all be back, come hell, high water or early adjournment. See you then!