(originally liveblogged on March 4, 2008)
Four minutes to
go before what could be the swan song for Gary Goodyear, whose tenure
as chair and chief filibuster-wrangler at Procedure and House Affairs
may be drawing to a close. On Thursday, the committee will debate a
motion of non-confidence in the chair, which will almost certainly lead
to hurt feelings, lingering bitterness and maybe a new
soon-to-be-long-suffering face at the head of the table. At this point,
I can’t imagine that Goodyear is overly distraught by the prospect of
stepping down; somehow, I doubt he thought the job would be limited to
babysitting cranky opposition MPs while his caucus colleagues eat up
Oh, before we get started, a quick programming
note: on the agenda for today is yet another
special-request-by-four-MPs meeting – honestly, this committee seems to
have one of those every day – this time, to begin consideration of Bill
C-6, euphemistically described as “visual identification of voters,”
but really, the Return of the Great Quebec By-election Pandering to Xenophone of Aught Seven.
is going to be brutal, especially for those of us who, by virtue of our
masochistic fascination for procedural matters, were forced to sit
through last summer’s debacle on the menace to democracy posed by a
largely hypothetical clutch of veiled Muslim women.
underway, and it appears that Tom Lukiwski is up for Team Filibuster,
and he’s explaining, in a very solemn way, how rampant media
speculation may magically bring on an election, and without a law in
place, rogue Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand might once again
flout the psychic will of the House, and interpret the law as written.
Liberals are, as far as I know, the only party to officially back down
from the showdown with Mayrand and oppose the re-tweaked bill – which,
rather remarkably, managed to once again omit any requirement that
voters present photo identification, thereby rendering moot any
reasonable argument in favour of – or, for that matter, against –
Proulx grumbles that the committee has been trying to deal with the
in-and-out scandal for months, but has been hamstrung by filibusters,
and metafilibusters, and filimetabusters, and so on. He doesn’t see why
they should just push all that aside to move onto veiled voting. He
finds it ‘indecent’ to try to direct the committee’s business to suit
the government, but, he says, he’s acting in good faith and wants to
work with the Conservatives to come up with a way to look at the bill.
Dewar is up for the NDP, and he, too, wonders why the Tories have
filibustered to stonewall the in-and-out study for so many long weeks,
but now seem almost unnaturally eager to “get on with business.” If the
government wants to deal with issues on a priority basis, he notes, it
needs to demonstrate that with actions, as well as words.
Jennings recaps in-and-out briefly, and notes that, had the
Conservatives not filibustered on that study so tirelessly, the report
would probably be long since tabled in the House, and the committee may
even have been able to finish C-6.
She proposes an amendment
that would bundle the two studies together – C-6 serving as legislative
hostage to in-and-out. That sends the Conservatives into a collective
fit of pique, and they accuse Jennings and the Liberals of “trying to
block legislation.” The chair rules the amendment out of order, which
is immediately challenged by the opposition, who win the vote,
therefore overturning – or, more precisely, failing to sustain the
Scott Reid isn’t happy about that at all. The word
‘nonsensical’ is used more than once. Basically, he’s annoyed that the
Jennings amendment would allow the committee to finally begin its
investigation into Conservative campaign spending irregularities before
moving onto C-6.
The Tory contingent doesn’t take kindly to
that at all, especially when Jennings accuses them of “paralysing” the
committee with their anti-in-and-out filibustering. “You’re paralysing the committee,” one shoots back. Yeah, that’s the sort of sparkling debate that keeps me coming back for more.
response to protestations of ambiguity from the government side of the
table, the chair instructs Jennings to reread her amendment, and then
dispiritedly opens the floor to debate, starting with Joe Preston, who
is terribly, terribly saddened by such partisan trickery.
Tories, he says, showed up today in good faith, with thoughts only of
improving the laws of the country, only to be greeted by cynicism on
the other side. The opposition have their collective heart set on
turning PROC into a “circus,” just like Ethics, and Government
Operations — coincidentally, the only two other meetings I’m covering.
I hope that’s just a coincidence. He – Joe Preston – points out that
the Liberals didn’t even show up to vote on their budget amendment last
night! “That’s an amazing point,” Pierre Lemieux interjects. “Not
relevant,” sniffs Redman. Joe Preston’s staffer appears to be in
passionate disagreement with the Liberal whip, if the vehemence of his
nod is any indication.
Marcel Proulx has wandered over to the
media table, and is sipping his coffee and chatting with the only other
reporter in the room.
It’s so adorable when MPs refer to that invisible legion of Canadians “watching us on television.”
wonder what Gary Goodyear is thinking right this minute. Is he sad to
see his chairmanship end not with a bang, nor a whimper, but two hours
of Joe Preston rambling on about democracy?
Oh wait, now Preston
is actually back on point, and describing the many occasions that photo
ids are required; unfortunately, he’s also bringing back harrowing
memories of last summer’s hearings. “I remember telling Mr. Mayrand
‘what part of ‘photo id’ don’t you understand?” Preston recalls.
Possibly the part where, as a phrase, it appeared exactly nowhere in
the law that he was being asked to interpret? Just a thought.
people of Canada, as channeled by Joe Preston, would disapprove of what
those “bullies” on the other side of the table – that would be the
opposition, who hold a majority, which apparently qualifies as bullying
in the Preston lexicon.
Apparently, not even Joe Preston
was listening to Joe Preston’s tirade, because he just trailed off in
midpoint, only to shake himself back into consciousness a few long
seconds later, to the great amusement of the opposition.
of Joe, we now have an official nickname for the opposition: “The Gang
of Six.” I like it! They should totally get matching jackets.
Preston wonders what can be done to “break this logjam,” and,
impressively, even manages to keep a straight face, despite the fact
that at the moment, he is the log that is jamming the — whatever it is
that log jams jam up. Rivers? The orderly procedure of logs down rivers?
we’re talking about Liberal fundraising now, and the famous ‘Sky’s the
Limit’ auction, which was like, the worst idea, guys. Seriously. What
were you thinking? Apparently, we’ll find out, since the Ethics
committee has resolved to look into the whole sordid mess of
ill-advised event planning.
Oh, and coincidentally, that
motion was first ruled out of order by the chair, too – poor Paul
Szabo, he would probably sympathize with Goodyear’s enduring pain – but
the opposition overruled it. Bullies! Wait, no – in that case, it was
the opposite of bullying, I guess.
just checked my email (while listening to Joe Preston, of course);
apparently, the Bloc Québécois will call for an end to the tax
credit-based “censorship” for which evangelical gadfly Charles McVety
has gleefully taken full credit. Apparently, he convinced Stockwell Day
and other key cabinet members to tighten up the retrictions to make
sure only fine, upstanding family movies take advantage of the system.
the Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats have come out against the
change, as have some Liberals, but I wonder if the tiny but feisty
Liberal so-con caucus will vote with the government on this one.
I’m still listening to Joe Preston. I’ll let you know if he says
anything worthwhi — okay, there we go: during a rant about the
opposition tactic of “bullying the chair,” – ie majority rule – he
claims that it “smacks of dictatorship,” and wonders, not without what
I swear is the ghost of a tongue in his cheek, “why they hate the rules
of this place.” This, from the party with the official dirty tricks
handbook on hamstringing committees.
“Good thing this is a fairly boring piece of television viewing, or reading,” Preston notes. Hey, some of us find it fascinating. I thought you were against the circus-like atmosphere of committees that people who aren’t me actually bother covering.
wonder who they’ll pick as the new chair. If it’s an opposition MP,
does that mean giving up control of the committee, since the chair
would only vote in the event of a tie? I forget how that works.
boy, the sponsorship scandal! Joe Preston has a theory! He thinks maybe
the Liberals are afraid of “opening their books” because it may lead to
the famous “missing $40 million” which would probably come as far more
of a shock to a Liberal fundraiser like David Smith, who keeps
insisting the party needs more cash to even think about running an
if the Conservatives did inadvertantly break the rules on regional vs.
national advertising – which he’s not saying they did, understand, this
is just an if/maybe – it would be the fault of the radio signals, not
the party, since sound – goes everywhere. It’s almost magical.
You know you’re at the world’s geekiest committee when a joke about the wheat board brings the house down.
apparently, Preston wasn’t supposed to be the Filibuster-er de Jour;
one of the other Tories – Lukiwski, I think – was actually supposed to
ride herd on the clock, but somehow, it didn’t work out that way.
just got his second wind: “I love 106.4 motions,” he confesses. Yes,
we’re all learning to love that quirky little clause in the Standing
Orders. Apparently, this is the first time the Tories have tried the
four-member-special-request trick, and Preston is a little miffed that
the opposition has the nerve to amend it, which is why we’re all here
now, sharing this moment in time, and appreciating the twists and
turns of democracy.
“We all knew why we were coming today,”
Preston whines. “But when we came here, they shouted, ‘Let’s not go to
legislation!’ and ‘No, no, not legislation!'”
Karen Redman takes issue with his recollection of what was said, and Preston admits that no one actually said
that. He was being figurative – taking a bit of ‘theatrical licence’ to
describe the ‘hijack’ of a perfectly good motion on veiled voting.
has dark suspicions that even if the commitee did finish its study of
in-and-out, those nefarious opposition members would come up with a
cunning plan to not do more legislation, not help Canadians and not help move the country forward.
snaps back that, actually, it’s been the Conservatives who have been
standing in the path of truth, light and study of as yet still entirely
hypothetical legislation, since at the moment, there is precisely one
bill in the legislative hopper.
“The hoops we have to jump
through to deal with legislation at this committee are becoming
infamous,” Preston complains. Isn’t this the first time they’ve debated
this particular motion, or am I experiencing some sort of Lost-like
(If I am, for the record, Joe Preston will not be my constant.)
his grande finale, Preston is imagining an alternate universe where
Mayrand is sitting in one of the two empty witness chairs, answering
questions. I wonder if this fantasy Mayrand would also make Preston and
the rest of his colleagues look spectacularly ill-informed when he
explained that, once again, the bill does not mandate photo
I really do enjoy his nostalgic remiscences of those halcyon days before the Ottawa Citizen
uncovered the in-and-out scheme when government and opposition members
cooperated, and worked together for a better, more Procedurally awesome
world of House Affairs. The way he describes it is like no committee
meeting I’ve ever seen in my long, long, long, long – and getting
longer – years on the Hill.
is awfully bold in sassing his imaginary chief electoral officer. I
wonder if he’ll be that pugnacious when the real Mayrand shows up,
which has to happen sooner or later.
– two minutes after the bell should’ve gone off – he chair rouses from
his bittersweet fugue state to bring down the gavel, and end the
meeting, as well as his brief but eventful time as chair. We’ll miss
you, Gary. So, when do we get to propose Scott Reid as the new chair?