UPDATED AGAIN: Extraordinary times call for extraordinary committee chairs: Liveblogging the Finance *and* Environment *and* Government Operations and Estimates committees

Hey, yesterday’s meeting of the Justice committee turned out to be far more interesting than we expected, right? Check back at 9am for all the action as the denizens of the Finance committee elect a new chair, pass routine motions – and just maybe have enough time left over to fix the Global Economic Unpleasantness.

8:46:22 AM
Welcome to the battle of the livebloggers! In this corner, your beloved – well, at the very least be-tolerated for her quirkiness – ITQ; in the other, the one and only David Akin, who will also be covering today’s events, although I’m not sure if he will be doing so in real time.

We’re in one of the two A-list committee rooms — the other is being used by Environment, and I’ll definitely try to wander over there if this one let’s out early – and the members are starting to stream in, including parliamentary secretary for Finance Ted Menzies – one of ITQ’s very favourite almost-ministers – and an old friend from Ethics: Mike Wallace. So far, there’s not much of a presence on the opposition side of the table, although John McCallum is holding court a few Tories at the other end of the room.

Oh, and not to be a big ole spoiler, but apparently, the chair presumptive is James Rajotte, who will get to wield the gavel just as soon as the committee makes it official.

8:59:20 AM
Hey, guess who else is on this committee? Maxime Bernier! And Bob Dechert! And Daryl Kramp!

And here we go – the entirely unsurprising election of James Rajotte as chair, Massimo Pacetti and Jean-Yves La Foret as vice-chairs, and that may actually be it for this meeting if they decide not to do routine motions.

9:03:12 AM
Wait, I forgot – the newly elected chair gets to give the usual opening remarks – he looks forward to working with all and sundry, and vows to be fair and impartial, all that good stuff.

9:05:15 AM
Okay, routine motions – which as we saw yesterday afternoon, aren’t *always* routine, and just to prove ITQ right — and make us pay attention to what’s going on — Mike Wallace proposes that the committee not hand off planning duties to a subcommittee on agenda and procedure; instead, he thinks the workload and schedule should be handled by the committee as a whole. The opposition members aren’t wild about the idea, probably because it is being proposed by the government, and old paranoias of committee obstructionalist agendas die hard – but they seem to agree with the basic principle.

9:09:28 AM
Motion to create the subcommittee passes – and on to the matter of reduced quorum; the initial suggestion is for three members, including at least one opposition MP (but not one government MP? Or is that implicit?) – and Ted Menzies proposes a slight tweaking – he thinks there should be *four* members required, including a member from *every* opposition party, a suggestion with which Thomas Mulcair – who has been uncharacteristically quiet so far – entirely – *entirely* – agreed.

Unfortunately, neither the Liberals nor the Bloc seem similarly persuaded — what’s the rationale, they wonder? After some back and forthing, McCallum backs the change – splits in the Liberal ranks! Someone alert the non-liveblogging media! But the Bloc Quebecois – supported by John McKay – just doesn’t want the committee to be “held hostage” by the absence of one member.

9:15:17 AM
Mike Wallace does his best to win the holdouts over to Team Menzies, as far as the motion on reduced quorum – he reminds the opposition that it will only come into play on rare occasions – what, he wonders, is the likelihood that just four members would show up for a meeting of the Finance committee? Slim. Slim! The Bloc Quebecois remains unmoved; it’s a question of fairness to witnesses.

9:17:52 AM
And, in the very first instance of the NDP using the balance of power to back up the government, Mulcair’s vote carries the day, and the motion passes, 6-5, and I think I just realized why the Conservatives were so eager to ensure that *all* opposition parties have to be present, even under reduced quorum.

9:21:03 AM
Another slightly rejigged routine motion – this one would have the committee wait fifteen minutes before beginning to hear from witnesses when outside the parliamentary precinct, where’s no quorum, but once again, the opposition members – or at least Massimo Pacetti – doesn’t see the need to change the current rules; he thinks it should be left to the discretion of the chair, which produces a game twinkle from Rajotte before he suggests that they come back to the issue at a later date, and moves onto the next item on the to-do list.

9:25:43 AM
Oh, good, the now familiar attempt by the government to extend the notice time required for motions to 48 hours. What do you want to bet this is going to be an almost word for word reprise of yesterday afternoon’s debate at Justice? For the record, it was Bernier who drew the short straw to introduce the motion; this has been the most inglorious day for the once-golden boy, but he looks like he’s used to it by now.

9:29:29 AM
And – it did. I was momentarily distracted by the arrival of another reporter, swelling our ranks to three, but I think it was withdrawn before going down to inevitable defeat. Now it’s on to order of questions – Mike Wallace is explaining the changes he wants to see, which are exactly the same as the changes proposed yesterday by Rob Moore, in that it would give an extra question to the government. Much grumbling on the other side, both at the proposed order but also his suggestion that the questions be limited to five minutes, rather than seven.

9:33:31 AM
Actually, I think I’m wrong – the Wallace proposal would actually take away questions from the NDP, which Daryl Kramp, bless his cooperative heart, also realizes — he gently points out that his colleague actually meant to give the New Democrats an extra turn as well. He smiles hopefully at Mulcair, but it’s just not on – Mulcair, like the other opposition members, doesn’t want to lose two minutes upfront, so he’s not going to give this one to the government.

9:37:15 AM
As he all but concedes defeat, Wallace makes one last attempt to explain why his proposal would ensure that every member of the committee gets a shot at the mic – with bonus passive aggressive asides about “all that talk about fairness and cooperation” and how this would be the perfect opportunity for the opposition to demonstrate nonpartisan good faith. Not surprisingly, his little speech has no effect on the opposition, which cheerfully defeats the motion.

I wonder if that motion is destined to go down at every committee, or if at some point, the government will come to the sad realization that no matter how much its members smile at their NDP counterparts, it’s not going to happen.

9:44:19 AM
Apparently not having learned from the last half hour or so, the Conservatives attempt to change the rules for ministerial appearances to give the government side a slot during the first round, which leads to a countermotion from the opposition and to be honest, I sort of lost track with the subamendments, but the main motion failed, so it’s not important.

9:48:46 AM
That’s all for routine motions, which means we’re heading rapidly for a close; the chair entertains proposals on what the committee should do on Thursday. John McCallum suggests that they bring in Parliamenary Budget Officer Kevin Page and Mark Carney, which – and ITQ admits she was a little surprised by this – goes over without so much as a peep from the government side. McCallum *also* wants to hear from witnesses on infrastructure and employment insurance when the committee gets its hands on the budget later this week.

9:53:52 AM
The Bloc Quebecois somewhat pettishly points out that the budget hasn’t actually *passed* yet, so it’s a little premature to start planning the witness schedule for subsequent hearings thereon, and Muclair agrees – although a suspicious mind might think he did so only to segue into a tirade against those treacherous, budget-supporting Liberals.

9:57:12 AM
Won’t somebody think of Canadians, Menzies pleads. Somebody? Anybody? If they don’t start rounding up witnesses, they’ll end up wasting the whole week. The chair seems to agree, but notes that the issue can be re-raised on Thursday morning, which, as Akin points out, is shaping up to be quite a day for the econgeeks amongst us, which does not, alas, include ITQ.

10:01:03 AM
And – we’re adjourned. Wasn’t that fun? Off to see if the meeting across the hall is still dragging on!

10:04:06 AM
Hey, guess what the Environment committee – which is now chaired by James Bezan – is debating? You’ll never believe it – a motion to require 48 hours notice.

Now, guess what happened when it went to a vote? Man, y’all don’t need me at all anymore, do you?

10:05:22 AM
Okay, I feel like I’ve accidentally rewound my morning by twenty minutes or so – they’re now debating the reduced quorum motion – yes, the same one – which is receiving exactly the same mixed but generally unenthusiastic response from the opposition.

10:08:29 AM
Hey, look, it’s Linda Duncan – the one dot of orange in the big blue rectangle that is Alberta. She may be a newbie, but she’s not falling for Mark Warawa’s attempt to require that all parties be represented for reduced quorum to exist; she points out that during the last session, a witness from her home province was unable to appear when the government members failed to show up.

10:14:15 AM
Justin Trudeau – yes, he’s here too – explains why the opposition members seem to be so suspicious of the government members’ motive in bringing this motion forward: It’s because they remember all too well what happened during the last parliament, and know all too well what mischief can be made of a rule that gives it the power to boycott meetings to prevent witnesses from speaking. That was in the past, one of the government members assures him, while carefully refusing to acknowledge the implicit accusation that it was the Conservatives who caused the parliamentary meltdown. Try to imagine the looks on the faces of the opposition members at that.

10:22:31 AM
Mark Warawa calls for “reverse logic”, which — wait, what? I must have misheard that — when considering the — oh, we interrupt this entry to give him the ITQ “Oh, for goodness sakes, *enough already*” award by invoking those four words we hoped never to hear again: “tyranny of the majority.”

Yeah, *now* we’re back.

10:24:59 AM
As his colleagues nod along with his every syllable, Warawa calls on the opposition members to agree to his motion “in the spirit of fairness and logic”, and a Conservative rookie – Stephen Woodsworth – pipes up to take issue with the suggestion that only hs side would want to boycott a meeting; what if a pro-government witness was going to appear?

And with that, the chair calls the vote; the motion is defeated. Damn you, tyrannical majority.

10:30:50 AM
Mark Warawa just won’t let his beloved routine motion on reduced quorum die, and once again wields the word “cooperation” like a weapon. Linda Duncan, however, points out that these motions to tweak the rule are apparently being tabled at every meeting – which ITQ can corroborate – and that the opposition, not having just fallen off the proverbial turnip truck, is calling shenanigans, although he gives grudging credit to the government for orchestrating this caper.

10:36:38 AM
Okay, we’re apparently done pretending that the last two parliaments never happened; Jeff Watson pleads with his opposition colleagues to make sure this one actually works. Third time lucky, I guess. By the way, according to one of my fellow spectators, this meeting was going smooth-as-silkily until right about when I showed up.

Justin Trudeau once again accuses the Tories of introducing a motion explicitly to give the government the ability to block witnesses. Seriously, guys – it’s over. You’re not getting this motion through – not at this committee, and I suspect not at any of the other committees where it has, or soon will turn up.

10:43:10 AM
The opposition members want the chair to call the question on amended motion, and after a brief intervention from Stephen Woodworth, who wants to know whether the vice-chairs can call a meeting – answer: no, they can’t – and a final plea for support “in the spirit of fairness” from Mark Warawa – it goes to a vote. And is defeated. (By the way, I typed that while Warawa was still in mid-whinge; that is how sure I am that it is destined to go down not with a bang but a Warawian whimper.)

Oh look! I was right!

10:48:34 AM
Mark Warawa really does not know when to, as they say, fold ’em: he’s now petulantly demanding that the chair explain just what stands in the way of the opposition running their very own committee, with no representation from the government at all. The clerk tries to reassure him that it is the chair who calls a meeting – wisely, in ITQ’s estimation, *not* mentioning the ole 106.1 trick – but Warawa is unmollified. What, he asks, protects the committee from an opposition takeover?

10:53:19 AM
Government members making endless interventions to repeat the same arguments in order to delay a vote that they’re going to lose. That’s what.

10:55:20 AM
Oh, Blair Calkins has a lot of moxie: he’s now crocodile-tearfully recalling the antics at the Justice committee last year, and bemoaning the crafty malevolence of the opposition, which ends up being the closer — noting that they’ve run out of time, the chair adjourns the committee and heads back to his office to wonder just what he’s gotten himself into; ITQ will do the same.

11:03:12 AM
Sigh. Just when I think I’m out, they drag me back in: they, in this case, being the members of the Government Operations and Estimates committee, which, I discovered upon leaving Environment, was just getting down to chair-electing business across the hall.

11:06:12 AM
Derek Lee having been installed as chair, it’s time for routine motions, and if you’re tired of reading those words just imagine how tired I am of typing them. I’ll spare you the details, but let you know when we get to the first stumbling block, which is usually reduced quorum, but could be the 48 hours notice. The suspense – it tingles!

11:10:29 AM
And — it’s the motion on reduced quorum. Collect your winnings; meanwhile, ITQ will gird her soul to endure another two hours of debate on exactly the same proposed change to the rules, which, as Pat Martin points out and the rest of us are already painfully aware, would give the government the power to boycott a meeting out of existence.

Chris Warkentin seems far more resigned to the fate of his proposal than Warawa; he does make an effort to defend the principle, but steps aside for Rob Anders to assure his rather suspicious colleagues that there was no intent of faciliating parliamentary silly buggers. Yes, that last bit is pretty much verbatim.

The chair – a Liberal, to remind y’all – seems sympathetic to the government’s stated fear of committee takeover by revolutionary opposition forces, but the debate continues.

11:16:59 AM
Derek Lee wonders if there is any way to resolve – or, in his words, “massage” – this impasse, but gives up and calls the vote: it’s a tie, which means the chair has to pick a side. Citing parliamentary tradition, he backs the status quo, which means that, for the third time this morning, the motion has been defeated.

11:24:16 AM
And – right on schedule, the notice period, but as it turns out, the committee already had a 48 hour requirement – you guys, I have to tell you that Lee’s predecessor was sort of hapless, so the fact that it actually got through last time doesn’t surprise me *at all* – which Martin wants to cut in half.

And – it’s on! Let the same debate I’ve now liveblogged twice already begin – again.

11:29:37 AM
The Bloc Quebecois lady – Diane – wonders what, exactly, is meant by 48 hours, and the chair admits that he doesn’t actually know for sure, but usually “words mean what they say” – except in this case, however, when it means “two sleeps” although it’s not clear exactly when the clock starts ticking.

After he realizes the other opposition parties aren’t going to support his attempt to liberate the notice of motion, Martin withdraws his proposed amendment.

11:34:11 AM
Okay, we’re now on to order of questions, and another proposed amendment from Pat Martin, who manages to briefly steal Warkentin’s thunder by demanding more slots for the NDP before the government can propose that it get an additional question during the first round. Undaunted, the rosy-cheeked Warkentin plows on with *his* proposal, and I’ll spare you his opening arguments; the chair, who is looking just a little bit weary, notes that the committee has to come up with wording that it agrees with, and hands the floor over to the Bloc Quebecois.

11:40:27 AM
Pat Martin just won’t accept any order of questions that will leave the NDP bereft during the second round until after every other party has spoken *twice*, which really doesn’t sound fair at all. Warkentin hints that the Liberals could give up one of *their* slots to the fourth party, which he manages to do without giggling, although it is clearly a struggle.

11:47:31 AM
After a few minutes of bickering back-and-forth between Martin and Anders, the chair tries to forge some sort of consensus – he notes that the current wording is very specific, and proposes a slightly tweaked alternative. In the spirit of cooperation, Dan McTeague actually takes Warkentin up on his suggestion, and offers to give one of his party’s second round slots to the NDP. Aww. That’s right – time to hug it out.

11:54:31 AM
Okay, I’m going to fess up to having tuned out this committee completely as I try to catch up with the outside world, where it turns out interestingness is running rampant, starting with a one-time exemption for the Newfoundland caucus, and apparently Bill Casey – you know how much we love Highway Bill here at ITQ – is making sensational allegations against the Tories involving dirty trickstering during the last election, and honestly, listening to these guys drone on about minutes and rounds just can’t compete with what’s going down on my BlackBerry.

11:59:59 AM
Okay, somehow, they managed to get through the rest of the motions without any filibusters breaking out; buoyed by the apparent non-dysfunction of his new charges, Derek Lee expresses his hope that the committee can be “up and running” by the end of the week.

You guys, I know my rule is usually to stick around til the bitter end, but I just can’t miss this. Sorry for the abrupt end – but actual breaking news may be afoot down the hall, and I can’t miss it for this.