Is this the end of the New New New Spirit of Nonpartisan Cooperation?

Liveblogging the Ethics Committee

Well, I guess it depends on whether or not Bloc Quebecois MP Carole Freeman goes ahead with her plan to introduce a motion to relaunch the investigation into the In and Out Affair, doesn’t it?  Even if she does, she’ll need the support of all six opposition MPs – including the chair, who would have to break the tie – to outvote the government.

3:11:23 PM
Okay, I just wanted to note that I believe this may be the earliest that ITQ has ever turned up at committee, but after the near-riot at Natural Resources yesterday afternoon, I decided to take no chances, which is why I am currently watching rather bemused Commons staffers fill water glasses and arrange the various nameplates. We’re in a different room today, as it turns out – the NDP caucus room, to be precise, which is why there are framed vintage campaign posters and portraits of former leaders lining the walls. People before profits, y’all!

3:23:40 PM
Wow, Nina Grewal is apparently subbing for the Conservatives. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her at Ethics before, although in fairness, I’ve also missed the last few meetings. Maybe we’ve just been missing each other.

3:28:59 PM
Hmm – everyone seems to be here but Bill Siksay. Odd. Not that it will matter until later in the meeting, since I have a feeling there may just be one or two MPs who want to speak to the motion before it goes to a vote.

3:32:42 PM

Here’s the text of the motion: “That the Committee resume the study it began during the Second Session of the Thirty-Ninth Parliament regarding the Conservative Party’s election campaign expenses during the 2005-2006 election campaign; that it deem the hearings held during that Parliament to have been held during the Second Session of the Fortieth Parliament; that the Committee issue btices to appear of all witnesses who did not appear during the study; and that it report its conclusions and recommendations to the House of Commons.”

And we’re on!

3:36:42 PM
And — she’s off! Kelly Block – one of three rookies on the government side but clearly one who is learning fast, at least as far as carrying out the will of the Whip – suggests that rather than deal with the motion right away, the committee hear first from the Law Clerk – the dreamy Rob Walsh – who is on the schedule for today, but is not actually *here*, since this isn’t his first day at the Ethics rodeo. He’ll pop over when they’re ready for him, which could be anytime between later today and the beginning of March 2010. The chair smilingly dismisses her chirped intervention, and hands the floor over to Carole Freeman, who gives an excellent – dare I say Lavallee-esque – summary of why she thinks the committee has to finish the work that it started.

She also notes that since last summer’s hearing, two of the witnesses who failed to appear — who, she suggests, were ordered not to appear by the party — have been named to the Senate: Irv Gerstein and Michel Rivard. I’d completely forgotten about the second one.

3:41:33 PM
Szabo pauses the debate for a moment to read the original motion into the record, and notes that the Freeman motion may go slightly beyond the original investigation – specifically, finding out “who is responsible”, which would be outside the mandate of the committee – which gives Russ Hiebert an opening to pounce: Is this motion, then, even in order? Well, yes. It’s to resume prior business, so it is entirely in order. Hiebert doesn’t pursue the issue, and instead engages in a burst of hushed but clearly intense whisperconferencing with Bob Dechert.

Speaking of Dechert, *he* thinks the committee should hear from the Law Clerk before dealing with the motion; if they don’t, he says, the goverment may have to vote against it. Otherwise, they’re all for it, presumably.

3:47:04 PM
Given a chance to respond to Dechert’s suggestion, Freeman, entirely unsurprisingly, comes out against the idea of suspending debate. Clearly, she’s done her homework.

Back to Dechert, who brings up one of our favourite arguments from In and Out filibusters gone by: public office holders, and who isn’t one. Oh, that takes me back.

Hiebert reminds Szabo that during the last Parliament, there was a similar debate over mandate – that was the attempt to have the committee investigate the Liberal Party’s Hallowe’en-themed fundraiser – and tries to draw the comparison between that motion – which Szabo ruled out of order – and — well, not this one, but the *original* motion. Which Szabo has already found to be in order – ITQ remembers — she was there – so I’m not sure what Hiebert thinks is going to happen here.

3:52:45 PM
Tyranny of the majority! Yes!

“I could go on at length,” Hiebert notes, “And I may choose to do at some point.”


Szabo reminds him that actually, the committee overruled the chair – an NDP/Conservative tagteam, if I recall – and went ahead with that study into Liberal fundraising, which got as far as selection of witnesses before the committee moved on.

He also recaps his reasoning for finding the In and Out motion in order, which include the fact that there were public office holders allegedly involved, and because there were rebates that were to be received, there was a pecuniary interest as well.

Ooh, the chair also puts a preemptive foot down on the filibuster which I think is now pretty much all but inevitable: He’s happy to let the committee debate the motion, but he’s keeping a list of points made and watching for relevance and repetition, and at a certain point, there will be no more new points to be made, and this motion will go to a vote.

4:04:30 PM
And Earl Dreeshan is the first – but, one suspects, far from the last – to deploy the Everyone Else Does It defence. This is all new and fresh and interesting to him and the other newbies, but you have to feel a little bit sorry for poor Hiebert for getting stuck in this time loop.

4:06:34 PM
Attention: It appears that the NDP’s Bill Siksay *will* be voting with the other two opposition parties, although he isn’t so eager to head back to Camp In and Out that he thinks it should supersede all other business. He thinks it should “go in the hopper”.

4:10:51 PM
Kelly Block wishes someone – the chair, maybe another member – would explain just what these obscure, little-discussed past hearings were all about. What evidence did they hear? Who was on the witness list?. The chair promises that he’ll make sure all the new members on the committee are “brought up to speed” on the study so far. ITQ wishes that someone would introduce them – particularly Block, who has popped up at enough of our committees over the last few days for ITQ to have started forming a distinct impression of her modus operandi – to Google and

4:15:14 PM
You know, the ostensible newbies – Dechert, Block and Dreeshan – really have to decide whether they are wide-eyed innocents – Mr. and Mrs. Smiths, lost in the seamy Ottawa madness – or so well versed on the mandate and history of the committee that they’re willing to argue procedural points with the chair.

4:18:42 PM
Russ Hiebert has an amendment! Yes, it’s true – and shocked me too. He really wants the chair to get a ruling from the Speaker on whether this study does fall within its mandate. Wouldn’t he just waggle his finger in a slightly irritably avuncular way and remind the committee that it is master of its own destiny, but for the love of Parliament, be sensible? That’s his usual practice.

4:23:09 PM
Borys W. takes the floor – first Liberal so far – I’m not sure what that signifies, if anything, except that they’re slightly slower at raising their hands – and chides certain committee members for wasting the committee’s time – and taxpayer dollars – talking in circles.

Michelle Simson – also a Liberal – notes that the committee can’t get a ruling from the Speaker without producing a report, so she’s not sure how this amendment is technically possible.

4:27:37 PM
Bob Dechert delivers an impassioned defence of lawyers – well, law clerks – and the importance of getting legal advice before moving forward on pretty much anything. I hope he gets to be justice minister some day! So many Conservatives are so leery about judicial consultation.

Oh, and Bill Siksay isn’t going to support the amendment, either.

4:31:11 PM
“We’re not asking irrelevant questions,” insists Hiebert. He’s still banging the drum for his amendment, and insists that there is nothing remotely sinister in his desire to bring in the Law Clerk.

4:35:18 PM
Szabo is getting – well, not quite cranky, but definitely has had enough of the offhand references to the Law Clerk, as though he was scheduled to appear to discuss this very issue only to be summarily snubbed by selfish opposition MPs, and makes the very good point that actually, Rob Walsh would almost certainly *not* give an opinion on the mandate of the committee vis a vis In and Out. He was brought here to discuss contempt charges related to the Mulroney-Schreiber investigation, not this. He knows what the Speaker ruled.

4:39:56 PM
Bob Dechert is *also* getting cranky, at least towards Freeman; somehow, he and Hiebert both didn’t realize that she had, in fact, rejected the proposal to suspend the debate, which is why he should pay attention to what happens across the table.

The chair calls the vote on the Hiebert amendment, but Siksay wonders how, exactly, they would go about getting the ruling, which doesn’t matter, because the amendment was just defeated.

Wow, that was quick – but not so quick that Bob Dechert couldn’t propose an emergency amendment to the main motion that would delete the words “Conservative Party”, and replace it with “public office holders.

Clever, but not quite clever enough; Szabo rules it out of order, and calls the vote. Yes, he did! He called the vote! And — it passes. That was — shockingly quick. I mean, I’m kind of stunned.

I’m also about to be kicked out, since the much-anticipated Law Clerk now has to be summoned. I hope he didn’t think he could sneak off early.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.