ITQ Committee Lookahead: Bring on the estimates! And other stuff, too!

What with one thing and the other – the election, the fiscal update, the near total meltdown of parliamentary democracy  – committees are only now getting their collective mitts on the supplementary estimates for 2008-2009, which means that much – but not all – of the first few weeks of committee business will be taken up by the first round of obligatory ministerial appearances.

This afternoon, for instance, Defence and Veterans Affairs Ministers Peter MacKay and Greg Thompson, will go before the Defence and Veterans Affairs committees, respectively. ITQ would bet that the former is likely in for a slightly rougher ride than the latter, if only because the numbers for even the most austere and modest of defence budgets tend to seem astronomically high in comparison to, well, pretty much any other department. Also, Peter MacKay’s middle name is Gordon. Please make a note of it.  Thompson, on the other hand, whose middle name is Francis, may face some tough questions from the NDP about the Veterans’ Charter – if I remember right, the irrepressible Peter Stoffer has been grumbling that it hasn’t gone nearly far enough in ensuring support for former soldiers. (No, I don’t know why committee notices list some ministers by their full names, but not others.)

Meanwhile, over at Canadian Heritage, another minister makes an appearance: James Moore – whose middle name is not given – will chat about his department’s activities and plans, and will almost certainly be grilled on what opposition parties will insist is his government’s barely concealed hostility against the entire concept of publicly-funded arts and culture. Afterwards, the committee will debate a motion from Carole Lavallee, late of the Ethics committee, where her Voice of Sanity will surely be very much missed. ITQ will just have to drop by the Heritage committee now and then to see how she’s getting by.

As for Justice, while it’s true that the committee is scheduled to debate over Russ Storseth’s motion to study Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act – the one that came up at the very end of last week’s meeting – but that won’t get underway until 5pm. First up is Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who will take questions on his department’s supplementary estimates, and really, committee members, you’d better make them interesting, since ITQ and other media types will have to sit through the whole thing waiting for the motion debate to begin.

Finally, the Ethics committee meets to discuss future business; due to our prior commitment – see above re: Storseth motion, Justice committee debating thereof – ITQ won’t be able to be there, but she’ll definitely be back on the Ethics beat in the future.

Tuesday – oh, Tuesday, you’re going to be the death of ITQ. Tuesday gets off to a riproarin’ start, with the Governor of the Bank of Canada going before the Finance committee to talk about  — oh, go on, guess. Did you say the Economic Situation in Canada? Because if so, you’re right! At the very same time, the Environment Committee will hear from Environment Minister Jim Prentice – yes, yet another hearing on supplementary estimates. Over at Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney makes his very first appearance at committee as a full minister. Also hitting the committee circuit: Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, who, like Kenney, will be making her committee debut, although she was a provincial minister, after all, so she’s surely an old hand at the supplementary estimates process.

Also on Tuesday morning, the Aboriginal and Northern Affairs committee looks specific and comprehensive claims; International Trade begins its study of, of all things, a trade bill – this one to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union; Government Operations and Estimates, also on the supps list, hears from Privy Council Office and Statistics Canada officials and debates a Pat Martin-authored motion.

Finally, a number of committees will be meeting behind closed doors: Human Resources, Official Languages, Public Safety, Status of Women and Procedure and House Affairs.

On Tuesday afternoon, it’s a whole ‘nother whack of supplementary estimates hearings: Foreign Affairs; Finance; (which will be hearing from the Canada Revenue Agency as well as the department); Health; Industry, Science and Technology; Natural Resources and Transport; unless otherwise indicated, from now on assume that all such meetings will be attended by the minister.

Meanwhile, the Public Accounts committee gets its hands on Sheila Fraser’s latest report, with not only the Auditor General but also the Environment Commissioner expected to be on hand to answer questions on their respective findings.

Onto Wednesday, which is  – actually, pretty much empty at the moment, although that’s likely just because the committees haven’t yet issued notices for that afternoon’s slate of meetings.

We do know that Justice will finally get the chance to meet the Director of Public Prosecutions Brian Saunders, who was appointed last year and was originally scheduled to go before committee last spring, but got caught in the crossfire over the Cadman affair, and the committee chair’s wildcat strike. Oh, memories. Anyway, he should actually be able to make his appearance this time around.

On Thursday, the Environment committee gets its first crack at the latest report from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, who– if you’ll recall dimly from last week – delivered a somewhat less than rave review of the government’s green programs. Over at Procedure and House Affairs, the committee holds one of its periodic meetings on Hill security – behind closed doors, of course – and the Industry committee discusses future business – also, alas, in camera.

You can read a slightly more succinct, if more selective (and maybe a teensy bit less likely to go tangent-wandering) overview of the week ahead, both in committee and on the Commons floor, on the Globe and Mail’s shiny new Bureau Blog, courtesy of fellow Hill Times alum Bill Curry.

There is also, of course, the committee section of the parliamentary website – which, incidentally, remains virtually unusable following its ill-advised redesign last month, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. For goodness sake, it should at least provide date/timestamps on the main notice page, so those of us who check it three or four times a day can tell at a glance which entries have recently been added or updated.