Six Impossible Motions Before Lunchtime: Liveblogging the Ethics committee

1:55:13 PM
I’ll warn you right now that I offer no guarantees of coherence in what is replacing the placeholder dummy text. This morning really did a number on the slightly summerfied brain of this liveblogger, and I think I’m operating on a lower frequency than normal.

Not that it will stop me – I didn’t have time to post to the comment thread on the last post — it’s too boring to explain but WordPress doesn’t seem to think I should do that — but it sounds as though CPAC missed out on some quality television.

2:00:20 PM
And here we go – the MPs are starting to trickle back into the room – wheeled luggage in tow, which is a heartening sign – although the chair isn’t yet among them.

Given the — friendly disagreements that broke out this morning over even the most routine issues, this could turn into one of *those* meetings, but if there are flights to be caught, the members at least have some incentive to finish at a reasonable hour.

2:04:03 PM
Oh, it was apparently suspended until *2:15*! Next time, I’ll have to listen more carefully, rather than burying my head in my hands and praying for a swift death. I missed out on fifteen minutes of thumb relaxation time.

2:06:43 PM
A quick staffer count confirms that the two sides – I’m lumping all the opposition parties together – are evenly matched. It’s hard to tell where the sympathies of the various audience members lie; unfortunately, it’s not like a wedding where you’re assigned to a particular side. If there’s a spontaneous outburst of giggles, it should provide a clue, however.

Carole Lavallee and Marlene Jennings are holding an animated pre-meeting chat; everyone else just looks hot and tired. Including me.

2:10:31 PM
With a bang of the gavel, we’re now back and ready for anything and everything. It’s funny how “committee business” sounds like such an innocuous matter; it can melt down into acrimony faster than any other kind of meeting I’ve had.

2:12:44 PM
First up: The schedule for the next round of meetings, Szabo suggests August 11 through 14th – that would give the committee enough time to round up witnesses, which is impirtant. Sounds good to me, but I don’t get a vote.

2:15:37 PM
Are we actually moving onto the list? It seems so. The chair is going through the various lists, looking for duplicates to eliminate. Not much chance of controversy there, I suppose.

2:16:40 PM
Okay, onto the main event, at least as far as the witness list: Szabo tells the committee that he’s decided to show leadership as the chair – and it’s amazing how those words can make my entire body tense up – to rule on relevence of some of the proposed witnesses.

Not surprisingly, David Tilson has a similar reaction – although rooted in very different reasons – and announces that he doesn’t approve of what the chair is doing. Colour me shocked. It doesn’t seem to be stopping Szabo, who reads through the Conservative list, removing potential witnesses willy nilly – Bloc Quebecois MPs, NDP MPs, all sorts of MPs, none of whom are within the scope of the committee. At least, not as far as he’s concerned.

2:21:05 PM
Jennings challenges the chair – first time so far! – and the clerk calls the roll. Scott Reid gets confused, and wonders how to vote; Gary Goodyear explains – and gets a point for bringing in the Green Shift/carbon tax. “It’s a trick!”

Unfortunately, this results in Reid losing his chance to vote, not that it matters – the opposition members back the chair, and that’s that.

2:24:18 PM
Pierre Poilievre now wants *more* names taken off the list – four former Conservative candidates, to be precise, who are not involved in the investigation. No dice – the chair moves on – to Pat Martin, no less. He moves a motion to pass the list as-is, with one teeny change: Robin Sears would be taken off the list.

Oh right, the Conservatives are very keen on Sears, who has publicly suggested that all parties, including the NDP, do the same thing.

2:28:32 PM
Oh, Gary Goodyear is calling a point of shenanigans: the chair, he says, is showing favouritism to the Liberals, and making a mockery of this sham of a political stunt. So there. “Why don’t you just tell us the outcome?” He wonders. I think he may possibly be employing sarcasm.

2:31:24 PM
Marlene Jennings is ready to call the vote on Pat Martin’s motion, but we’re now deep into grumbliness. As it turns out, the chair’s ruling removed the names of every one of the Conservatives’ proposed witnesses, which – not surprisingly – is not going over at all well.

2:35:49 PM
It’s not going to be quite that easy, is it? They still have to debate – and vote on – the main motion before they’re done with the witness list.

Just because the Conservatives lost every one of their proposed witnesses doesn’t mean that they can’t put forward names later – after the next set of hearings, perhaps. Maybe they’ll suddenly be relevant!
Keep reaching for that rainbow.

2:38:02 PM
Poilievre is sticking to his guns on the difference between “commentary” on the 2006 elections – the defeated and publicly disgruntled former Conservative candidates – and testimony from the witnesses on his list, including Robin Sears. Why doesn’t Martin want *him* to appear? Could it be — because he has something to *hide*?

2:40:30 PM
Huh. Apparently Szabo is taking orders from the Liberal leader’s office! I thought the whole problem was that Stephane Dion *wasn’t* sufficiently leader-y. But it turns out that it is Dion – that Machiavelli with a backpack – who wants to “banish” all the now-deleted Conservative witnesses. He does realize that they’re just being removed from the list, right? Not like, rounded up and taken into custody?

Marlene Jennings, meanwhile, explains why the remaining witnesses are entirely legitimate

2:45:19 PM
I wonder if Robin Sears realizes that this meeting has suddenly become all about him? His qualifications as a witness are being debated, and his former – possibly current – client, the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney. He’s not a political scientists like Heather MacIvor and Andrew Heard.

I don’t quite understand why the Conservatives would put up a fight over *those* witnesses, actually — of all the names proposed by the oppositon, those are probably the least problematic.

2:50:52 PM
The chair is consulting with his clerk on – I’m not actually entirely sure what. I can’t believe that they would be done with debate on the main motion yet — that would be practically lightspeed by this committee’s standards.

Oh, it’s Marlene Jennings’ amendment, which would delete another two names, authorize the chair to summon any of the witnesses who refuse to testify at his discretion.

Hey, Doug Finley and Patrick Muttart, I bet they’re totally talking about you guys! Well, unless you actually *want* to appear, which is possible, I guess.

2:54:15 PM
David Tilson – who seems oddly subdued – wonders if the chair needs the House to issue a subpoena, which is not, in fact, the case.

2:55:41 PM
Aw, there’s my crankypants: Tilson is absolutely convinced that the chair needs to go to the. House to summon witnesses against their will; it doesn’t seem to matter that the rules of the House say otherwise, he’s absolutely sure. I love how he seems to think if he believes something with enough intensity, it will change reality itself.

2:58:32 PM
I have no idea whether Scott Reid is introducing a motion, or debating the Jennings amendment, but he’s got the floor, and he’s going through the proposed list with a world weary eye.

I don’t understand why he keeps bringing up what the Bloc Quebecois may or may not have done during the 2000 election. It was under a different set of rules. You can’t apply the 2006 Elections Act to the 2000 election. It just doesn’t work that way.

3:03:06 PM
Sometimes I wish I could turn my head the full 360 degrees. Sometimes I’m sure I’m missing all sorts of good stuff going on at the back of the room.

Meanwhile, Scott Reid is giving a fabulous explanation of — everything in the whole world, I think, although right this minute, it’s about the sub judice principle,

This whole thing, he says, is about the non-rebate of “our money.” The Conservative Party is entitled to its entitlements, y’all.

3:10:40 PM
Oh oh oh! I get it! All those former and current candidates and public office holders would be violating the sub judice convention! Well, if you take the widest possible view of said convention, since none of these proposed witnesses are parties to the judicial review, as far as I know. But I am happy to have successfully understood his logic.

3:14:08 PM
And now, a few words from Gary Goodyear, who wants to speak to the defeat of the Jennings amendment – but more importantly, reveal the wool-pulling tendencies of Jennings herself.

I love the way he almost gets carried away when describing the in-and-out-if-you-squint practices of other parties, but then has to remember that he’s not supposed to be criticizing it. It’s perfectly okay – everybody does it!

Now he’s accusing the opposition of having discovered a new trick to overrule the will of, well, him and his colleagues, Does it involve having more votes than there are on the opposing side? Sneaky!

Ah, okay, Goodyear claims that the challenging of the chair is another procedural trick; it ends debate. No, it doesn’t. The *challenge* isn’t debatable, but whatever was under debate before still is. Szabo explains that to Goodyear, but he’s not convinced. It’s a trick! A Liberal trick! .

What I don’t get is why he wants to drag more witnesses into a “partisan political photo op”. Wouldn’t it be better to just be a conscientious objector, and sit with regal disdain while the rest of the witnesses come forward?

3:24:48 PM
It seemed as though that question was about to be answered, but no – instead, Poilievre takes over.

Oh no. I can see it coming, but am powerless to escape: the argument over what constitutes a public office holder.

3:28:55 PM
Wait, what? Pierre Poilievre just referred to potential witnesses as “delegates” which is just … bizarre. He doesn’t really explain what he means by that, but has a lot to say about all those Conservative delegates who were rejected by the chair. What does the Liberal Party have to hide, he wonders. Why did they force the chair to rule all those witnesses out of order? Why would the other two opposition parties go along with this if it was just to protect the Liberals – especially the NDP? (That last one was me, not Poilievre, just to be clear.)

3:33:40 PM
Hey, remember the sponsorship scandal?

No, no real reason. Just making sure that nobody forgot about the biggest electoral scandal in Canadian history, which is what Poilievre just pointed out.

He also pretty much confirms that none of the ministers or Conservative MPs on the list will participate in this “kangaroo court.” Now that’s some impressive respect for Parliament. Yo.

3:35:42 PM
Carole Lavallee once again explains the purpose of the motion – call witnesses as part of investigation; subpoena power; Robin Sears. Really, if you’ve read this far, I don’t have to recap it.

3:38:40 PM
Gary Goodyear is nodding furiously as Lavallee talks, but I can’t imagine he’s actually agreeing with her, since she’s ripping into his party for this “four hour filibuster.”

3:39:51 PM
David Tilson sends the room into a momentary panic when he threatens to deliver “a history of the motion”; luckily, it turns out he was talking about this *particular* motion, which cuts it down by a few hundred years of parliamentary history.

“You’ve got more votes than we do, you can do what you like,” he notes dolefully. The whole thing has been a charade and a farce, and what’s with Pat Martin wanting to remove “Bob Rae’s former chief of staff” from the list. (That’d be Robin Sears, just in case anyone missed it.) It’s just not fair, but that’s life. (That was David Tilson, not me.)

3:49:48 PM
Okay, that was very nearly a catastrohe; my berry connection died without warning (not that a warning would’ve improved the situation, really) right as David Tilson was delivering the swan song for this particular motion — if there was a song that swans sung when something passes decisively against the will of the government.

3:51:33 PM
Vote taken, motion as amendment passed; Szabo has the power to summon at will, and we’ll be back here on August 10th, if all goes according to plan.

And with that, we’re adjourned — amid calls of shame from the government side. “This is the most appalling parliament I’ve ever seen” are the parting words from Gary Goodyear; as the former chair who killed the Procedure and House Affairs, he’d know.