Come for the chair election, stay for the routine motions!
Calling all Ethics committee aficianados: It’s back! We’re back, in fact – back in the same third floor West Block committee room where, as I just this moment realized, ITQ spent the very last official moments of the 39th Parliament during last June’s filibustered – and eventually filibusted – hearings on the proposal to hold what would eventually become known as Camp In and Out (ITQ liveblogs passim and exhaustem).
We’ve lost a few members – not only the Cranky One, but Voice of Sanity Carole Lavallee, who is now on Canadian Heritage, the always unpredictable and never boring Pat Martin – gone to Government Operations – and more. At least we’ve still got Russ Hiebert and Pierre Poilievre. Otherwise, it wouldn’t feel like Ethics at all.
Oh, and Paul Szabo as chair, of course. I thought that was understood.
Jack Harris is lurking at the back of the committee room – not sure why, since Bill Siksay seems to be the new NDP kid on the block. Unless that isn’t actually Jack Harris, which is possible; sometimes I mix up the newly elected MPs for the first few weeks, until they’ve managed to burn their respective visages into my retinas.
To the surprise of absolutely no one on earth, Paul Szabo is elected chair; the vice-chairs are Carole Freeman – half of the all-girl Bloc Quebecois contingent, the other half of which – Eve Thi Lac – is wearing the best boots I’ve seen since the Governor General arrived to deliver the Throne Speech – and Russ Hiebert. After a round of enthusiastically polite applause, Szabo takes the chair and immediately gets down to business: routine motion business.
Russ Hiebert gets the ball rolling by proposing that the rules require 48 hours notice for motions – I forget what the practice was during the last Parliament, and luckily, Bill Siksay – who wasn’t there and has an excuse – asks that very question: It was 24 hours during the last parliament, confirms Szabo, and since when did we start using numbers of sleeps as the universal measurement of time in parliamentary matters?
Anyway, after Szabo explains that actually, the 24 rule did lead to some “scrambling” in the past, Siksay withdraws his amendment, and the 48 hour rule stands. That was painless.
Onto the subcommittee on agenda: Bob Dechert is the lucky mover of the motion to have four members on the subcommittee, and having the staff of each member present, but he then gets ahead of the clerk assistant frantically handing out copies of his proposed amendments, causing slight confusion.
The chair notes that he isn’t sure what the rational may be in proposing the change to quorum – yes, this is starting to sound familiar – and it transpires that most of what he is proposing – other than quorum – is already current practice; the reason why the committee was “silent” on the issue of quorum during the last parliament, Szabo notes, was that it simply wasn’t an issue. There was never a meeting without representatives from all parties present.
Carole Freeman doesn’t see why it needs to be added to the rules if it wasn’t there before; nobody has yet accused the other side of plotting to boycott or take over the committee, but the afternoon is young.
And there, Bill Siksay just did.
Russ Hiebert offers a novel twist on the hypothetical boycott power: What, he wonders, if a vice-chair wasn’t available, but the steering committee had to hold a meeting? Szabo points out that – although he would never do so – if, say, Russ Hiebert wanted the subcommittee to never hold a meeting, he could just never have time to show up.
Eventually, the chair proposes a slight tweak: the subcommittee would have four members, who could have one assistant attend, with no formal quorum requirement.
It passes unanimous-ishly – the opposition side didn’t bother to vote at all – which brings us to the ever-popular …
… reduced quorum requirement, which would bump the number from three to four, including one member from each party.
And … go!
Szabo notes that this is not quorum for meetings to make decisions, but to hear witnesses; he once again notes that it would allow any party to shut down the committee by refusing to show up. Earl Dreeshen tries to convince him that he was really just looking at the number four – it’s a good number, he thinks, as far as members there to hear witnesses. Yes, just plucked it out of a hat he did, I’m sure.
After a tie vote on reduced quorum, the chair supports the status quo, which means opposing the amendment. Done and done.
The dodgy motions now having been dealt with, the chair runs through the rest in record time — almost too record-setting for his members, one of whom forgets that she was supposed to move the motion on working meals. “No food for any of you, then,” jokes the chair. Bill Siksay proposes that witness expenses to include child care – oh, such an NDPer – which carries unanimously. Man, they’re going to be done within minutes at this point.
Mike Wallace! I can’t believe I forgot Mike Wallace while lamenting the loss of Ethics members of yesteryear. Then again, I did see him at Finance on Tuesday, so it’s not like I’ll be entirely deprived of his oddball charm.
Szabo points out that the order proposed by Poilievre would actually take a question away from the NDP, which Bill Siksay had already noticed, as it happens: he doesn’t see why he’d vote for any amendment that would give him less time at the mic. Which seems reasonable, really. Poilievre assures Siksay that it isn’t personal, and praises his proposed formula as “perfectly mathematical”, what with the election, and the Canadian people collectively changing the makeup of the committee. If Pierre Poilievre can find me one in a hundred voters aware of either the previous or current committee composition, I will cheerfully give him a giant hug. If he’s willing, that is.
Russ Hiebert makes pretty much the same argument as Poilievre, and then gets tricky with a proposal to amend the amendment not to amend the rules that were in place during the 39th Parliament; to be honest, I’m not sure exactly how it differs from Poilievre’s original motion, other than by explicitly setting the length of questions at five minutes for the first round, and seven for the second, unless I got that backwards. In my defence, Szabo seems similarly unsure of just what is on the table, as far as the subamendment, which is a wee bit circular, he suggests. It is, however, in order.
It may be in order, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to go down to defeat. Go, status quo!
Just before the chair calls the vote on the Siksayian amendment, Poilievre pipes up with another subamendment, which would ask the committee to “recognize the democratic will of the people”, and at that point, my eyes spontaneously roll right out the back of my head; once I’ve recovered, and Poilievre has finished proposing what seems to be exactly the same new speaking order – now with 100% fewer NDP questions in every round other than the first!
He also notes, in a manner some cynics might describe as ever so slightly snarlingly passive aggressive, that the committee wouldn’t want to disrespect the views of the Canadian electorate, or give more weight to the members of certain parties.
Have I ever told you guys my theory on Poilievre? Remind me to do that during the next filibuster – it’s fascinating. Oh, and his proposal to respect democracy, alas, has now been defeated.
Borys Wryznski, however, one ups him in procedural snarkiness with an even more passive aggressive “friendly amendment” that basically takes the mickey out of Poilievre’s pomp, but sadly, it is found out of order, amid much giggling from the Bloc Quebecois all-girl band.
The Siksay amendment – which would preserve the status quo – passes, as does the now amended motion, as the government members stare sadly, doubtless worried at the riots that will ensue once Canadians learn of this treacherous usurpery of their democratic will.
And that’s it for routine motions – hurray! Order has been restored! My universe is unaskew! – which leaves only future business, which will be discussed by the steering committee before the next full meeting, which will be on Monday afternoon in this very room. Hopefully by then, the chair says, they’ll have made some decisions as far as what the first order of business will be: privacy and access to information would seem to be at the top of the to-do list.
Aaaand – bang! We’re adjourned. Time to scamper back to the Hot Room and find out just what I’ve missed.