Monday, November 10, 2008

Tories promise to make Parliament dysfunctional once again.

Tories want opposition to drop 'in and out' and Cadman probes in House
House 'committee obstruction manual' from the last Parliament will be refined, improved and will be back in play.

By Bea Vongdouangchanh

The Hill Times, November 10th, 2008

The infamous House "committee obstruction manual" from the last Parliament will be refined, improved and will be back in play, says new Chief Government Whip Gordon O'Connor who also hopes for a less raucous and more productive 40th Parliament when it returns on Nov. 18.

"What it is in reality is it's like the Cole's Notes of what committee chairs should think about, or how to operate in committees," said Mr. O'Connor (Carleton-Mississippi Mills, Ont.) in an interview with The Hill Times. "I think there's a need for that certainly for people who will be chairs from our side, but what I'm going to do is I'm going to go through the book—if you want to call it that, but it's just a bunch of sheets of paper—and I think I'll try to refine it and improve it so that it's focused on how to be an effective chair."

Mr. O'Connor told The Hill Times last week that House committees have not yet been set up and despite media reports last week indicating that the Conservatives would attempt to get a majority on some of them, membership still has to be sorted out and negotiated.

"I don't see how that's possible. A committee is 12. To get a majority, you need seven, so I don't see how that would happen. We have to negotiate this with the other parties and we'll see what the end results are," he said.

Liberal Whip Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton-Canso, N.S.), whom Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Que.) appointed last week, said his party's critics have not yet been assigned and therefore committee memberships have not been allocated. He said it would not make sense for the Conservatives to have a majority on committees because they do not have a majority government.

"I think the purpose of committees, especially the ones that we hold the chairmanship, is to reflect the make up of Parliament and the Conservatives don't hold a majority within the Parliament of Canada. So that's something that will be discussed and negotiated. Just because it's the will of the government, doesn't make it so," he said.

Mr. O'Connor said he also hopes House committees will move on from some of the contentious issues that paralysed some committees in the last session, for example the "in and out" scandal and the Cadman Tape Affair.

"I don't control committees and I don't control the other parties," he said. "We've had an election. The people of Canada have spoken and they've elected us as government with a substantial minority. One hundred and forty three seats is a very, very good result. I would expect that some of these issues of the last Parliament, my hope is anyway, will go into the background now and we'll get on with the future."

Mr. O'Connor, who was first elected in 2004 and is a former Defence and Revenue minister, was appointed as the Chief Government Whip on Oct. 30.

Along with newly-appointed Government House Leader Jay Hill (Prince George-Peace River, B.C.), he will be responsible for guiding government legislation through the House, something that can be difficult in a minority Parliament.

"I've had two ministries and I've experienced what it's like to be responsible for a ministry and now I'm going to be at the heart of Parliament. I really consider it an honour to be elected to Parliament. It's so special. Only 308 people get elected here and to be the chief government whip means that I'm going to be involved in the life of Parliament and I look forward to it," he said, noting that there will be some challenges.

"The whip, from my point of view, is to try to get government legislation through as smoothly as possible through Parliament," he said. "You do that by making sure you maximize your own votes in your caucus so that when there's a vote people turn out to vote. The other side of it is negotiation. You should negotiate at any time but especially in a minority Parliament, you have to negotiate with the other whips and the other parties to get support for legislation because we only have 143 votes if everyone is there that day and no one's sick. That's not enough to get through Parliament if everybody else votes. So we'll have to negotiate."

Mr. Cuzner, who was first elected in 2000, has served as the Parliamentary secretary to former prime minister Jean Chrétien. He said although he still needs to "get a sense" for the whip's job, he's "very excited" about it. "I'm very pleased that our leader has placed his confidence in me. I'm not going into this with any grand expectations other than trying to keep caucus focused on being the best opposition that we can be," he said last Wednesday.

For the most part, Mr. Cuzner said, he has a good working relationship with his fellow party whips. "I've worked with [NDP whip] Yvon Godin on committee stuff before and I think we've got a good relationship. I think O'Connor's a man of his word. We'll develop these relationships over a period of time," he said. "There won't be any backstabbing with [Bloc Québécois whip] Michel Guimond. If he's got something to say, you're getting it right in the chest. I've worked with Michel on Procedure and House Affairs [committee] before and he's a very capable Parliamentarian. I'll see how that goes. I'm very fortunate in that I have a very excellent staff. It's an experienced staff in the whip's office. The staff hold the trust and the confidence of caucus. That's a great strength in having that."

While economic issues will take precedence in the House, Mr. Hill said last week that one of his goals is to have a more civil and productive Parliament. Mr. Hill is seen as more conciliatory than previous House Leader Peter Van Loan (York-Simcoe, Ont.), who is now the Public Safety Minister. Some see Mr. Hill's appointment as a sign that the Conservatives are moving toward a less combative and confrontational session, but Mr. Hill said he doesn't necessarily see it that way.

"I think the Prime Minister believed fundamentally that at this particular time, of all the resources he had to draw upon, that I was his best choice," he said. "I'm just very pleased that he made that choice. I hope I can, as I have in the past, meet his expectations as well as the expectations of the opposition and indeed the country, to have a civil and productive Parliament. That's my goal and I hope we're able to all work together to achieve that."

Mr. O'Connor said the Conservatives were in the process of looking at the bills in the 39th Parliament that died on the Order Paper in order to determine which ones would be reintroduced. "We're going to review that legislation to see what from our point of view should go forward, and what should go forward unamended, and what should go forward with changes because of things that we've learned either in the campaign, or things that opposition parties brought up that may be of value to us," he said. "We've got to look at all that legislation and decide what legislation will go back into the system and put forward. That will keep us busy."

According to the Conservative platform, some of the reintroduced bills include: two Senate reform bills to decrease Senators' terms and have them be appointed after consultation with the Canadian public, a new formula to increase seats in the House after ever decennial census and limiting loans to political candidates to financial institutions. The platform also states that the Conservatives will move to change the Senate's ethics rules to be the same as the House of Commons' ethics rules. Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) appointed Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia, Man., MP Steven Fletcher as Minister of State for Democratic Reform.

University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes told The Hill Times that Mr. Fletcher's appointment was a "curious" one, considering the reform bills touch on federal-provincial relations between Ontario and Quebec. The bill to consult Canadians on their preferences for the Senate will involve a showdown with Quebec as it has previously said it would challenge the bill's constitutionality.

Meanwhile, Ontario will not back down on its opposition to the bill to change for the formula for the redistribution of seats in the House which would move British Columbia and Alberta toward better representation by population and move Ontario away from it.

"I was wondering if just singling out the democratic reform portfolio was a way of trying to get all his [Prime Minister Harper] regional people in. It's a much larger Cabinet than before, which is curious in a time of fiscal constraint," Prof. Mendes said. "That being said, I think for whatever reason, I think Harper has a bee in his bonnet about the Senate in particular and I think if he wants to use any of his scarce confidence votes, he may try and focus in on Senate reform. ... It's curious that he's chosen Fletcher from Manitoba."

Prof. Mendes said given Mr. Fletcher's background, he expected him to get a full Cabinet appointment to the health portfolio. "The one thing you have to give to Steven Fletcher is that he surmounted an incredible challenge in terms of being the first quadriplegic MP to come to Parliament," he said. "I would've thought that given his interest in the health sector, and his own challenges, it may have been more appropriate to put him in health, as a full minister, given that he was already an understudy."

In the last Parliament, Mr. Fletcher did not speak on any democratic reform issues, but focused on health-related ones. Prof. Mendes said those three bills will be the major issues that Mr. Fletcher will face this Parliament as the minister in charge. "I'm worried that he's been given a portfolio with all of these political landmines in it for somebody who doesn't have, at least from his prior performance, the political skills, put it that way, and frankly, the advocacy skills to either promote the government's agenda or defend it on sustained intellectual basis. I certainly don't think Peter Van Loan did a good job either, he resorted to name-calling all the time. You need someone like James Moore, someone who has demonstrated his ability to get along with other parties, even if he has to defend the indefensible and to do it in a way which can sound plausible," he said. "I certainly [wonder] if Harper intends to bring back these highly highly contentious bills whether Fletcher will be up for defending it in a way that can be convincing, not only to his party, but to Canadians."

Other issues that could re-emerge in this Parliament, according to the Conservatives' 2008 election platform include copyright reforms, an updated Fisheries Act, and some anti-crime measures. The Conservatives say they will also deal with some issues that became political before the last Parliament ended, such as unwanted text messaging fees, "protecting pregnant women against violence," which is an updated version of former Conservative MP Ken Epp's private member's bill to protect pregnant women from violent assaults or murder, "made in Canada" labelling, the listeriosis outbreak and arts and culture. Mr. Harper said he would not reintroduce Bill C-10, which would have allowed the Heritage Minister to decide which films received tax credits based on public policy.

The Hill Times


Dr Mike said...

Goody goody , more of the same.

Can`t wait to hear Conservative Joe Preston talk about his pens for hours again.

I thought stopping dysfunctionality was the reason we had an election.

Might have been better off putting the money into Healthcare or other such nonsense.

Dr Mike Popovich.

Anonymous said...

So the Harperites are promising to make Parliament dysfunctional again?.......hey it only cost us $300 million flushed down the drain. Better however than a majority! We'd have never got the truth out about Harper's criminal Cadman bribe and Ontario would have 11 fewer seats in the HOC.