A New Democrat-backed bid to lift the curtain on the inner workings of the all-party Board of Internal Economy was nixed by the House of Commons this afternoon when it failed to garner the unanimous consent.
New Democrat House Leader Peter Julian had hoped to win the support of the House for a motion that would have declared that all future Board meetings — including, presumably, the one scheduled for this afternoon — be held in public, barring discussion of matters related to security, employment, staff relations or contracting decisions.
In a statement accompanying his proposal, Julian stressed that his party still believes that "the only way to have real accountability for the BOIE is to replace it by an independent body."
Until then, however, the only way to make it more transparent is to lift the veil of secrecy and to ensure that all meetings are open to the public," he said.
Apparently unmoved, his request for unanimous consent was rejected by a chorus of nays from the Conservative side of the House.
NDP move seemingly sparked by Trudeau
The pro-transparency gambit appeared to have been prompted at least in part by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
At a morning press conference, Trudeau announced his intention to bring forward a private members' bill that would amend the Parliament of Canada Act to make future Board meetings public by default.
The NDP motion would have neatly preempted his efforts.
Although Liberal MPs didn't make any attempt to deny consent for the motion, Trudeau's policy adviser Mike McNair took to Twitter to explain why he didn't think the NDP's move would work:
@kady bylaws can be changed yep, but the law on secrecy still there. It's a good idea! But motion can't do it. Need a bill.— Mike McNair (@mike_mcnair) June 11, 2014
Not surprisingly, this prompted a spirited debate with New Democrat staffers over whether such a change could be made without amending the Parliament of Canada Act.
Board to receive report on NDP spending
At a previously scheduled meeting this afternoon, the Board is expected to receive a report from the House of Commons administration on those now infamous NDP satellite offices.
They may also get an update on the similarly controversial pre-byelection mass mail drop in Bourassa, which could include a recommendation that the party — or, in this case, individual New Democrat MPs — be asked to refund some or all of the associated costs.
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According to the pre-tabling release, Julian had also planned to bring forward a motion instructing the Board to conduct a full investigation, "in a transparent manner," into "all large-volume mail programs administered by MPs, or their offices," and "clarify all rules surrounding mail sent using franked envelopes."
He didn't do so on Thursday afternoon, but could return to the issue later this week, or, alternately, put the proposal directly to the Board this afternoon.
NDP invites reporters
In a rare move, the NDP provided reporters with the time and location for the afternoon meeting.
Typically, the Board doesn't publicize its schedule.
For the most part, though, even under the glare of the camera, the MPs heading into the closed-door session remained tight-lipped.
New Democrat Whip Nycole Turmel stressed that her party remains concerned about the lack of fair process, but declined to say whether they would pay back the money if requested to do so by the Board.
"We are not there yet, and I'm not answering that question," she told reporters.
Meanwhile, Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc defended keeping today's proceedings under wraps.
Noting that, like all BOIE members, he swore an oath pledging to keep all such matters secret, he maintained that it would require an amendment to the law to open up the process.
"I practised law," he reminded reporters. "I don't want to get disbarred."