Inside Politics

In Camera Watch: 'Wallace Manoeuvre' Back On The Agenda At Government Operations?

Regular readers will doubtless recall last month's aborted attempt by Conservative MP Mike Wallace to rewrite the government operations committee rules on the fly in order to force all discussion of future business behind closed doors, "as," he remarked at the time to the amazement of certain liveblogging onlookers, "it should be."

At the time, the chair -- NDP MP Pat Martin -- deemed the motion too substantive to have been brought forward without proper notice, which, given the then rapidly approaching break, pushed the whole issue off until ... well, now, apparently.

Word has it that the required notice has been duly given, which means the motion to consider all future committee business in camera could be on the agenda as early as Wednesday, when the committee will convenes its first full meeting of the new year.

It's not clear whether that session will take place in public, but given the mathematics of majority, it may not make much difference:  If the government wants it to pass, it will pass, which, frankly, would be worrying enough all on its own, considering that Government Operations is, after all, one of the four opposition-chaired oversight committees, and as such, should properly go about its business in public whenever possible.

Far more unsettling, however, is the prospect that the Wallace manoeuvre was actually a test run, which, if successful, will be repeated at other committees until such time as all future committee business will be conducted beyond the gaze of the public. 

At the moment, four other committees --  Veterans Affairs, Official Languages, Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on International Human Rights -- are set to go in camera to discuss unspecified committee and future business. Another -- the agenda subcommittee for Defence -- will do the same to deal with travel and budget matters.

Still more will sequester themselves to work on various draft reports:

Also under procedural lockdown: the newly created Subcommittee on the Review of the Report on Organized Crime in Canada, a spin-off from Justice, which has been trying, and failing, to sign off on the report in question since the previous parliament, and, perhaps most notably, Environment, whose members are reportedly at loggerheads over the results of its statutory review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Given the Keystone XL/Northern Gateway-sparked musings from the prime minister and other senior Conservatives on the need to streamline what they now refer to as the 'approval' process, when that report is finally tabled in the Commons, it will likely provide considerable insight on how the government intends to proceed.

Now, it bears noting -- again -- that there is nothing particularly unorthodox in committees choosing to deal with some matters in private: travel budgets, witness selection and the drafting of reports.

Still, though, the plethora of padlocks popping up on the committee schedule will likely do little to reassure those who worry that the party that came to power on a pledge to bring unprecedented transparency to Parliament Hill may no longer be committed to the principle that true accountability relies on the watchful eye of the beholder.
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