Inside Politics

Brad Butt privilege debate to dominate House on Tuesday

When the House opens for business this morning, MPs will resume debate over what consequences, if any, should be meted out in response to yesterday's ruling on possible breach of privilege by Conservative MP Brad Butt.

A brief recap for those who haven't paid attention to the story so far: On two separate occasions during second reading debate on the government's election bill last month, Butt claimed to have "personally witnessed" campaign staff gathering up discarded voter information cards from apartment mail rooms in order to, he averred, bring them back to headquarters, where they would, he suggested, be doled out for fraudulent future use at polling stations.

Two weeks later, he retracted his comments -- or, at least, the fact that he had "personally witnessed" such activity -- with no further explanation of exactly how such a seemingly inexplicable state of affairs had come about. 

The New Democrats cried foul and launched a privilege complaint, arguing that, despite his after-the-fact correction, Butt had, in fact, deliberately misled the House, which can be grounds for a contempt finding. 

On Monday, the speaker agreed that a prima facie breach of privilege had, indeed, occurred, and gave the New Democrats leave to bring forward the traditional motion to send it to committee for further study.

After less than two hours of debate, the government served notice that it intends to force an end to the discussion during today's sitting --and, judging by the Conservative contributions to the discussion so far, it would appear that they also intend to put the boots the motion itself, on the grounds that Butt insists he didn't intend to mislead to the House, and has duly corrected the record.

Not surprisingly, this is unlikely to go over well with the opposition, which may well result in a day of procedural warfare, although there seems little doubt that the matter will ultimately go to a vote, albeit possibly not until 8pm this evening.

In any case, depending on whether the opposition parties demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the decision to move closure on the discussion, there may be unscheduled votes throughout the day, which could play mild to middling havoc with the normal schedule, particularly at committee.

Alternately, those same opposition parties could simply choose to let the privilege debate play out.

Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, later this morning, the government is expected to introduce legislation to address the challenges faced by Canadian veterans, which will be detailed by Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino during a visit to the Officers' Mess at Garrison Toronto.

Support for veterans will also be the topic of a mid-afternoon press conference by New Democrat veterans critic Peter Stoffer, who will focus his attention on "the difficulties faced by spouses of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder."

It will also be on the to-do list at two separate committee meetings -- Veterans' Affairs, which is currently conducting a statutory review of the Enhanced New Veterans' Charter, and National Defence, where MPs are studying the care of ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members.

Elsewhere on the committee front, Ethics members are slated to begin discussion on which witnesses to call forth to testify on Conservative backbench MP Mark Adler's bid to force parliamentary officers and staff -- as well as anyone applying for positions within those officers -- to disclose any partisan activities -- including, but not limited to running for office or serving on the executive of a local riding association -- in which they may have engaged during the previous decade.

In a release issued on Monday, the New Democrats announced that they intend to make the case for calling what they describe as "the real beneficiaries" of the proposed bill: former Conservative minister Peter Penashue, Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein and Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, among others.

Over at Procedure and House Affairs, meanwhile, the New Democrat-led protest against the government's refusal to allow cross-country hearings on the proposed rewrite of Canada's election laws is expected to continue.

Also on the agenda today:

  • Government Operations gets a briefing from Treasury Board officials on current open data practices
  • The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, Alberta Federation of Labour and other groups share their thoughts on the "cross-country benefits of developing the oil and gas sector" at Natural Resources
  • Human Resources looks into "opportunities for aboriginal persons in the workforce"
  • The Subcommittee on International Human Rights investigates allegations of "forced harvesting and trafficking of human organs"
  • Finance hears from BlackBerry, the Canadian Payments Association and Interac as it continues its examination of emerging digital payment systems.

Out and about on the ministerial circuit:

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver heads to Houston for the Annual IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates' annual conference, where he will, once again, "highlight Canada as a responsible supplier of energy to the world" during a breakfast speech, and take questions from reporters back home via teleconference.

Also calling in to provide tele-comment on her endeavours: Minister of State for Consular and Foreign Affairs Lynne Yelich, who is currently in Geneva.

Finally, Minister of State for Social Development Candice Bergen makes an appearance in Victoria, where she'll be front and centre at a photo op to mark a "five year investment in affordable housing." 

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