Tories kill bid to investigate Brad Butt voter fraud claim
Conservative MP Brad Butt claimed he saw people abusing voter cards, then said he misspoke
After a rancorous daylong debate, Conservative MPs resoundingly rejected an opposition bid to have a House committee look into their MP's claim — now retracted — that he saw voter information cards stolen to be misused to commit fraud.
Earlier in the day, the government invoked closure, a measure that's rarely used, to force a time limit on debate about whether the procedure and House affairs committee should study whether Conservative MP Brad Butt breached MPs' parliamentary privilege.
The debate wrapped up just after 8 p.m. ET, and the final vote was 110-153, with all but the Green Party dividing along strict party lines. (Green Party Leader Elizabeth May supported the motion to send the matter to committee, while Green MP Bruce Hyer voted nay.)
Butt told the House in early February that he'd seen people take voter information cards out of recycling bins and garbage cans to use to commit voter fraud.
The MP for Mississauga-Streetsville, later stood in the House to correct the record but didn't explain why he had earlier said he'd witnessed what amounts to voter fraud.
'Incredibly rare and important'
Speaker Andrew Scheer ruled Monday that there's a prima facie case, or case on the face of it, that Butt breached parliamentary privilege when he told the House he had seen it with his own eyes, something that he now says wasn't true.
The resulting debate put House of Commons business on hold as the opposition and government faced off over an NDP motion to send the matter to committee for further study. Both the NDP and Liberals spoke in favour of the motion, but the governing Conservatives dismissed their arguments because Butt had already corrected the record.
Tuesday's sitting quickly became a battle of procedural tricks, leading to a vote just before question period that saw the Conservatives vote to limit the debate to the remainder of the sitting day.
NDP House leader Nathan Cullen said his party wants Scheer to look at whether the government is abusing closure motions.
"To have a debate like this is incredibly rare and important. And to then shut down that debate is even rarer still," Cullen said outside the House.
"I think Canadians should be proud that we're not going to stand down, that we're not going to just accept the bullying that we see from Conservatives on so many bills, because this one matters most. It's the rules of the game for our democracy."
'Trust is eroded'
At the same time the NDP was trying to force a procedure and House committee study on Butt's statement, one of the party's deputy leaders was leading a filibuster on C-23, the government's bill to update election laws, at that same committee.
It was during a debate on C-23 that Butt claimed to have seen the voter cards stolen.
New Democrat MP David Christopherson spent most of the day speaking at procedure and House affairs as his party protests the Conservatives blocking a cross-country tour to hear from Canadians and experts.
The committee meeting started just after 11 a.m. and ran into the evening. It was the third meeting at which Christopherson planned to talk out the two hours allotted, but the Conservatives called his bluff and said the committee would continue sitting until he finished speaking.
Christopherson announced around 9:30 p.m. that he and Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski, parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, had reached an agreement on how to run the study on C-23. NDP members may travel to consult with Canadians, and both the NDP and Liberal MPs want to have what they called "legitimate" say in the witness list, not just token input.
Christopherson and Lukiwski also agreed that the committee could hold extra meetings if necessary to hear the witnesses they want and to allow enough time for them.
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand is the first witness invited to discuss the bill. He's scheduled for Thursday morning. Christopherson and Lukiwski agreed to give him 90 minutes rather than the usual 60.
In the House, the day started with the Conservatives moving into a concurrence debate on Jewish refugees from the Middle East to try to run out the remaining time on the privilege motion by moving to a debate. Concurrence debates take precedence during certain times of the day, although privilege debates take precedence during others.
As a result, the privilege debate was put on hold until just before question period.
The motion to concur in a committee report on Jewish refugees had been awaiting debate for months. Opposition MPs said they were shocked the government would use such an important topic to stall the privilege debate.
In ruling on Butt's retracted claims, Scheer pointed to "an enduring practice here of giving members the benefit of the doubt when the accuracy of their statements is challenged, but said "it is clear that the House has been presented with two contradictory statements."
Cullen said Monday that the problem stems from government MPs who "twist logic to the point of breaking." He said Butt is discovering that what parliamentarians say actually matters and that the public is watching.
"When these kinds of things happen, when members are found in contempt in this place, that trust is eroded just a little bit more. There is not that much territory left to us," Cullen said.
- This story has been updated from an earlier version to correct Tom Lukiwski's title. He is actually parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, not the Conservative whip as CBC News stated.Mar 05, 2014 12:24 PM ET
With files from Kady O'Malley