Senators seeking Mark Norman inquiry holding out for permission to extend Senate's sitting
'We’re days away from the end of this Parliament and we want to continue? It makes no sense to me'
A Senate investigation of the failed prosecution of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was given a short lease on life Monday as its defence committee voted to produce a report on the scandal later this summer, if it's given permission to sit that long.
The chances of that happening appeared slim. Holding hearings past this week's planned adjournment date requires the approval of both the government leader in the Senate and the opposition.
Sen. Peter Harder, who represents the Liberal government in the chamber, indicated last week he's not prepared to grant an extension.
The Conservatives indicated Sunday they intended to withdraw the motion, which set off the investigation and called for a report by June 20.
The deputy chair, Conservative Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais, took one more stab at holding hearings and convinced the committee to extend the report date to Aug. 1.
The manoeuving puts the onus on Harder, who has yet to receive a formal request from the committee. A spokesman for Harder, Brian Laghi, said another avenue to hold an extended sitting would involve the Conservatives asking for permission from the full Senate.
Dagenais fended off accusations the Conservatives were engaged in a partisan attempt to embarrass the Liberal government, saying he and the independent senators that backed the proposed investigation are interested in uncovering the truth about how the second most powerful member of the military was ensnared in a criminal investigation.
"There is someone trying to prevent us from holding a meeting," Dagenais said, referring to Harder.
'It makes no sense to me'
The committee voted at the end of May to hear testimony from Norman, who had been accused of leaking cabinet secrets and was charged with breach of trust in a sensational case that ended earlier this spring when the Crown stayed the single count against Norman.
Prosecutors said new evidence presented by the defence forced a re-evaluation of the case.
It is unclear whether Norman is prepared to appear before senators. His lawyer was set to deliver an answer to the committee on Monday.
"I'm amazed we're at this point," said Liberal Sen. Terry Mercer. "We're days away from the end of this Parliament and we want to continue? It makes no sense to me."
'A very political and partisan initiative'
To get the motion through on Monday, the Conservatives relied again on the support of independent and one non-aligned senator, some of whom expressed unease about the possibility the committee might be delivering a politically charged report on the eve of the next federal election, which is slated for October.
The House of Commons defence committee refused to investigate the matter shortly after the criminal case against Norman was dropped.
In addition to calling the former navy commander, Dagenaid wanted to hear testimony from Gen. Jonathan Vance, who is the chief of the defence staff, and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
He said Monday that the committee could, call as many as 20 witnesses, including Gerald Butts, the former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"This is a very political and partisan initiative," said Sen. Marc Gold, who voted against the idea of extending into the summer.
Shortly after the RCMP investigation into a cabinet leak — involving a $668-million shipbuilding deal — became public, Norman was suspended and later removed from his job as vice chief of the defence staff.
He has indicated he wants to continue serving.