Inside Politics

Vikileaks Watch: Pack your bags, Adam Carroll, you're going to (the wrong) committee!

Hot off the undisclosed source listserv comes the following motion, which will, we are led to believe, be debated at Ethics this Thursday:

Motion
Dean Del Mastro, MP
February 28, 2012
 
 That the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics call Mr. Adam Carroll, former Liberal Research Bureau employee, for one meeting to examine his use of House of Commons resources in order to conceal his anonymous public attacks on a Member of Parliament and that this meeting take place by Thursday March 8, 2012.


Yes, it appears that, once again, and for reasons that are, perhaps, best left to the motion's sponsor to explain, the Conservatives are about to make an attempt to do an end run around the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the seemingly far too easily overlooked committee that has the sole responsibility of investigating allegations of misconduct on the part of MPs as well as the administration of the House of Commons, which would include the use of its resource "to conceal ... anonymous public attacks."  

As far as I can tell, the Del Mastro motion doesn't even try to squeeze itself within the broad but not unlimited mandate of the ethics committee, which includes, among other matters, the Access to Information and Privacy Acts, as well as the Conflict of Interest Act, which deals the conduct of designated public office holders. 

It was under those statutes -- ATI and CoIA, specfiically, that ministerial staffers Sebastien Tognieri and Kaz Nejatian were called to testify on their activities as ministerial staffers by the previous iteration of ETHI. Employees of party research bureaus, like MPs' staff,  are not covered by that particular law, which is why issues related to the conduct of non-ministerial Hill staff -- including the alleged use of House of Commons resources -- fall under the aegis of Procedure and House Affairs.
 
For that reason, the Del Mastro motion will almost certainly be ruled out of order by the chair, a decision that the government side will, with equal near certainty, use its majority to overturn, whereupon the requested meeting will go forward, despite the fact that it will be doing so in the wrong parliamentary venue.

That is, after all, exactly what happened back in 2010, when the then still minority Conservatives at Government Operations decided to get a bit of their collective own back for the opposition-backed investigation into alleged illegal lobbying by former MP Rahim Jaffer.

With the support of the NDP, they successfully forced that same committee to look into allegedly extra-parliamentary business activities on the part of sitting Liberal MP Derek Lee, based on his partnership with Toronto law firm Sun Partners, despite the best efforts of the committee chair to explain that, as the allegations dealt with the conduct of a current MP, it should be put before Procedure and House Affairs. (For some reason, the Conservatives seemed very keen to do it at the very same committee that had investigated the Jaffer Affair, perhaps as an act of parliamentary karmic payback, despite the fact that the appropriate committee could be found just one floor down.)

Although it fell on seemingly deaf ears at the time, the chair's argument ultimately found favour with the speaker, who subsequently ordered the committee report on the matter officially withdrawn, as it had gone beyond the mandate of the committee, and, as such, had been improperly placed before the House. It  bears noting that the same fate would likely befall any report emanating from the study into the Vikileaks controversy, but given that the motion makes no reference to returning to the House with its conclusions, if any, the matter will likely come to a close after Carroll's testimony.

In any case, it remains frustratingly unclear just what the government -- or, at least, some of its more bombastic members -- has against poor Procedure and House Affairs. It's every bit as important and masterful of its own destiny as Ethics, and it's chaired by a Conservative, even: the always congenial Joe Preston. Sure, its usual meeting room is in the bowels of Centre Block, far from the bright lights of the prestigious Railway or Reading Rooms, but with proper notice, it wouldn't be difficult to take over one of the big rooms for the day, thus allowing the cameras to capture the moment for the ages.

Really, all things considered, it would be just as easy -- and, it should go without saying, infinitely more respectful of the Standing Orders -- to bring the motion to the right committee in the first place, rather than simply bulldoze over the objections of the chair at the wrong one. At this point, one is forced to entertain the unsettling possibility that there is something else going on here. 

Could the Conservatives be wary of setting any sort of precedent that could spark future attempts to call forth research staff -- including, possibly, those employed at the similarly House of Commons-funded Conservative Resource Group -- to testify on the work they do for their respective parties? Or is it simply a case of Del Mastro having forgotten that Procedure and House Affairs exists? (It is, as noted earlier, tucked away in a rarely visited corner of the precinct, but still. Then again, this is the same MP who suggested calling a sitting judge to committee to discuss his ruling in a case still before the court, so perhaps that isn't as implausible as it may sound. 

In any case, we'll find out more on Thursday, I expect. In the meantime, stay tuned! 
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