Speaker Admonishes All Parties For 'anarchy'

Posted on Sunday, March 16 at 09:19 by Rural

The Canadian Press

In a rare intervention, Peter Milliken appealed to all parties to "address themselves to the crisis in the committee system that is teetering dangerously close to the precipice at the moment."

Traditionally, committees are masters of their own business and the Commons Speaker has been loath to intervene.

But partisan shenanigans at various committees compelled Milliken to speak out about what he called "this anarchy that appears to be serially afflicting committees in recent weeks."

"Frankly speaking, I do not think it is overly dramatic to say that many of our committees are suffering from a dysfunctional virus that, if allowed to propagate unchecked, risks preventing members from fulfilling the mandate given them by their constituents," Milliken told the Commons.

The lack of decorum and civility in the Commons and its standing committees is not a new problem and they've arguably been more dysfunctional at various times in the past. However, recent hijinks appear to have goaded Milliken into issuing his unusual admonition.

For instance, for two days in a row this week, the Conservative chairman of the justice committee walked out of a meeting rather than allow an opposition challenge to his ruling that the committee has no business investigating the Cadman affair.

The opposition parties last week combined to remove Gary Goodyear as the Conservative chairman of the procedure and House affairs committee after he repeatedly blocked attempts to investigate allegedly illegal Tory spending practices in the 2006 election. Milliken noted that the opposition members chose a new chair, Tory MP Joe Preston, even though he "had stated unequivocally that he did not want the nomination."

In this minority Parliament, Milliken said rulings by committee chairs are being routinely overturned by majority votes, even when the rulings are procedurally sound. Such a state of affairs has led to "general lawlessness" at committees.

While the various parties acknowledged the validity of Milliken's warning, each side blamed the other for provoking the problem.

"This is an important statement and a serious criticism of the opposition's anti-democratic tactics at committee," said Peter Van Loan, the government's House Leader.

"Parliamentary committees are becoming irrelevant sideshows due to partisan hijacking and manipulation of rules and votes."

But Libby Davies, the NDP House leader, said the Conservatives - and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office in particular - are to blame.

"I think it's clearly the government (at fault) and it's the PMO and the control that they want to exert over committees to carry through their own political agenda instead of allowing the committees to do their own business and do it in a democratic fashion," she said.



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