View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Throwing fuel on the fire – Cornwall Ontario – June 16, 2010

Cornwall ON – Yesterday, the Law Clerk and Legal Counsel for Parliament, Rob Walsh, came out with a decision that says political staffers must show up if requested to do so by a committee. Indeed, he advises that even the Prime Minister can be required to show up. This is the day that Dimitri Soudas decides to mock the bailiff who is trying to serve him a subpoena.

Soudas is the Prime Ministers Director of Communication, and he is someone who should know better than to make himself a target, which is exactly what he has done by telling the media that the bailiff couldn’t find a statue on Parliament Hill, never mind track him down.

Rather than defusing the situation, he is making it worse. With the summer recess coming in one more day, the issue might have been given time to fade away. His insult will be sure to stoke the Ethics committee’s outrage again, and I would bet this committee will now decide to meet over the summer months.

Backed by Walsh’s legal opinion they can pursue staff all summer long. If the government continues to stick to their game plan of sending ministers instead of staff to committee hearings, ministers will be putting in a lot of wasted time in Ottawa over the next few months. This is time that would be better spent running their departments.

Its time for all the participants in this mess to use the next couple of months to step back, calm down and look for some rational solutions that everyone can live with. While the NDP and Bloc members get media coverage in this issue, it is really about the Conservatives and the Liberals. I say this because realistically they are the only two parties that down the road may have staffers called before a committee, as they are the only two parties likely to ever form a government.

Liberals should be thinking carefully about the precedent they are setting. One day they will be on the receiving end of similar committee requests.

If the Liberals and the Conservatives have the most to lose, then it’s about time they began quiet discussions amongst themselves to resolve this impasse. It is in both of their long term interests to solve this one. Now is the time for the two Chief of Staffs to sit down together to look at how the committee has been behaving. They also need to look at the Ethics committee membership and they need to come to an agreement to make things work in the best interest of Parliament and of Canadians. If it means changing some committee members, then change them.

It’s time that all parties realized that their behaviour is destructive to the parliamentary process and it is turning Canadians away from Parliament. The public does not need to see more bickering, more partisanship and more gamesmanship at committees.

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