Cornwall ON – Media reports indicate that the Prime Minister’s new Chief of Staff has asked to appear before the parliamentary ethics committee on November 2nd. Nigel Wright will be there to answer questions from MPs of all parties, not just opposition MPs, over opposition concerns that his position will put him in conflict of interest given his strong private sector ties.
Nigel Wright’s potential appearance raises some interesting questions:
- Are we seeing a precedent set where future Chief of Staffs will be expected to appear before a committee to discuss their suitability for the job? Have American style confirmation hearings arrived in Canada?
- Will future Chief of Staffs to the Prime Minister or ministers for that matter be expected to appear before any committee when called upon to do so?
The Conservatives have spent a great deal of time and political capital to make sure that staffers ignore committee requests to appear. For example, the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications refused to attend after being issued a summons to appear before the same committee. Has the government changed it’s position on this matter?
- What happens if the committee votes that Wright is not suitable for the position because of a conflict of interest? Does Wright ignore the will of parliamentarians?
- In the same situation, does the Prime Minister insist on appointing Wright over the objections of the all party committee? Harper could argue that the committee was playing partisanship games, but it still has the potential to be a communications disaster.
- Wright has agreed to provide personal information, including the arrangements he has made with the ethics commissioner to the committee. What precedent does this set? Could a future minister or Prime Minister with a strong business background expect to be called before the committee to divulge their personal arrangements?
- What personal information remains off limits to committee prying? Is this the wedge that future committees will use to insist on seeing more detailed personal information, not just arrangements made with the ethics commissioner?
- Have the opposition members agreed to play fair and ask legitimate questions without trying to put the man on trial or have they prepared a Gwyn Morgan type reception for Mr Wright?
Wright’s appearance promises to be a major media event on the Hill. It remains to be seen how this will play out and whether or not Wright’s appearance will have repercussions for others down the road.