View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – The Speaker’s Two Rulings – March 10, 2011

Ottawa ON – Yesterday the Speaker of the House of Commons made two important rulings, one of which will have a long term impact on how parliament works. While opposition politicians have scored a victory they shouldn’t get too excited just yet.

True, they do have ammunition for an election theme along the lines of how the Conservatives treat democracy and parliament, but that will most likely remain a side issue to the economy in any election that they provoke. Canadians still have to get engaged on this issue for it to be a key ballot question and so far there is no indication that they are. After all what are Canadians talking about today, the Speakers rulings or Chara’s hit on Pacioretty in the NHL?

The one I feel sorry for is Bev Oda. I have had the opportunity to work with her on several occasions. I always found her to be decent, hard-working and above all honest. One on one or in a small group, she is on top of her game. However, when in the public spotlight and under the added pressure to perform that it brings, IE in Question Period or before a committee, she is definitely challenged from a communication perspective. More than likely this is the root cause of this issue. I hope that the committee that follows up on the Speaker’s rulings gives her an opportunity to read into the record a full and detailed explanation as to what happened and give Oda an opportunity to explain the confusion that was created. As a colleague of the members on the committee and as an individual she deserves that chance.

The second ruling on the production of papers was to be expected. The Speaker had ruled a few months ago that parliamentary committees could request documents when they were investigating the Afghan detainee issue. Why the brain trust in PMO would expect him to rule any differently this time is beyond me. This is a minority parliament and yes opposition dominated committees will play partisan games and request documents that might embarrass a government. But, if the government has been up front with costs all along it shouldn’t make a difference if they produce the documents, as they will only reinforce the government’s previous public statements. If what the government has said publically differs from what is in the documents, then they have some serious questions to answer and rightly so.

The long term implication of this ruling and the previous Afghan document ruling confirms the supremacy of parliament and adds strength to the role of our elected representatives. That is exactly how it should be. Partisans in all parties need to step back and look at how these ruling have returned some clout to our elected representatives and build on that to increase the relevancy of our MPs.  Regardless of which party is in power, our MPs need to reassert their role in the House and improve on how House committees function. They are an important check on the government of the day and when not dominated by partisan bickering have a constructive role to play. Canadians deserve and expect that from our elected representatives, after all that is why we sent them to parliament in the first place.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

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  1. Sorry for Bev Oda, who is “above all honest.” Ms. Oda’s honesty must have been on vacation when she misled the committee, Parliament and Canadians. And the word is publicly, not “publically.”

  2. If Bev Oda, is above all honest, Then the opposite must apply to the PMO.

  3. Ms Oda is apparently “challenged from a communication perspective” when under pressure. This clearly explains and justifies how she “forgot” that it WAS her who added those 3 letters. I, personally, was too busy watching hockey to care. And my ignorance also justifies her actions. Thanks for clearing this up, kind sir.

  4. This just in. Senator Raymond Lavigne has been found guilty of fraud in Ontario Court today. Verdict yet to be announced. That’s over 120 Members of Parliament and two Senators found guilty of indictable offenses since 1990, if you are keeping track.

  5. How many Liberals and how many Conservatives are in that total?

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