View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Wednesday Review Time for Contempt of Parliament – March 15, 2011

Ottawa ON – On Wednesday the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will begin reviewing the two recent referrals on privilege from the Speaker. This includes both the request for financial documents and the one concerning Bev Oda. Both provide our elected representatives with an opportunity to flex their muscles and show Canadians that they can play a real role in how parliament works.

In the case of Bev Oda, the committee will be passing judgement on another Member of Parliament who carries the additional title of minister. The committee’s responsibility will be to judge her fairly, based on the facts. To otherwise judge her guilty based on a partisanship need to embarrass the government would not only do her a wrong, but also lessen the importance of future committees. Members should keep in mind that when you leave politics all you have is your reputation and the judgement of history. If she is guilty, let it be on the facts and not blind partisanship.

In the past committees have shown that they can rise above pure partisanship, although during the life of this minority parliament such instances have been rare with high profile political issues. It won’t take long to see if the committee is judging fairly or if it is on a witch hunt. Last minute substitutions of party attack dogs either to ask questions or for the final vote are a sure indication that the leader’s offices and backroom boys are calling the shots and not the MPs. It will be up to the MPs to reject interference from the OLO, PMO or other leader’s offices. That is expecting quite a bit of them considering the power these offices have over their political futures, but it is necessary if MPs are to win back some of their importance in the political affairs of the nation.

Certainly the pre-hearing comment from Liberal MP and committee member Marcel Proulx that “We think that the government should be held in contempt of Parliament, that’s the ultimate target” does not argue well for unbiased findings in either case.

Canadians will watch and judge not only the government during these hearings, but also how the system and our MPs go about their work. Whatever the committee’s final outcome, whatever the decision, let it be based on facts and let’s have our MPs flex their muscles and do what is right independently of the backroom strategists. Only that way will they become “somebodies” on parliament hill. History will be the final judge of not only the government, but the actions of our MPs.

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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