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Another show down looms

The recent announcement by Jay Hill, the Government House Leader, that ministerial staffers will no longer appear before committees, opens up a Pandora’s Box of potential issues.

The first issue of course is who is supreme? Is it Parliament as represented by its MPs on committees or is it the Prime Minister’s Office? Make no doubt about it, if they didn’t dream this policy up, PMO would have to sign off on this one.

Milliken’s ruling on the detainee documents would support the supremacy of Parliament. Committees have traditionally been masters of their own destiny and called whoever they wished to testify. Taking away that right is a huge issue.

If ministers are now to take full responsibility for their staffs and departments then every single mistake will now land on their doorstep. True responsible government would see minister’s take full responsibility for everything in their department. Are they only taking responsibility for their office or for the entire department? It was Jay Hill who said ““Ministers are individually and collectively responsible to the House of Commons for the policies, programs and activities of the Government.” So which is it?

If Dimitri Soudas is called as a witness and under these guidelines refuses to appear, his minister is the Prime Minister. Soudas reports to the PM, not John Baird or anyone else other than Guy Giorno. This would mean the PM is now responsible for appearing and representing some 100 plus staff. That’s insane.

If as happens recently Baird shows up instead of the PM, does this mean that PMO can pick whomever they want to show up at committee on behalf of a staffer. It flies against the very principles of the new decision on ministerial responsibility.

What about the individual staffer who has been accused rightly or wrongly by committee members? Do they not have the right to defend themselves? Under this system the answer would be no. Your proxy would have to defend you. If you were a staffer, wouldn’t that make you all warm and fuzzy?

Committees have several rarely used powers such as the right to subpoena individuals. If a staffer is subpoenaed, they are placed in greater jeopardy than if they simply went and got it over with.

What happens to former staff if issues are uncovered years later? Are they protected by the minister of the day who could even be from a different party? Or is this just a convenience for current staff? Who will be paying the legal bills of past and present staff subpoenaed by a committee?

Committees also have a responsibility to the people of Canada. When they become so partisan that they cease to work effectively, they are doing the country a disservice. It’s interesting to note that two of the worse examples of extreme partisanship have been at the Ethics Committee chaired by Paul Szabo. The Mulroney-Schreiber hears were one of the worse cases seen to date. As Chair Szabo went way overboard in supporting Schreiber to the point where any sense of balance went out the window and it began to look like a kangaroo court. That charade cost the taxpayers at least two million dollars for Mulroney’s legal fees and nightly newscasts of the daily goings on certainly helped lower public confidence in committee work.

Committees certainly have the right to investigate issues that they deem important, and so they should. But when they become too partisan, they become dysfunctional and then they serve little purpose other than to give the media some good clips and quotes. As Chair, Szabo can rule on the types of questions, their focus and maintain decorum if he so chooses. One can certainly question Szabo’s will or maybe it’s ability, to do so. Jay Hill was right when he referred to hostile committees.

By the time his latest investigation finishes getting legal opinions; subpoenaing individuals etc, how many more millions will this cost the taxpayer yet again?  As Chair Szabo has a responsibility to the public and to the whole committee, not just to his partisans and other opposition MPs.  Politically, the Liberals should be careful what they seek now and try to enforce now, as one day they may be on the receiving end.

And so another showdown looms. What is the bet that this also goes to the Speaker for another ruling. Meanwhile Canadians look away in disgust at all the goings on and politicians wring their hands and wonder why voters have given up on Parliament.




Pressure mounts on MPs

While MPs of all parties continue to stonewall the public on the Auditor General’s request to audit Parliament, pressure continues to mount on them.

Most MPs still don’t get it. This is one issue the public can understand and no amount of spin from our MPs or their spokespersons will work. Canadians want to know that the money we entrust to MPs is spent wisely. That’s it pure and simple.

Most Conservative MPs stick to the talk points they were issued on this topic. That alone is interesting as there is certain validity for talk points on bills, party platform etc, where caucus solidarity is important. But this is not about government policy. This is about an MPs personal office budget and who audits it. Conservative MPs should see the centre issuing talk points as an intrusion into an area for which they alone are responsible.

Faced with the public backlash, Jack Layton has gone silent. Now, when has anyone known Jack to walk away from a microphone? He hasn’t even issued a release recently on this subject. The NDP is beginning to shift though as the following comments highlight:

Timmins-James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus said “I think we need to work something out with the Auditor-General.”

Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin “It goes against everything I stand for, we’re getting the shit kicked out of us all.”

To his credit, Hill has shifted his position slightly: "There's an open door. She can come back and discuss this with us.”

As for the Liberals, most of them have gone to ground, the exception being a couple of newer MPs, who have posted the details of their budgets online.

Ignatieff has shifted a bit too. In his latest version of spin on this subject he waffled and said: “What I support is Sheila Fraser, the Auditor General, coming to the Board of Internal Economy and talking about what she wants to do and then taking it from there.”

And the BLOC which is supposed to be the un-Canadian party remains the only one that has clearly said they have no problem with an audit and letting Canadians see the result. Strange world we live in, but then what can you expect when so many hysterical Canadians want proof that the money we entrust to MPs is accurately accounted for.

As Jay hill said: "We are held accountable. It's called an election."

Damn right, and voters won’t forget that either.


MPs are feeling the heat

MPs from all parties are really feeling the heat from voters over the refusal of the Board of Internal Economy to open MPs books to an audit by Sheila Fraser. Cracks are starting to appear in the ranks of our MPs, as some are now suggesting the decision should be reviewed.

To illustrate this change in attitude, you may recall, a month ago Liberal MP and Board of Internal Economy member Marcel Proulx, who, when asked why the committee wouldn't disclose how taxpayer dollars were spent, replied: "Oh, well, it's always been like that, and there's no intention of opening it.”

He may yet regret that little bit of arrogance. Compare Proulx’s comments with that of Peter Stoffer (NDP) who said yesterday:

"Every single one of my constituents that has contacted me, not one has said, ‘Oh, sure, keep it secret, don't let the auditor general around.' No. Every single one has been unanimous in saying let the auditor general do her work."

"I think transparency and openness would not be a bad thing. So my advice to the board, if I was giving it to them, is they should work with the auditor general to allow her to do what she needs to do . . . so the public has confidence in what we're doing."

In addition, Michelle Simson, a first-term Liberal MP from Toronto, and Siobhan Coady, a Liberal from Newfoundland, are already posting details about their office budgets online.

It is interesting how newer MPs don’t mind being open and accountable. It must be because they haven’t yet adopted or given in to the sense of entitlement displayed by some of their other colleagues on the Hill.

Most MPs are careful about how they spent their office budgets and would have nothing to fear from an audit. Why then this intransience? Compare the position of the MPs with what these same MPs expect of cabinet ministers.

Every single staffer working for a minister has all of their ministerial related expenses posted online. Every cabinet minister does as well. If MPs believe openness and accountability must apply to ministers and staff, why not to themselves as well?

This is a true nonpartisan issue as it concerns all MPs from all parties. The public needs to keep up the pressure. MPs are not entitled to our money, they are entrusted with it. As such we have a right to know how they spend it.


Running from the Auditor General

There are media reports that the Auditor General in Nova Scotia has called in the RCMP to investigate four former members and one sitting member of the Nova Scotia legislature.

No surprise then that our federal MPs turned tail and ran at even the suggestion that Shelia Fraser look at their books.

One of the stupidest excuses was from Paul Szabo, the same MP who went on a witch hunt to track down every last cent of Mulroney’s money, who suggested that the public shouldn’t see his own spending, as we would then find out how many times MPS are sued and for what reasons. So just what does Mr Szabo know that he thinks needs to be covered up?  Yes we would learn a few things it would certainly expose a more too. Perhaps we might find out if there were cases of sexual harassment, or verbal abuse of staff, or wrongful dismals?

We would also find out just how much we, the taxpayers were paying to settle these cases before they went to court as MPs and the House try to keep them out of the public eye. For most MPs, it might even stop frivolous lawsuits as the person suing the MP would know their actions would become public knowledge.

Our MPs defend themselves because they say they already have an internal private audit done. Of course they won’t release those details either. I wonder if Nova Scotia and Newfoundland had a private audit system in place prior to their respective Auditor Generals reviewing their spending habits.

The present example in Nova Scotia and the former one in Newfoundland highlight why MPs must come clean. Hiding behind their title as though that should shield them from public scrutiny is arrogant to say the least.

We, the taxpayers of Canada, elect you and you serve us. We pay your salaries and that of your staff. It is our hard earned dollars sitting in the office budgets that you spend. It is time for all of our elected MPs to get off their high horse and face reality. You are not entitled to our money, you are entrusted with it. We deserve to know that you are spending it wisely.


MPs slam the door on the Auditor General

We now know where our MPs stand on being open and accountable. The Board of Internal Economy has rejected a request by the Auditor General to look at their expenses.

Am I the only one who thinks that smells? This is the 21st Century, not the 18th when they would not have to account for how they spent OUR money. This is entitlement at its worse.

The party that was elected on transparency and accountability says NO

The party coming off the sponsorship scandal and which should be interested in showing how honest and transparent they are, says NO

The NDP that claims to represent the interest of average Canadians says NO

And the Bloc which previously said they had no objections must be saying NO as well.

Unfortunately this Board is like a medieval secret society, no one is allowed to talk about what happens at their meetings. Isn’t that a wonderful example of openness and accountability? We can only assume that as above, that all 4 parties agreed to slam the door on the Auditor General. If there was some disagreement and a split vote we will never know unless someone leaks that information to us. I challenge all four parties to tell us how they voted.

If each party is worried that there might be some MP in their ranks who didn’t do everything the right way over the past years, then start with year 2010 and go forward from there. Its not rocket science.

Its time for a popular revolt, MPs are elected and with their election comes the administration of a budget that is paid for by the taxpayer.

Citizens need to send a strong measure and voice their disproval. Sign up for Facebook sites that demand they open their books, write your MP. Demand your MP post all their expenses online.

Next election, go to the all candidates meetings and demand from each candidate that they will agree to post their detailed expenses online. It’s our money, not their money.