In-and-out sinks to new depths
From Friday's Globe and Mail
August 15, 2008 at 7:53 AM EDT
'We have seen increasing signs that this Parliament is really not working very well any more, it's becoming increasingly dysfunctional," Stephen Harper said yesterday. The Prime Minister's assessment was accurate, and it is time for the election he hinted at.
But after their performance this week, Mr. Harper's Conservatives are full partners in that dysfunction - particularly when it comes to what he described as "a committee system that is increasingly in chaos."
Parliament's ethics committee, justifiably maligned for its often laughable hearings into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, should never have launched its own investigation into the "in-and-out" election spending controversy.
A probe by highly partisan MPs into alleged Conservative improprieties during the last federal campaign was certain to turn into the kangaroo court predicted by Mr. Harper, and has only confused matters as Elections Canada officials carry out a proper investigation. But that does not justify the contempt that the Tories have shown for the committee this week, which has made a mockery of their past promises to strengthen parliamentary democracy.
Summoned by the committee, Conservative officials and operatives could have raised the tone of the hearings - or at least risen above it - by comporting themselves with dignity. Instead, they have lowered the tone to new depths.
The week began with a bizarre stunt by the Conservative campaign manager Doug Finley, who was scheduled to appear on Wednesday but arrived on Monday morning, planted himself at the witness stand and refused to leave until he was escorted from the room by security guards.
The antics continued yesterday, when a former Tory candidate, Sam Goldstein, arrived unannounced two days after his scheduled appearance and occupied much of his time literally screaming at the committee chair, Paul Szabo, and other opposition MPs. At the alleged urging of their party, most of the other would-be Conservative witnesses simply ignored their subpoenas altogether - some of them actively dodging bailiffs' attempting to serve their summons.
The Conservatives may be pleased with their role in making a farce of a committee that has them in its sights. But in the process, they have also undermined the entire system that Mr. Harper purports to be concerned about - and not just for the duration of this Parliament.
By demonstrating that it is possible to deliberately obstruct parliamentary committees without consequences beyond a bit of negative press, they have jeopardized the long-term ability of MPs to conduct hearings into matters of importance. If members of the governing party can thumb their noses at committees, why shouldn't others?