Friday, May 18, 2007

Steve's Rules of Disorder

Usually, when you chair a committee (as I have numerous times or as the Speaker of the House does when it's in session), your role is simply to be a non-partisan enforcer of the accepted rules of order to ensure fair debate and decision-making - whether they be Robert's Rules or, in the case of parliament, Marleau and Montpetit.

Well, move over guys because Steve Harper has his own rule book.

As Don Martin reports in The National Post after securing a copy of the 200 page secret Tory rules for committee chairs, non-partisanship has been tossed out the window and disorder is the new rule in town:

Running some 200 pages including background material, the document -- given only to Conservative chairmen -- tells them how to favour government agendas, select party-friendly witnesses, coach favourable testimony, set in motion debate-obstructing delays and, if necessary, storm out of meetings to grind parliamentary business to a halt.

No need to wonder anymore why the committee process has suffered tremendously under the so-called leadership of this government. Martin provides specifics:

The manual offers up speeches for a chairman under attack and suggests committee leaders have been whipped into partisan instruments of policy control and agents of the Prime Minister's Office. Among the more heavy-handed recommendations in the document:

- That the Conservative party helps pick committee witnesses. The chairman "should ensure that witnesses suggested by the Conservative Party of Canada are favourable to the government and ministry," the document warns.

- The chairmen should also seek to "include witnesses from Conservative ridings across Canada" and make sure their local MPs take the place of a member at the committee when a constituent appears, to show they listen and care.

- The chairmen should "meet with witnesses so as to review testimony and assist in question preparation."

- Procedural notes tell the chairmen to always recognize a Conservative member just before a motion is put to a vote "and let them speak as long as they wish" --a manoeuvre used to kick-start a filibuster as a stall tactic.

- Chairmen are told to notify all affected ministries prior to a motion being voted upon. "Communicate concerns with the Prime Minister's Office, House leader or whip," the document insists. "Try to anticipate the response of the press and how party could be portrayed."

- The guide says a "disruptive" committee should be adjourned by the chairman on short notice. "Such authority is solely in the discretion of the chair. No debate, no appeal possible." By failing to appoint the vice-chair to run the meeting, the adjournment will last until the chair is ready to reconvene the committee.

Besides the obvious slime tactics, I find it interesting that it took 200 pages to detail how to use them when so many of these behaviours just come naturally to some of these mean-spirited, highly partisan politicians.

And the justification?

Government whip Jay Hill makes no apologies for increased contact with committee chairs to keep tighter control on tactics, but blames a gang-up of opposition parties for the government's recent combative stance.

It's always somebody else's fault when the Conservatives behave badly.

"They're increasingly behaving as though they're a coalition government cooking up deals behind closed doors. We're going to use the tools at our disposal to try and push back," he told me. "Canadians elected a Conservative minority government, not a coalition of opposition parties."

It's a conspiracy!

What's interesting is that these tories wouldn't even be the government anymore if they hadn't formed coalitions (behind those scary closed doors) with opposition parties to do things like getting their budget passed. It's also not surprising though that people like Hill have the "winner take all" mentality of a person who thinks minority=majority. Thus the paranoid need to steamroll and bully at every opportunity. If they can't always get their way in the house, why not manipulate the committees? Their manipulator-in-chief obviously condones the behaviour. Might as well power-grab while you have the chance Steve because, at the rate you and your cronies are going, you're not going to have much longer to play that political game.

Oh ya, and Jay? You might want to order one of these. What the heck. Put in a bulk order for all of the committee chairs. Anything that can make them feel more secure has got to be worth the cost and I'm pretty sure the instruction manual is much less than 200 pages.

(h/t to Lynne in the comments for pointing out Don Martin's story.)

No comments:

Post a Comment