Friday, February 14, 2014

The sneaky, creepy Harper government's Gong Show!


Tories approved $600,000 in Commons committee trips before rejecting cross-country hearings on election overhaul bill

Conservative MPs approved more than $600,000 worth of Commons committee trips across Canada and abroad before the government rejected opposition requests that a committee reviewing controversial changes to federal election law conduct hearings across the country.

By Tim Naumetz
Thursday, February 13, 2014

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski, Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, pictured in this file photo. MPs will have to move notice for a motion to approve the travel, after the NDP denied the necessary unanimous approval for a speedy approval on Wednesday. (The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright)

PARLIAMENT HILL—Conservative MPs approved more than $600,000 worth of Commons committee trips across Canada and abroad before the government rejected opposition requests that a committee reviewing controversial changes to federal election law conduct hearings across the country.

The NDP rebelled in the Commons on Wednesday and temporarily blocked trips that had been earlier approved to carry out reviews on trade, finance and other issues in Canada, the U.S., and cities in South America, after the government rejected an NDP proposal to take hearings into the sweeping electoral law changes across Canada.

An NDP motion calls on the Procedure and House Affairs Committee to conduct hearings through every major region to give the public a chance to respond to the Canada Elections Act changes, especially in rural and inner city electoral districts where tens of thousands of voters could be affected by a provision to end a vouching system that allows electors without formal ID to cast ballots on the oath of a neighbor or someone else who knows them.

After earlier in the week indicating that cost was the chief government concern over taking the election bill on the road for public reaction that otherwise could be heard through video-conference testimony, Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski (Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre, Saskatchewan) told reporters on Thursday the government suspects the NDP would use the public hearings outside the capital as a stage for protests and anti-government demonstrations.

Mr. Lukiwski predicted a “gong show” as the NDP and its sympathizers and union allies attempted to influence public opinion.

“There’s going to be a gong show,” said Mr. Lukiwski. “Committees travel for one purpose normally, and that is to do a study, not to discuss legislation and not to bring legislation across Canada.”

“When I say a gong show, it’s not insulting to Canadians,” Mr. Lukiwski said. “I’m talking about the fact that, without question, the NDP would have things organized so there would be union protests, other friends or those sympathetic to the NDP cause, would be out there making mass demonstrations trying to disrupt the committee, and to try and influence public opinion. It’s all for show.”

Minutes of a Commons subcommittee in charge of approving or rejecting proposals for committee travel show that the Conservative majority on the subcommittee has approved $670,332 worth of travel for five committees—including trips to Washington, D.C.; Santiago, Chile; Lima, Peru; Bogota, Colombia; and Mexico City—since the beginning of the new session of Parliament last fall.

The subcommittee minutes do not indicate how the MPs voted, but out of the three meetings where those decisions took place, one opposition MP and four Conservative MPs were present at one meeting, two opposition MPs, and five Conservatives were present at another and five Conservative MPs, with no opposition MPs present, attended the third meeting.

The latest travel cost the subcommittee approved, this past Tuesday, was $170,000 for visits to eight cities in Canada and the U.S. on a study of rail safety being undertaken by the House Transport Committee.

No minutes were yet available for that meeting, but a Conservative majority dominated that meeting as well. The government will have to move notice for a motion to approve the travel, after the NDP denied the necessary unanimous approval for speedy approval on Wednesday.

“I can’t believe it would cost us that much more to do the same thing in Canada on the election bill,” Mr. Christopherson said in an interview.

Mr. Lukiwski’s forecast of protests was one of several controversial statements by government MPs as the committee hearings into the legislation continued to sputter without starting, including an earlier accusation Mr. Lukiwski aimed at Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand over comments the Ottawa Citizen reported he made to a gathering of Elections Canada staff at an annual meeting.

The newspaper quoted an unidentified source saying Mr. Mayrand accused the government of drafting the legislation in retaliation for past Elections Canada clashes with the Conservative party—including charges that led to a guilty plea from the party on charges of using an internal money-transfer scheme to exceed its spending limit for the 2006 general election and charges that were laid last year against a party campaigner in Guelph, Ontario over thousands of fraudulent calls that attempted to steer voters away from their correct polling locations.

“It almost sounded, the way I read the article, it was almost like a campaign style speech to rally them up, to get them angry at the government,” Mr. Lukiwski said when he addressed the Minister in charge of the bill, Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton, Ontario), at a committee appearance on Thursday.

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“I can only interpret that as being, in my mind at least, political activism. I may be wrong, but it certainly appeared that way to me,” Mr. Lukiwski said.

Mr. Poilievre declined to respond to Mr. Lukiwski’s comments.

“Listen, I don’t take these things personally. In politics, emotions can run high from time to time, I haven’t read the speech, and so I won’t comment on its substance,” Mr. Poilievre said.

Mr. Mayrand has publicly stated the legislation will hamper the commissioner of Canada Elections to conduct investigations into alleged electoral wrongdoing and will also prevent the Chief Electoral Commissioner from communicating freely with voters—as Elections Canada did following an outcry in 2012 over alleged illegal robocalls by Conservative Party campaigners.

As well, a section of the legislation that would exclude party solicitations during campaigns for contributions from past donors as declarable election expenses, subject to spending limits, could benefit the Conservative party more than the opposition parties.

Mr. Christopher reacted with astonishment at Mr. Lukiwsk’s concern the committee hearings would incite protests from the electorate.

“People might want to express their view in a free society, fair enough, so what? They do their demonstration, if they do, and then we go into the meeting and do our business as we would. Where’s the harm? What’s been damaged? How did we lose anything? I can argue what we’re losing if we don’t have those hearings,” Mr. Christopherson said.


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