Meet the new boss, same as the – wait, no he’s not! Liveblogging Foreign Affairs Committee of the Whole

9:11:26 PM

9:11:26 PM
Alright, I’m here – a little late, it’s true, but that’s due to entirely legitimate fact-finding mission reasons. I was at the special Hill pre-screening of Young People Fucking – yes, the notorious Canadian film that has caused such consternation at the C-10 hearings before the Senate banking committee. The verdict? Absurdly wholesome, and really very sweet. The kind of movie that sucks you in when you’re flipping through the channels on a Sunday afternoon. But that’s not what this liveblogging is about – this is all about the Foreign Affairs main estimates before Committee of the Whole. I’ve missed the first hour or so, but I’m hoping that the best is yet to come.

The layout of the room is — pretty much the same as yesterday, although because the new Foreign Affairs minister’s chair is closer to the centre seat, they’re ever so slightly closer to me than the Flaherty Show. There is the same wee table, with the same frazzled bureaucratic archetypes; one is female this time, which is nice to see.

Oh, it’s not just David Emerson, by the way — Bev Oda and Josee Verner are there, too. Backup, I guess. There is a decent turnout amongst government cheerleader-backbenchers as well – hey, there’s Gordon O’Connor, even. James Moore is sitting apart from the rest of the gaggle, and appears to be wearing earphones. Maybe he managed to sneak in an iPod.

As for the opposition side – we have Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff, and Keith Martin, who is up now. He wants to know whether we have a “specific management plan” to increase Canada’s diplomatic presence abroad. The answer, according to Emerson, is yes.

9:20:57 PM
Anita Neville – another veteran from last night, as is Ted Menzies, who is providing moral support to the minister(s) across the way – asks about Canada’s decision not to sign the United Nations declaration on indigenous people.

According to – is he a minister of state or a parliamentary secretary? – Rod Bruinooge, it’s because it violates everything we’ve been doing for the last two centuries, as far as settling land claims.

I’ve been here for how long, and not a single reference to the carbon tax? This is just weird.

9:24:28 PM
Blaine Calkin is absolutely riveted by what appears to be a very tiny book – or possibly a brochure. He is sitting near the very back of the government side, reading it with a fascination that can only be described as rapt.

9:26:03 PM
Ignatieff is up, and he’s talking Manley Report. He wonders what the government plans to do to address the concerns expressed by the lead author – that would be Manley – over a lack of transparency, and Emerson, clearly ready for that question, at least, describes all the initiatives that *will* happen, from quarterly reports to increased disclosure.

On to corruption in the Karzai government: What is Canada doing to address those concerns, and what about the millions of dollars in foreign aid?

Emerson reminds the committee that rooting out corruption isn’t done in a day; he mentions police pay, which is one of the more notoriously dodgy systems, and seems to have more to say, but this speaker – Royal Galipeau – is more stringent with the time, and cuts his mic. Don’t try that with David Tilson, speaker. Seriously. It gets ugly.
Ignatieff wonders what the government has told the Karzai government, specifically, about what will happen in 2011. They do realize we’re leaving, right? Emerson dismisses the implicit question, and assures him that Karzai and everyone else are well aware that Canada will be leaving.

That inspires an almost enthusiastic round of applause from the backbenchers, and marks the end of the opposition round. Which seems like a good time to post this, so any readers who have been patiently refreshing don’t think I’ve slacked off.

9:47:26 PM
Okay, I don’t want to alarm anyone, but my berryjuice is running alarmingly low, and I’m pretty sure there aren’t any power outlets within reach. But never mind that – Paul Dewar is up, and he’s quizzing the minister on what he insists in calling NAFTA-Gate.

9:49:33 PM
Good gracious, is that Peter Van Loan? Have I fallen into a parallel QP universe, where it’s always sometime between 2:15 and 3pm? I have, apparently, because PVL is failing to answer the question of whether Frank Sensenburner was hired by the American Embassy; PVL jumps at the chance to point out that, as far as the *American* embassy goes, he should ask the Americans.

He’s not going to answer the question, is the gist. Interesting – a simple “no” would, after all, suffice.

9:51:36 PM
An interesting shift – and a new minister answering the question. Deepak Obrai assures Dewar that he’ll get back to him with the cost of repatriating Brenda Martin, but Dewar wonders what vote line – in the estimates – that money would come from.

Ooh, a puzzler.

Emerson tells him that it won’t be there “specifically” but vows to extract the data, which is awfully sporting of him.

I’m getting dizzy with all these different ministers and almost-ministers taking questions. I guess the department decided not to even try to brief a brand new minister on the entire scope of Foreign Affairs; instead, it’s a team effort. A very tired and sullen team.

9:55:40 PM
Now Dewar – who apologizes for his jetlag; he just got back from Afghanistan (“Ooh,” responds a Tory backbencher, somewhat derisively) wants a detailed response to the motion on Afghanistan — the extension, I think — and Emerson tells him that it’s in the works.

Bob Rae hasn’t looked up from his berry yet tonight – at least, not as far as I’ve seen. Oh, and there, he just made a liar out of me. He’s smiling avuncularly across the aisle, and twisting his glasses between his fingers.

Now Dewar wonders if Canada’s embassies are still preparing human rights reviews, because oddly, they don’t seem to be able to get copies anymore. Emerson promises to look into it.

10:00:46 PM
Finally – or maybe finally – Dewar brings up corporate social responsibility, and asks if any review of Barrick Gold has been done. Emerson – who really is doing well, considering that he’s been on the job for less than a week – gives a general answer, but Dewar wants to know if there have been any discussions on the Corporate Social Responsibility report.

10:02:51 PM
And now, back to the Liberals, starting with Raymonde Folco, who wants to talk CIDA. Specifically, how investment in civil society organizations has gone down.

I’m surprised by how restrained everyone is tonight – much less heckley than with Finance. Maybe they’re working on their second twelve hour day too. I’d find it hard to get up the energy to heckle. Hell, I’m finding it hard to get up the energy to type, and that’s second to breathing as far as my basic functions.

10:05:48 PM
I can’t believe PVL is here. I mean, is he really trying to set some sort of parliamentary record for taking questions in the House in a single session? Or is no one else able to read the PMO talking points on the various scandals – NAFTA, Bernier, the Danes laughing at us – with a straight face?

10:08:03 PM
Michael Savage is here again, and he wants to know about the change in policy as far as the death penalty abroad. Does this minister – as opposed to the Justice minister – agree that Canada should advocate for Canadians abroad? Rather embarrassingly for him, Deepak is stuck with an answer that sounds suspiciously like the preamble Savage gave, something about case by case bases.

10:10:21 PM
Savage wonders whether the minister has any thoughts on the fact that Great Britain will no longer include Canada in the Commonwealth Scholarships – I don’t quite get this; why *are* we out of the club? We’re in the Commonwealth, still. This can’t all be Bernier’s fault. Emerson assures him that he will take “personal interest” in the program, and then goes off on a tangent about international students.

And back to the death penalty: does canada have a moral obligation to advocate the elimination around the world? Yes — and no. That really sums it up.

10:13:33 PM
Bob Rae asks for Emerson’s views on China, and the suggestion that there has been a “chill” in relations. Emerson doesn’t take the bait, and lauds the status quo. Canada will continue to advocate trade, but will also speak out on human rights: “We’ll call a spade a spade when we have to.”

Rae pounces: What about the fact that the Prime Minister hasn’t yet visited China? And what about the fact that a former deputy minister – Peter Harder, that scamp – was so alarmed that he penned an op-ed piece for the Globe and Mail on the risk of alienating China. That enlivened the opposition benches; they give Emerson a preemptive round of applause, and afterwards as well, even.

10:30:53 PM
Alright, I don’t want to get anyone’s – by which I mean my – hopes up, but apparently, this isn’t going to go as late as last night; we may be out of here by 11. Which means that even if my tifo failed me and didn’t record the Lost finale, I can catch it on timeshift. I love you, PST.

10:32:50 PM
Back to the opposition side, and the Bloc Quebecois, where an unidentifiable/ed MP is questioning the government — er, minister for Francophonie — on demining in Laos, and the Ottawa Accord on land mines, in general.

Ooh! Cute Australian translator alert! Just hearing his voice renews my sense of purpose. Okay, that sounds a little creepy, but it’s so nice to hear a familiar cadence.

Bev Oda is assuring us that all is well on the demining front, but points out that landmines are prevelant in many countries in conflict, which seems a bit simplistic. Also, they’re dangerous, which is almost beyond simplistic and into insulting: I’m pretty sure the member who asked the question knows that landmines and children playing in the fields don’t mix.

The US and China, Nameless BQ MP points out, continue to produce these weapons – so what are we doing to urge them to stop?

Emerson fields this one, and notes that the most effective strategy is to ensure that more countries sign multinational agreements, which will put moral and diplomatic pressure on those who won’t. But what about the companies that make money from these bombs? I mean, won’t they just — ignore those twinges of guilt?

10:38:59 PM
Ooh, an Omar Khadr question! What steps are being taken by the *current government* to get child soldiers out of this “terrible plight”, and what about our child soldier? See, I would’ve stuck to the specific, because now Deepak Obhrai can just give the usual answer, which is that Canada is providing consular service to Khadr, but will otherwise let the process work.

10:41:19 PM
Someone has forgotten a Sears bag in the House, and there is a pile of crumpled papers visible just behind the curtains on the government side.

10:42:27 PM
“The Honourable Minister for Canadian Heritage — and So On and So Forth” is now, apparently, Josee Verner’s title, as far as Royal Galipeau is concerned.
10:46:37 PM
The Unknown Member is getting testy over bulk water, and the refusal of the opposition to accept that there is no sinister plot to sell it.

10:47:21 PM
Newsiness! Ish! Bob Rae asks about a new report that claims the military judge overseeing the Khadr case has been dismissed – ! – for criticizing the lack of disclosure, which sounds typically appalling. Unfortunately, Obhrai is unmoved, and more importantly, doesn’t have a talking point that covers breaking developments, so we don’t get a real answer to the question.

Rae asks if he can tell him what’s 2 plus 2, and Obhrai sulkily answers: Four. I can hear the hoots in the opposition lobby from here.

Rae says that it was just a test to see if the government members are capable of answering a direct question — apparently, they are. So what about that judge? Did they know? Obhrai insists that he did, too, answer the question, but he continues to not do just that.

And with that, my second committee of the whole in two days comes to a delightfully early close. The members are shuffling out, and even the Conservatives are giggling about Rae’s last round. Me, I’m heading back to the Hot Room to post this, and then going home.

Since this is the second late night, and tomorrow is Friday, I’m going to be taking the day off, so don’t be alarmed if there is a dearth of new posts. I’ll be back after thirteen or fourteen hours of sleep. And the Lost finale, of course. Unless news breaks, in which case just try to get rid of me.