So this is it - the final countdown? - Liveblogging the Ethics committee debate on Conservatives' in and out ad scheme

3:24:55 PM
Signs That Are Not All That Promising: You walk into committee, and the first thing you hear is one clerk telling another that he’s hoping he won’t have to stay all night and the other clerk replies by telling him, brightly, that there’s a roster.

Oh, good. Is there someone there who can spell off an exhausted liveblogger?

Yeah, so apparently, the rumours are true: there’s a fairly good chance that this afternoon’s meeting of the Ethics committee could turn into an evening meeting, then a midnight meeting—hell, maybe even a breakfast meeting. It all depends on whether the Conservatives launch a last ditch attempt to filibuster the vote on a motion to investigate the Conservative in and out advertising scandal, which is hauntingly similar, in substance, to that fateful motion that brought Procedure and House Affairs to an ignomious end. There’s a key difference this time around, though.

Unlike Proc, which was chaired by the ever-obliging Gary Goodyear, who was always willing to call a five minute break to allow a filibustering colleague to slip off to the men’s room, this committee is run by Paul Szabo, and he’s prepared to make them sit all night if that’s what it takes — and it very well might.

3:36:01 PM
If you’re wondering why the meeting hasn’t started yet, it’s because of a vote—the members are only just starting to trickle into the room and the chair hasn’t made his entrance yet. If he’s carrying supplies for a sit-in, we’ll know this could be a long night.

3:37:56 PM
David Tilson, ladies and gentleman, wearing a truly spectacular hot pink and violet paisley tie. That’ll keep me awake if nothing else does.

The atmosphere, by the way, is surprisingly jovial. The members are teasing each other from across the table, and no one seems particularly fussed by the idea of a filibuster. I suppose there’s an outside chance that the government members will decide to just let the motion go through, secure in the knowledge that any investigation won’t get underway until October at the very earliest.

3:42:27 PM
Alright, the chair is here and there seems to be a quorum, so I suspect we’ll start soon. I’ll know soon enough whether this is going to be an all-nighter or not.

3:43:24 PM
And… Here we go. You know, this may be the first time this motion has ever actually been debated. I don’t think we’ve gotten even this far at the last two meetings.

3:44:19 PM
Right on schedule, points of order in stereo from Pierre Poilièvre and David Tilson. Poilièvre gets to go first. He notes that there has been considerable discussion of the Ethics code and asks, as a point of clarification, whether anyone will be obliged to recuse themselves—or be recused—from this debate.

The chair rules that the committee doesn’t have the authority to recuse a member, and that sends Russ Hiebert into a tizzy.

Unfortunately, he has to wait his turn, because now it’s for David Tilson, who, for the first time ever, seems to be raising an actual Point of Order, and not just a rambling, Andy Rooneyesque rant against the chair. I have no idea where he’s going with it, but at least he’s consulting actual research material. Marleau and Montpetit!

3:50:24 PM
Oh, there he goes. I was starting to wonder if he’d been replaced by a clone. Mulroney, Thibault, no work plan, Szabo’s not the boss of him, oh no he’s not.

3:52:35 PM
Tilson having momentarily run out of steam, the chair jumps in, and reminds him that he doesn’t make decisions—the committee does.

Mike Wallace just wandered in. Literally. He kind of ambled through the door, toting his rolling suitcase and eventually gravitated to his usual chair. I hope he isn’t too disappointed when he finds out that they’re not dealing with privacy reform.

Meanwhile, Szabo rules against Tilson and tries to go back to debate on the motion, which sends him into a fit of fury. Doesn’t he have the right of reply? He has things to say! Szabo keeps talking, and Tilson keeps shouting. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” he snarls. “It’s a dictatorship,” says Russ Hiebert, and now Poilièvre has a separate point of order.

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that chaos has pretty well ensued.

3:58:15 PM
Poilièvre points out that the chair does not have the right to “censor disorder,” which he seems to be suggesting has something to do with depriving Tilson of his right to speak.

It’s going to be a very long afternoon.

When the chair tries to go back to Hubbard, who hasn’t yet said a word, Poilièvre insists he has a separate point of order.

“You’re not a member of the Fascist Party, you’re in the Liberal Party,” Hiebert reminds the chair. Can I call Godwin at this point?

4:02:41 PM
The chair finally gave up and let Poilièvre make his point, which seems to be about allowing debate on points of order. “We have to allow the voices to be heard,” he implores the chair. Free the Ethics Five!

Szabo notes that he ruled Tilson didn’t have a point of order, and warns the government side not to push him.

4:04:13 PM
And finally, Charles Hubbard has the chair for approximately seven seconds before Poilièvre moves a point of order. “You have to recognize me,” he notes, not un-smugly.

I can’t imagine they’re having this much fun over at the Bernier inquiry.

4:05:24 PM
I’ve lost track of whose point of order we’re on, but whatever it is, the chair has directed everyone to the section of Marleau and Montpetit that deals with disorder and misconduct, and reads a definition that, actually, sounds like a point by point description of what the Conservative strategy seems to be. I think we may have found the secret dirty tricks handbook!

4:09:20 PM
The chair is trying, once again, to give the floor to Hubbard, but Tilson cuts him short with a point of order “in support of my friend, Mr. Poilièvre,” who, he claims, the chair is ignoring.

“Why don’t you challenge the chair?” asks a Liberal. Man, I’d forgotten there were any other parties here. Russ Hiebert is brandishing a green volume, and… Wait, somehow, Charles Hubbard just retook the floor!

On the other side of the table, the Conservatives huddle. They have not yet begun to filibuster.

4:13:17 PM
Charles Hubbard has now been speaking for an unprecedented five minutes. He’s recapping the in-and-out scandal, which I’ll spare you all. I figure if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably got the basics covered.

Pierre Poilièvre just summoned one of the clerks over to his side of the table. I sense plotting!

4:15:47 PM
Hubbard has finished his statement, and says that he’s about to move to rescind the vote taken last week—that was to sustain the ruling of the chair, and I’m confused. Oh, wait. That motion will be debateable too, which means the process moves one step back, as the committee debates whether the main motion, the in-and-out one, was in order. Don’t worry, none of this will be on the final exam.

Paul Szabo has donned a pair of mirrored sunglasses. I have no idea why. Oh, he’s rubbing his eye. I bet he’s a fellow hay fever sufferer and probably doesn’t want to take Benadryl because he wants to be at peak capacity to wrangle with the Furious Five.

He says that he consulted with the clerks and they confirmed that the motion to rescind—the takesy backsy motion—can’t be moved, since debate is underway on the main motion.

Now Poilièvre is arguing for a roll call vote, because… What? Why would that change the inevitable outcome? “Thanks for your help,” the chair tells him. I can almost see the sarcasm dripping from here.

The chair is sustained, and it’s off to Mike Wallace. Wait, no. Russ Hiebert is up. I have no earthly idea where we are at this point.

4:26:03 PM
Okay, we’re on the main motion and Hiebert wants to discuss the nature of the motion, which he believes is out of order. The chair doesn’t think that’s appropriate, since he already ruled it in order, but Hiebert insists that it is “his time”—his! Not Szabo’s! Can you hear the people sing? It is the song of cranky men. It is the music of a Hiebert who will not be ruled out of order again!

Ooh, Szabo just cut off Hiebert—for reallsies—because even after three warnings, he refused to speak to the motion. “This is unbelievable,” he spits. Cue David Tilson with a point of order and asks whether any of his colleagues will be allowed to speak. “Mr. Chair, you can’t do this,” says Hiebert. “You don’t have the authority.” Actually, I think he does.

4:30:56 PM
I can’t believe I forgot to pack a supply of Diet Coke. Worst. Filibuster Prep. Ever. I brought like, sandwiches to Environment, and they didn’t last past 11pm!

4:32:44 PM
Mike Wallace is up now, and he reads the motion (in full) and moves an amendment. Wait, I recognize this amendment. Do I ever? It’s the same amendment that broke Procedure and House Affairs; it adds the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois to the list of parties to be studied. What, no NDP?

Szabo rules the amendment out of order. Oh, it’s on. This is what happens when you deliberately step on the chair’s last nerve. Wallace insists that the amendment is in order.

“I’m ready to read the Elections Act!” He trills, while snapping his fingers. Mike Wallace is so much odder than I ever suspected.

The chair re-rules the amendment out of order, on the grounds that the study has to deal with public office holders, of which there are none in the Liberal or Bloc Québécois parties.

“Brian Mulroney wasn’t a public office holder,” Poilièvre says. Fair point, but that ship has sailed.

Marcel Proulx just had to fetch Pat Martin from the back of the room, where he was talking on his cell phone, because he has to vote on sustaining the chair’s ruling that the Wallace motion was out of order. Again. “My first motion,” Wallace says, somewhat ominously.

4:41:13 PM
After the chair’s ruling is sustained, once again—Pat Martin didn’t even get off his phone to vote—Wallace, true to his word, moves a second amendment. This one would include just the Liberals and the Conservatives and would be in order, he argues, since they were public office holders within the Liberal Party at the time. None of them have been accused of violating the Elections Act, as far as I know. Isn’t that sorta the crux?

4:44:05 PM
After consulting with the clerk, the chair rules the second amendment out of order. Mike Wallace demands to hear it from the clerk, telling Szabo, “I don’t know if I believe you.” I think I feel sorriest for the clerks. Especially right now, because Wallace is insisting on hearing from the clerk. Why can’t he hear from the clerk?

Now Sukh Dhaliwal has gotten into the debate and he and Wallace bellow at each other across the floor while the chair makes notes.

4:48:49 PM
Mike Wallace wants to know if he keeps his speaking spot even if he challenges the chair. Priorities, damnit! Another chair challenge, another roll call, another victory for the chair. “I’m really against the chair,” mutters Tilson. Hiebert mistakes the vote for an opportunity to talk about his feelings and gets shut down

I wonder when we set the record for the most unsuccessful challenges to a chair in a single meeting.

4:50:54 PM

Amendment #3 from Mike Wallace: to delete the word “ethical” from the motion. Will it be found in order? The suspense: it kills!

Did I mention how very, very hot and stuffy it is in here? Because it is and, apparently, the windows don’t open.

4:54:38 PM
Now the Conservatives (Mike Wallace, with help from the Greek chorus) want to drag every single Liberal before the committee to talk about how they, as an individual candidate, upheld the Elections Act.

“We’re not being investigated by Elections Canada,” points out Proulx. “That’s the problem,” sneers Poilièvre. “Go ask your friends at Elections Canada,” suggests another member. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the voices apart when your eyes are on the screen. Poilièvre then goes into a weird tangent about how Chrétien stuffed the organization with Liberals and, really, save it for a comment thread on a sympathetic blog somewhere.

4:58:26 PM
“You are the Cicero of the House of Commons,” Hiebert tells the chair, appropos of nothing in particular.

Another challenge. May have to make that a macro.

I’m not entirely sure how the chair can make the committee sit all night, by the way. I guess we’ll find out in half an hour.

5:00:50 PM

David Tilson wants the chair to give a “clear explanation” of an amendment that would be in order. “You must respect the authority of the chair,” Szabo reminds him. “If the chair is worthy of respect,” snipes Hiebert.

And that seems to have been the last straw—at least for the moment. Szabo suspends the meeting for ten minutes, and leaves the chair, presumably to regain his temper.

5:10:19 PM
We’re not yet back, but Pierre Poilièvre is roaming the committee room, telling everyone who will listen that the Liberals did the very same thing, and tells a skeptical Marcel Proulx that he “doesn’t know how lucky you Liberals have it”—they have “friends all over town.”

You know, I think he really does believe his own conspiracy theorizing on Elections Canada. I don’t know if that makes this better or worse.

5:17:39 PM
Ten minutes having come and gone, the meeting should, in theory, be back in session, but the chair is caught up in conversation with Hiebert and Poilièvre, and seems to have lost track of time.

The opposition members joke about turning up the heat. Please, no.

5:21:12 PM
Back in order, and Szabo explains that he needed some time to calm down, and apologizes(!) for being impatient. With that, he hands the floor over to Mike Wallace, who moves another amendment—this is #4, if anyone is counting. This would add a line about public office holders who were candidates for the Liberal Party at the time of the last election.

Hey, you know who totally qualifies? David Emerson!

Sadly for lovers of unintended consequences, the chair rules the amendment out of order, as it goes outside the scope of the motion and doesn’t actually make sense, if you read it in the context of the motion.

5:26:47 PM
Challenge. Chair sustained.

Wallace won’t back down—he reads a past ruling by the chair back at him and confesses his utter bafflement at the change in perspective.

5:29:30 PM
Like clockwork, the Conservatives begin calling for the committee to adjourn. “Bang the gavel, let’s go,” says Wallace.

Oh my goodness. Food! Is that a mirage? A mistake? I don’t care! I’ll eat the dream cookies and drink the imaginary diet coke.

5:32:04 PM
The chair tries to move onto Poilièvre, which sends Wallace into yet another fit. “I still have the right to speak to the main motion!” He whines. Unmoved, Szabo hands the floor over to Poilièvre, who notes that there are ceremonies going on in commemoration of Apology Day. Why not suspend for a couple of hours, and come back once they’re over?

Szabo looks like he’s considering the idea. He puts the motion to adjourn until the next meeting to a vote: the government votes in favour, the opposition vote against, and that’s that.

5:36:33 PM
During a split second that I wasn’t paying attention—I was staring at the drink tub, if you must know—Poilièvre managed to raise the ire of the chair and then needled him for calling order. “Get yourself in order,” he shoots back. Szabo cuts his mic—because that’s what fascists do, one Conservative observes. Yes, that’s exactly how fascism starts—at parliamentary committees.

5:40:20 PM
Poilièvre is now delivering one of his trademark “They did it too” speeches, and even revives the “In … Out …” chant. Let’s see how long he can go. “Where is Elections Canada?” is the refrain.

Szabo interrupts him and when he refuses to stop talking, moves onto the next speaker: David Van Kesteren – or DVK, as he will henceforth be known.

5:44:44 PM
And we’re suspended until 9:30! Really? Wow. Okay, that was unexpected—and welcome, because I could use the break. I’ll meet you back here in however many minutes that is. And I’ll be ready to go all night.

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