Do we now put an asterisk on that debate?

Elizabeth May says Stephen Harper brought crib notes to one of last year's debates

Do we now put an asterisk on that debate?Elizabeth May says Stephen Harper brought crib notes to one of last year’s debates.

The Green party leader had fought hard to be included in the national televised debates during the campaign for last October’s election, and remembers participants were told they would be provided with blank index cards for taking notes, but they were forbidden to bring their own background material.

“Stephen Harper’s staff took care to print out background notes on index cards, but they picked the wrong-sized cards. And no one writes in printer font. Looking over from my seat, I remember the shock of realizing he was cheating,” May writes in her new book. “I felt like I was back in grade school. Do you ‘tattle’ on a cheater? Now, all I can think is ‘What were his staff thinking?’ It is clear they thought he wouldn’t be caught.”

The other revelation in May’s new book—which serves as a decent review of various outrages—is that Don Martin allowed her a look at his copy of the Conservative handbook on parliamentary mayhem. Here’s her review of that.

The handbook is several hundred pages and Martin is the only journalist to have a copy, although he allowed me to have a peek. Entitled In the Hot Seat: An Evening Primer for Committee Chairs, it sets out how to ensure committee witnesses are favourable to the government’s positions and how to strangle opposition motions in procedural red tape through long-winded rulings from the chair sprinkled with frequent references to respected works on parliamentary procedure. Same speeches are ready-made for committee chairs. When looking through the handbook, I realized I had heard Bob Mills deliver portions of the canned speech entitled, “Defending a Ruling that a Motion to Put the Question Is Out of Order.” It is nearly incomprehensible, but has the benefit of being extremely long, replete with reading into the record pages of rules of parliamentary practice from the book House of Commons Procedure and Practice, by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit.

Further advice for committee chairs includes the throwing-down-a-pencil-and-storming-out-of-the-room gambit. It even suggests all Conservative members should be prepared to walk out from time to time if the committee’s work is not going the government’s way. Here is one extract:

Once vote called, either have CPC members vote against the matter or at least abstain from the vote. Alternatively, CPC members could consider refusing to deal with the matter and simply leave the room so as not be party to this charade. (Protect CPC party from broad the strokes to the media [sic].)

All of the ungrammatical, nonsensical aspects of that paragraph are as they appear in the handbook. Here is another typical bit of advice: “Eventually the opposition will wise up that they need to adjourn debate on the motion before they can vote on it.”

The committee chair handbook is all part of the conversion of the House as government to the House as organ for communicating the political and partisan message of the Harper PMO. The chairs are constantly reminded to “avoid bad press, to limit opposition rhetoric, protect the interests of the party.” As one bullet point puts it: “Consider the political ‘Big Picture’ and the role that committee plays within the Big Picture.”

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