Gerard Kennedy and the Infrastructure Spending Sunshine Express: Liveblogging the Transport and Infrastructure committee

As promised, ITQ will be liveblogging the debate over at the Transport, Infrastructure and Communities committee this afternoon, so check back at 3:30 pm or thereabouts-ish — there’s a bit of routine in camera business first — for full coverage.

3:26:34 PM
Greetings from the wilds of West Block, where ITQ is currently cooling her platform heels in the hall outside 209 WB, one eye firmly affixed to the most unwelcoming sign designating the interior as strictly off limits to media, which Gerard Kennedy assures her will be coming down as soon as they’ve dealt with the first bit of fiddly housekeeping business on the agenda. After that, it’s on to his matched set of motions, the first of which would invite a no doubt entirely willing Kevin Page to discuss the PBO’s efforts to track the government’s infrastructure spending spree, and the second to coax a perhaps slightly more reticent Gordon Landon — formerly the Conservative candidate in Markham — to tell the committee what he knows about how those spending decisions are made. Doesn’t that sound informative? We’ll see if Kennedy’s fellow committee members agree.

3:35:14 PM
Well, the meeting has started; ITQ heard the sound of the gavel just as the door was closing. So, how long will she — and it is a she, not a we, for those of you who like to keep track of media attendance — end up standing out here, BlackBerry at the ready? According to the release from Kennedy’s office — posted earlier — it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to go through the report currently under discussion, but if there was going to be a filibuster attempt by members of a certain governing party — not that ITQ is saying there will, mind you — this would be the perfect juncture.

3:42:49 PM
Oh, please don’t let them have taken ITQ’s advice.

3:48:18 PM

Report of possible shenanigans in progress: Apparently, there *was* an attempt made — by whom, exactly, we don’t know, but it seems likely that it was an opposition member — to switch around the order of business for today, which would have allowed the committee to debate the Kennedy motions first, but alas, it was unsuccessful.

4:03:02 PM

Just in case anyone out there is still hitting refresh, ITQ is still here, monitoring the hallway.

4:17:56 PM
Hurray! We’re in! Let the debate begin!

4:19:54 PM
Well, let the debate begin as soon as the chair — Merv Tweed, as it happens — is back in position; I guess they’ve suspended for a few minutes to … come to think of it, I can’t think of any reason why they’d have to suspend; it’s not like there are witnesses to settle in.

Oh, there we go — the chair is welcoming us back with a jaunty tap of the gavel, and recaps the first part of meeting for those of us who missed it; it seems to involve Bill C-310 — the airline passenger bill of rights, if I’m not mistaken — which will have its moment in the spotlight in early November.

4:23:49 PM
Without further ado, it’s on to the Kennedy motions, beginning with that which would invite Kevin Page to appear before the committee, and give him the opportunity, according to Mover Kennedy, to give an outline of the infrastructure spending thus far. He hopes that everyone agrees, what with the PBO being an “independent position” — take that, Carolyn Bennett — and the growing need for an independent review of the program.

4:27:24 PM
Lois Brown, ITQ can report, does not look remotely convinced by Kennedy’s pitch; she and Candice Hoeppner are staring daggers across the table, particularly when Kennedy tabled his report — not as evidence, but just for information purposes. You know, for kids!

4:30:35 PM
Brian Jean is the first to respond, and notes with a weary affection that Kennedy has brought more motions than any other member of the committee, and reminds him that no Liberal member went along during the committee’s recent trip to the United States — no, ITQ isn’t quite sure how that is relevant to the issue at hand — before switching tacks and claiming that Kennedy’s staff misrepresented themselves when calling up those project, and yeah, at this point, ITQ was perilously close to losing the thread. Kennedy calls on the chair to stop Jean from making false statements about his research practices, but Tweed is unmoved: as far as he can tell, it’s a point of debate, not an order.

4:35:19 PM
Okay, how did this turn into a debate over Gerard Kennedy’s infrastructure report, and how on earth can Brian Jean suggest, with a straight face, that all the information anyone could want is available on the Building Canada website?

You know, I actually can’t tell whether Jean — by which, of course, I mean the government – going to support this motion or not. All he’s doing is sniping at Kennedy. Oh, I guess not — he just called it “unhelpful”.

4:37:24 PM
Bloquiste Mario Laframboise wonders if Page is actually the right person, or, more specifically, the person who can answer their questions — he thinks that the Auditor General may have more to say. (Is she really conducting a review of the infrastructure program? Doesn’t she usually wait until the dust has settled before breaking out her much-feared microscope?)

Anyway, he suggests that they find out from the PBO what, if anything, he can tell them, and notes that he will be voting against Kennedy’s motion, but only because he doesn’t want to waste Page’s time; he thinks they can come up with a compromise motion.

4:40:29 PM
The Conservatives are definitely under instructions — well, strong recommendations, at least — to tweak Kennedy over what I gather we’re to believe is a spotty at best attendance record. Oh, and Lois Brown thinks this motion is “inappropriate” as well.

4:43:58 PM
Dennis Bevington, on the other hand, seems to be four square behind it — he can’t understand why the government wouldn’t want to get those numbers out there, and show how this program is getting things done for Canadians; he thinks the motion could be “fleshed out” with more detail via friendly amendment, but otherwise, he thinks it’s just fine.

4:45:44 PM
Although he’s still ostensibly debating his motion to invite Page to appear, Kennedy takes advantage of his second turn at the mic to mount a spirited defence of his report, and reminds Laframboise that the AG has “different responsibilities” — she investigates money that has already spent, and not — money that is in the process of maybe or maybe not being spent.

4:49:47 PM
This is the infrastructure committee, Kennedy reminds all and sundry — how can it *possibly* have taken *this* long for it to look into the government’s infrastructure program? Which is, admittedly, a good question: apparently, they’ve been swanning off to study light rail and other such tangential matters. Of course, a perfectly good response would be: What took you so long to bring forward a motion to do so, sir?

4:54:04 PM
Another Kennedy-never-shows-up shot from Jeff Watson, who claims that he’s only here when it involves a “politically sexy” issue — like this one. He then goes into a rambling diatribe against the media — by which he means ITQ, who is the only reporter in attendance, and who, contrary to his innuendo, is not in anyone’s “tow”. for the record.

He works himself into a tizzy by the end of his rant, and then huffs off to the snack table, handing the floor over to Hoeppner, who seems to think that committees have the power to call elections. Sorry, “unwanted elections”, which is how any such exercise in forcible democracy is to be styled for the foreseeable future, at least as far as the official talking points.

5:02:06 PM
Sukh Dhaliwal speaks in favour of the motion, or in favour of the *idea* of the motion, or the concept of the idea, but Mario Laframboise is still cautiously pessimistic that Page really knows much more than the rest of us, at least as far as the infrastructure rollout.

Meanwhile, Brian Jean once again pretends that he thinks Gerard Kennedy has no idea that exists — seriously, you guys, we’ve *all* seen the ads — and then reads from various news clippings. He’s also still after Kennedy to tell the committee who his office purported to represent when they called the various projects, which ITQ, frankly, finds baffling; is he really suggesting that this information should have been kept back from anyone other than an authorized government agency? Because that doesn’t sound like the party of transparency that ITQ remembers from the days of the *last* infrastructure spending spree.

5:10:41 PM
With that, the chair closes debate — no fussin’ or filibustering, but straight to the vote, and it fails when Laframboise and his Bloc colleague vote with the government on what seem, to ITQ, at least, to be fairly reasonable gounds.

5:12:02 PM
And now, onto the motion to invite the former Conservative candidate turned “accidental whistleblower”, according to Kennedy. Does his former party believe Gordon Landon should be “stifled” from expressing his views, or sharing what he knows about the allocation of funds? Oh, what do you *think*, Gerard? Seriously, no. “He’s still a card-carrying member of the Conservative Party,” he notes — yet he has shown a “willingness to speak out publicly” and an independent streak, all of which makes him an excellent potential witness.

5:14:48 PM
Brian Jean can barely restrain his snickers — this is a “witch hunt”, he sniffs; he’s never so much as met Mr. Langdon (sic), and the suggestion that there is a vast conspiracy at work is just a little bit “repugnant”.

5:17:22 PM
Okay, so the Bloc Quebecois is once again siding with the government — as far as Laframboise is concerned, the allocation in Quebec, at least, has been fair and equitable, and they — the Bloc, that is, and Quebeckers, presumably — are happy with how the money is being spent. For the most part. He thinks this motion is nothing more than a “settling of scores,” so he’ll be voting against it.

5:19:42 PM
Kennedy tries to be gracious in responding to the Bloc critique — he understands that Landon won’t have much to offer as far as new information on Quebec, and now *he* keeps referring to him as “Langdon”; anyway, he knows that he’s lost this round, but makes — or re-makes — his case once again.

5:22:32 PM
This time around, not even the NDP votes with Team Kennedy: the motion is defeated, 6 to 3. So that’s that, and with no further business — oh, put that hand down, Brian Jean — we’re adjourned.

And that’s all for today’s show. Is it still raining out there? Come to think of it, given the apocalyptic skies earlier this afternoon, if it is, would that be water, or toads?

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