Is that a ringing in my ears or just the sound of bells coming off?

Liveblogging the Oliphant Commission

After all, it’s been, a decade and a half since former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made the fateful decision to go into business with wily Austrian German weapons dealer turned pasta salesman Karlheinz Schreiber — what’s another few days between what opposing attorneys always – and nearly always with a straight face – refer to as friends?

And so, on the agenda today: A motion filed on behalf of the former PM that would postpone the public hearings scheduled to start at the end of the month, by two weeks – until April 14 in order to give the commission sufficient time to respond to his other, more contentious motion: a request for clarification and direction on last month’s ruling on standards of conduct, which is the subject of a separate special hearing set for next week.

9:25:17 AM
I’m here! Which is not just a statement of fact today but a celebration of a hard-won triumph over adversity; the adversity in this case being my failure to notice that today’s hearing would not be taking place at the usual location of Old City Hall, but the Government Conference Centre, several very, very, very long blocks away. Cue frantic hailing of cab outside the Lester B. Pearson building.

Anyway, I made it to the *actual* hearing just in time, and am now somewhat breathlessly trying to figure out which lawyer, exactly, is currently proposing a compromise on timing.

Oh, it’s Richard Wolson, the lead counsel for the commission. He is sympathetic to Pratte’s request for delay, but notes that some witnesses wll be difficult to reschedule.

In that case, he suggests, perhaps the most sensible approach would be to start as scheduled on March 30th, with background witnesses, and then break until April 15th, as the Mulroney motion requests.

9:34:54 AM
The judge listens somewhat impassively to Wolson’s position, tells him that he won’t comment until after he’s heard from all counsel, and then hands the floor over to Guy Pratte.

9:37:13 AM
According to Pratte, the delay really is necessary so that his client – Mulroney – can be entirely sure of what the standard will be, as far as judging his conduct, which, he notes, is what he will be arguing in a more substantive way next week when his *next* motion comes up. The judge takes this opportunity to attempt to reassure Pratte, telling him that he is “well aware that he can’t wander off into the field”, as it were, when it comes to the various statutes and codes that he will consider when considering the former PM’s standards of conduct, but Pratte doesn’t seem to be entirely mollified.

9:41:53 AM
Even if the judge were to change nothing – not a comma – as far as his ruling n standards, it would be insufficient time to allow counsel to prepare, Pratte laments. So many documents, so much testimony to come. The post-conduct ruling document review is ” where the rubber meets the road,” he tells the judge, who seemed almost jovial a few minutes ago, but now has on his very, very serious face. He’s scribbling away in his black book, but doesn’t take his eyes off Pratte, who seems to be feeling much better than last time he appeared, when he told the court that if he passed out on the rug, it would mean that his cold had gotten the best of him. Now *that* is devotion to one’s client.

9:44:51 AM
Ooh, apparently the Mulroney legal team just last week received another stack of previously unseen documents from the Attorney General – 200 pages of material, some of which has yet to be translated from German. Duh duh duh. Also: Cabinet Confidences! Hundreds and hundreds of Cabinet Confidences!

He doesn’t quite blame the Attorney General’s Office for taking so long to disclose these documents, noting that he realizes they’ve been working their collective fingers to the bone, but Oliphant warns him anyway: Don’t blame this one on the government.

9:49:41 AM
This isn’t a “sensational” inquiry, Pratte begins what is likely to be a difficult argument to sell to the judge, let alone the assembled media. This isn’t a multimillion dollar government scandal, or some sort of environmental catastrophe – it’s an inquiry into the conduct of a former prime minister – a former prime minister who, he notes, is this very day celebrating his seventieth birthday. Oliphant, for his part, does not interrupt to send his best wishes, but Pratte is undaunted: Mulroney, he says, is not to blame for the delay, and it is, after all, his reputation at stake.

9:54:35 AM
Pratte notes that if the six day delay requested – just six teeny tiny days – really threatens to push the commission past its deadline, they can always sit on Fridays. Or even Saturdays!

The judge, for his part, points out that he’s actually the one facing the real time crunch — he’s the one facing “massive pressure” to finish his report by September.

10:03:25 AM
Although Pratte appreciates the Wolson compromise proposal, he doesn’t think it goes far enough, although if Oliphant rejects his motion, he’d not be opposed to throwing his support behind that one.

His client “is not trying to derail this inquiry,” he tells the judge. The trains must run on time, but that doesn’t mean not making it to the station on time, and in an orderly fashion.
That’s it for Pratte, and he notes that his request for an adjournment is also supported by Fred Doucet.

10:06:24 AM
On to Paul Vickery, who represents the Attorney General and has no position on the motion to adjourn – although it sounds as though he may have considerably more to say about *that* at next week’s hearing, little of it likely to be music to the ears of Team Mulroney. He does make an effort to defend his office over delays in disclosure, however, and alludes to what could well go from a b-subplot to a major battle: the question of cabinet confidences, and how those should be handled.

10:10:20 AM
Battle of the very important previous engagements that could be jeopardized by extending the hearing schedule: Vickery has an appearance before the BC Court of Appeal; meanwhile, Oliphant has a daughter getting married this summer. The two seem to be of similar minds as far as the impossibility of rearranging certain kinds of events. Not all feasts are moveable.

10:13:42 AM
Is anyone surprised that Team Schreiber doesn’t want to delay the hearings, even by a few days? Anyone? Okay, then.

10:14:24 AM
Wolson is up again for some reason; he wants to make sure everyone knows that the commission – and its counsel – want “absolute fairness” as far as these proceedings; if a witness should appear earlier, and then subsequent developments mean that they have to be recalled, that can be done.

10:16:17 AM
Hey, Wolson just brought up Bearhead! That’s the first tme we’ve heard it mentioned by name by someone other than Schreiber’s attorneys, isn’t it?

10:19:21 AM
One more plea for postponement from Pratte – what could it hurt? And isn’t it his client who has the most to lose? The judge calls for a twenty minute break to allow him to “collect his thoughts”‘ – he’ll deliver a ruling at 10:45. I bet he goes for the Wolson proposal.

10:39:05 AM
And we’re back! The judge gets right down to business, and notes that the application to adjourn is supported by a three prong argument that was made very well – “as usual” – by Pratte; he gives brief recaps of the other lawyers’ respective positions with which I won’t bore y’all, since we just sat through them a few minutes ago.

This is a public inquiry involving the public interest, he reminds all and sundry — the terms may be “somewhat unique”, but that, first and foremost, is the issue at hand, although he notes that the reputation of the former PM runs a close second.

10:44:46 AM
After a brief sidebar on the difficulties of providing documents that have to be edited, translated and re-edited, Oliphant pledges to deliver an oral decision on the clarification motion next Thursday, which will give him just a day to prepare it, but he’s willing to burn the midnight oil if necessary. As for today’s motion, it sounds as though he’s leaning towards denying the request.

10:46:55 AM
Yup – motion to adjourn dismissed; Wolson’s proposal accepted. Mark your calendars, y’all: the public hearings will go ahead as scheduled on March 30th, starting at 9:30 a.m.

10:51:24 AM
After a brief back-and-forth of a more technical nature – witness statements and interviews, that sort of thing – the meeting adjourns, but not before what could turn out to be profound words from the judge, who reminds all assembled lawyers that willsays are one thing, but when a witness gets on the stand, you never really know what might come out. Maybe he *did* manage to tune in during Ethics hearings after all.

Anyway, that’s all for now — but don’t worry, ITQ will back on the inquiry beat next Tuesday. This hearing was really just a teaser – the one next week? That’s going to be the main event, at least until the public hearings get going. See you then!

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