Liveblogging the Ethics Committee – Day 1, Part 1: Sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless defeated candidate

For the full witness list plus background bullets, click here. For a refresher course on the spending controversy, check out the ITQ explainerizer.

9:44:09 AM
Fifteen minutes to go and the room is starting to fill up — long after ITQ first arrived, of course, what with our charmingly psychotic delusion that reporters would be lining up the night before to make sure of getting a good seat. When I got here, it was me, the clerk and a very empty room, but now there are at least four of us journalist types, and MPs are starting to wander in. Everyone looks tanned and well-rested so far, but the Tory side of the room is fairly desolate at the moment.

And just as I said that, Mike Wallace materialized, his disarming smile wide as ever. Oh, this is going to be *fun*.

I’m shocked by how many cameras there are — well, not really, since this is the only show in town at the moment, but it’s a long way from those long days of filibusterage, when it was just me, the committee and the long-suffering staff. Oh, and the clerks: the only truly innocent victims.

I have no idea what criteria the camera throng is using to determine which witnesses are worthy of a flurry of paparazzi-ing. The annoying thing about where we sit – the media, that is – is that you can’t read anyone’s nameplate. Or see the looks on the witnesses’ faces.

9:53:17 AM
Update! Breaking news! Bring on the Drudge Report siren icon! The first witness will be — Doug Finley, who was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but is now sitting demurely at the head of the table. This is exciting!

9:55:53 AM
More breaking news! Pat Martin is wearing sandals! In fact, I think he may be wearing the sandals as me! This is disturbing!

9:58:28 AM
I think it’s safe to say that Finley’s appearance has had an explosive effect on the committee. He and the chair are now chatting politely, but with intensity, about his impromptu drop-by — I’m not sure whether Szabo was actually expecting him or not.

Okay, he *wasn’t* aware, from what I can see — this is as much a shock to the chair as everyone else, and it’s not clear whether he’s going to be allowed to testify.

The spectacle of him sitting amid a bevy of angry former candidates may not be precisely the visual he was hoping to emerge from this little experiment in spontaneous passive aggressive cooperation, however.

10:04:59 AM
And — order! Order! Or something like that. Doug Finley has indeed managed to squeeze in with the rest of the witnesses – the scheduled witnesses, that is. Szabo looks tired already. I should offer him one of my king cans of Red Bull.
First up, a status report on the summonsings of the witnesses — most of which we’ve already read about in the press, so instead, I’ll do the rundown on who’s here for the various parties: Gary Goodyear, Dean del Mastro and Pierre Lemieux for the government; Marcel Proulx, Daniel Leblanc and Karen Redman for the Liberals; Voice of Sanity Carole Lavallee and Richard Nadeau for the Bloc Quebecois, and Sandal Guy for the NDP.

10:09:25 AM
Szabo is trying to explain the Finley follies; he notes that on Friday, in reply to his – the Scottish Player’s – request that he appear on Monday, he told him that there wasn’t time, and offered to hear from him on Friday instead, but apparently that message didn’t make it in time to save Finley the trip to the Hill.
Dean del Mastro is grumbling and point-of-ordering, I suspect over Szabo’s refusal to let Finley rewrite the entire schedule to suit his own.

Oh, and the witnesses will all be sworn in. Good.

10:13:01 AM
Surprise, surprise: Gary Goodyear is throwing a huge tantrum over the chair’s refusal to bump Doug Finley to the head of the queue. He hasn’t accused him of running a kangaroo court, but I’m sure that’s imminent. Really, it’s just a wee bit imperious to show up and just expect the committee to rejig the witness list on the fly.

10:15:02 AM
Szabo notes that the committee will hear from Finley *after* the scheduled witnesses, who have travelled from across the country to be here. “They don’t want to hear from you, Doug,” Del Mastro says sadly.
Contrary to what he seems to be suggesting, I think the committee is very keen to hear from him — they just want to do it at the scheduled time, and not just because he felt like dropping in.

10:17:14 AM
I can’t imagine how awkward this must be for the other witnesses – most of whom are going to contradict his claim that all these expenses were above board and ticketyboo.
Mike Wallace points out that one of the six scheduled witnesses didn’t make it to this morning’s meeting – and, by a serendipitous twist of fate, here’s a replacement! Why not add him to the list?

10:19:09 AM
Pat Martin and his sandals believe that it’s unfair to allow Doug Finley to cut in front of the other witnesses. “He doesn’t get to dictate when he’ll be heard just by showing up.” He also brings up the potential intimidation factor, since he’s “a bigwig in the party.”

10:20:51 AM
Mike Wallace proposes that the committee adjourn for a half hour, and extend the meeting until 12:30 so that they can hear from Finley. The motion fails, which is exactly what the Tories were hoping: Now Finley will stomp out, and reporters will scrum him outside, where he will say how sorry he was that he couldn’t testify.

*Or* he could sit there, refusing to move, like he’s doing right now. It’s a one-man sit-in!

10:24:08 AM
Szabo is trying, very politely, to eject Doug Finley from the table, at which he continues to sit like a wax figurine. His lawyer – who is also at the table – is now arguing with Szabo. Is someone going to have to call security?

10:25:18 AM
Adjourned – for the moment. I don’t think anyone has the slightest idea what’s going
on, or what happens next.

Everyone is just — still. Doug Finley appears to have taken root at the foot of the table; MPs are huddling, and the chair is trying to look like this is just another day in the mundane life of a parliamentary committee.
There goes Pat Martin. And his sandals. I miss Scott Reid. I don’t know why that just reminded me.

10:28:45 AM
Security guards are assembling at the front door. Now they’re – yes, they’re going to remove Doug Finley from the committee room. Oh, if only I could get this on film. With a dramatic flourish, his lawyer getsup and shoves his chair across the room. He then thanks the clerk, and the two flounce out. Exeunt, pursued by House guards.

Well, that was the perfect way to start the day, wasn’t it?

10:30:28 AM
We’re back on, and Gary Goodyear is pretending that the national campaign director of his party wasn’t just escorted out by security. I wonder how hard that is to do. See, this is why I could never go into politics.

10:32:26 AM
Now Goodyear is arguing with the chair over how they should have dealt with Finley, and he just put Sandal Guy over the edge; he reminds Gary Goodyear that it was he who let Conservative MPs filibuster for months at Procedure and House Affairs to avoid holding a vote on an in-and-out investigation. Which is, of course, correct.

10:34:07 AM
Apparently, Pat Martin was a bit salty in his language – the “F-Bomb” according to Del Mastro, who wants him to apologize. The chair just stares for a moment, and then moves on.

“We’ve already wasted a half hour on political stunts,” he notes, to which Wallace laughs in that entirely humourless way.

10:35:51 AM
Szabo just cracked up the entire Tory bench by mentioning that this – the committee – is “where free speech” is respected. He did rather walk into that one, given the caterwauling over kangaroo courts.

10:36:45 AM
Finally, it’s time for questions, and Marcel Proulx is up first: he asks Gary Caldwell to explain when and how he was approached by the party to take part in the scheme.

10:38:13 AM
Caldwell explains the basics – he was first approached “over the holidays”, and they explained to him the deal with limits, and spending, and all that stuff. Caldwell tells him that they *could* have spent the money locally, but they didn’t — they had already consented not to do so. Proulx asks if he was told that it would be in full compliance with the Elections Act, and Caldwell notes that he had just one contact with the party official in question — and he respected him.

10:42:34 AM
Proulx asks if he was told about the possibility of fraud, which prompts a point of order from Dean del Mastro, and Caldwell tells him that Rivard — the official — told him the lawyers were looking into it. When asked if he was told not to speak to the media, Caldwell doesn’t answer directly, but instead goes into more detail about his decision not to challenge the original ruling from Elections Canada.

10:44:35 AM
Lavallee thanks the witnesses for appearing, and apologizes for the opening antics; Caldwell, interestingly, says he found the whole thing “frightening”, although it’s not clear if he means Finley, or the prospect of being hauled off by House security guards.

He’s a very twinkly gentleman, by the way. Like a less hirsute Santa in a sensible dark suit. He also doesn’t seem the least bit intimidated.

10:47:13 AM
David Tilson is here! Oh, David Tilson. Where were you when Doug Finley needed you? Surely your rage would have formed an impermeable force field around him.

10:48:03 AM
“We consciously, deliberately decided ,” upon receiving the letter from Mayrand challenging the claim, that the ruling should prevail, so they drew up the campaign expenses again. What did the Conservative Party think, asks Lavallee. He wasn’t a member any more by that point, Caldwell says.

10:51:27 AM
Ann Julie Fortier is up now — another angry candidate, she says she resigned when she found out what was going on, and told her fellow candidates to contact Elections Canada. She was told that “everything was legal” — and this prompts a point of order from Lemieux, who is being ignored — and says she’s ready to take questions. More points of order — it’s like the Tory members don’t want these witnesses to be able to tell their stories. Doug Finley would sympathize, I’m sure. Szabo accuses them of coming close to abusing their rights, but here’s them out anyway.

10:55:09 AM
Pierre Lemieux is outraged – outraged! – that Fortier gave an opening statement when the chair explicitly said that there would be none — which I don’t think he did, actually; Caldwell just didn’t have one, from what I can see, and Doug Finley – who did, and handed it out before the meeting got underway – was Not A Witness.

10:58:21 AM
Dean del Mastro is in a fine fit of fury — something about relevance, and whether the questions are in order under the mandate, and he once again reads from one of the chair’s own past rulings, but Szabo is unmoved and unmovable.

I wonder when he’ll start cutting mics?

11:00:16 AM
The member for Real Men Aren’t Afraid of Pedicures is up, and he starts with Joe Goudie, one-time candidate for the Conservatives in (not so)Happy Valley, Labrador. How, he wonders, did Goudie *feel* when he found out about the scheme?

Goudie – who just oozes plainspoken integrity – tells his story, as well as that of his former campaign manager, who has testified via affidavit that she felt “duped” by the party.
As he has previously stated, Goudie notes that he knew nothing about the transactions until the information appeared on CBC television at home, at which point he consulted a lawyer, and swore out an affidavit.

11:03:58 AM
Now it’s onto Louise O’Sullivan, who is a double-sized treat for Martin, since she left the Liberals over the sponsorship scandal — “my standards are high” — and was then courted by the Conservatives. She notes that she is here of her own volition, and reiterates her main point, which is that neither she nor her candidate were ever approached by the party.

11:05:43 AM
Finally, Martin asks about Fortier’s previous statement — that she confronted Stephen Harper personally over the request that she claim national expenses as local — and she corrects him, saying that it was the vice-president of the local association who put pressure on her campaign to do so. It was the 2004 campaign where they wanted her to accept all costs.

11:08:11 AM
Finally, the Conservatives get a turn: Gary Goodyear asks whether Gary Caldwell is currently running for another party — which he is, as everyone already knows, although Goodyear’s greek chorus pretends that this is a shocking revelation.

11:10:21 AM
Gary Goodyear is grilling Caldwell on past statements on media expenses, which strikes me as a very dangerous game, since there’s really no reason to think that he’s going to change his story now. They discuss ad buys in Sherbrooke – which is, as both men agree, one of the largest markets in Quebec – but then Goodyear’s line of questioning goes somewhat astray when he ends up having Caldwell reiterate his agreement with Mayrand’s initial ruling against his campaign.

11:12:37 AM
Oh boy, it’s time for “They all do it too” – with the Liberal Party of Canada playing the starring role of “They”. Goodyear brings up an example of the Liberal Party buying national advertising in northern Alberta – which sounds like a *great* idea, guys; bet that was off the cost/benefit charts – before heading to — oh, not Libby Davies again. I’ve heard this example so many times, and I’m pretty sure I’ve written about it at least half that often; basically, the Tories say she did the same thing with federal party money; they – and Elections Canada – say that’s just not the case.

11:16:56 AM
Charlie Hubbard, everyone! As an Atlantic Canadian, he’s most interested in what Joe Goudie, a Newfoundlander, has to say about the scheme. Goudie tells him, once again, that he only consulted with legal counsel after the story hit the media; he doesn’t know *where* the money was spent, but it wasn’t spent by their campaign. His agent was directed to return the money to the Conservative Party “as soon as possible.” Hubbard is simply *floored* by the idea that you can submit expenses to Elections Canada, and get sixty percent of it back! Why, it’s almost like a way to make money fast!

Goudie also confirms that he was told that reporters might be contacting him about the claims, and advised not to talk to them.

11:22:21 AM
Mike Wallace goes through the panel, one by one, asking every witness if they were a public office holder at the time — they were not. So why are they here, he wonders. Maybe as witnesses? You know – people with information or personal experience that could shed light on what went on?

11:23:49 AM
Dean del Mastro takes over questioning, and starts out by rather selflessly stating that he doesn’t see why candidates need a sixty percent rebate for expenses in the first place — I’d love to have seen Doug Finley’s face at that point — before moving onto the sponsorship scandal. Yes, the sponsorship scandal. How much of that missing $40 million resulted in rebates? Huh?

I — oh, never mind.

11:28:41 AM
All together now: David Tilson is angry. Very angry! He doesn’t see why the chair is overruling what was sure to be a fascinating and fabulously relevant tangent on the sponsorship scandal with his effete, outdated ideas of “relevancy,” and he’s now throwing a tantrum until he reads the precise section of the Standing Orders that applies.

11:32:58 AM
I love a good existential debate on the meaning of points of order.

11:34:18 AM
One of my colleagues just made an incredibly insightful observation: Every witness sitting at the table right now is currently thanking God, or whatever force or fury applies, that they managed to escape being elected. If they had, it might be *them* taking part in the synchronized stonewalling underway at the moment.

11:36:15 AM
And somehow, we’re now back to the Bloc Quebecois’ Richard Nadeau, who asks if he was “forced” to take part in the scheme; he was not. He trusted his local official completely.

11:38:53 AM
I have been made aware that I committed a grievous error earlier when I characterized Joe Goudie as a Newfoundlander: He is, of course, a proud Labradorian, and heaven help the liveblogger who should suggest otherwise.

11:40:50 AM
Nadeau is now questioning Goudie, who really is the star witness here, although Caldwell is a close second. He points out that one can’t *buy* television advertising in Labrador: it’s all radio. Therefore, his campaign couldn’t have used the money to buy TV ads.

Is it my imagination, or is that game and set, at least, if not match?

11:43:44 AM
Not to be outdone, Fortier seems to be suggesting that her refusal to take part in the in and out scheme may have been the reason why she was replaced as a candidate. Ooh.

11:44:29 AM
Now David Tilson is up, and snapping impatiently at Joe Goudie — was it true that he first learned about the scheme from CBC? Isn’t it rather *strange* that he was never contacted by Elections Canada? Very strange! He then moves on to haranguing O’Sullivan, giving an excellent demonstration of badgering the witness, and then goes into one of his signature rages when the chair intervenes. “How dare you!” He says.

11:48:15 AM
The Conservatives, meanwhile, distributing copies of Doug Finley’s letter to the chair as evidence that he was here in good faith, ready to testify, only to be rebuffed. Note that the committee didn’t actually *reply* to his offer to appear on Monday, so it’s not like they accepted, then retracted an invitation, but still.

11:50:59 AM
When Szabo finally gets tired of humouring Tilson in his tirade and suggests that he challenge the chair, Tilson replies, somewhat menacingly: “One of these days, we’re going to have a *real* challenge.” I don’t think I want to kow what he means by that.

11:54:43 AM
Pat Martin notes that one of the most serious allegations in the application for search warrant was the possibility that fraudulent invoices were submitted to Elections Canada; he wonders whether Caldwell’s agent – Rejean – ever saw one of those invoices. He didn’t – the invoice that the campaign received was from the party, says Rejean. Oh, and he – Caldwell – says he never saw a tag on the advertising that he ostensibly bought through the media buy.

11:58:40 AM
As Gary Caldwell explains to the committee that this country is governed by the rule of law, so when the Chief Electoral Officer makes a ruling, it should be respected, Gary Goodyear gazes at him, apparently genuinely unable to perceive how someone with such heretical views could have snuck into his party without triggering an alarm.

12:02:43 PM
The Sparrow gets a shoutout! Dominic Leblanc wants to know what Goudie thinks of his – Sparrow’s – suggestion that he is speaking out about the scheme out of “sour graps”; he didn’t win the seat, so he’s bitter. “Ryan Sparrow can say what Ryan Sparrow will say,” Goudie replies. Oh, he can. He really can.
Interestingly, The Sparrow, who is usually a regular at these hearings, does not seem to be in the audience today. I wonder if that’s a coincidence. Anyway, my tags are actually correct now — sometimes I just throw his name in for fun.

12:05:39 PM
As his closing number, Gary Goodyear once again goes to the well that is Libby Davies’ last campaign, and reads a bunch of email excerpts that anyone who has followed this committee has already heard like, a dozen times before.

12:08:16 PM
So — do you like … stuff?

12:09:56 PM
After another nineteen or twenty hours of preamble, Goodyear finally winds down, and Caldwell, who has been listening patiently, wonders if Goodyear’s asking *him* about the intricacies of NDP party financing. The opposition side laughs, and the chair tells him he can answer, and then it’s onto closing statements.

12:13:58 PM
Oh yeah, like it would be that easy. The Conservatives grouse over the outrageous decision to give the witnesses a few minutes to sum up, and after a few minutes of snippy back and forth, Tilson finally gets to challenge the chair. The ruling is sustained, as usual, and the witnesses give brief closing statements while the Tories look baleful, and Szabo looks like he’s imagining what life would be like in charge of a non-broken committee.

12:17:23 PM
In his closer, Caldwell – who seems to have become angrier at the party as the morning has progressed – says that he was, in fact, told not to speak to reporters; his agent *did* read that famous handbook; the money was spent on national material, and after living through this committee, he’s “really quite worried” about the future of this parliament. Well done, Conservative committee strategists! Now he’s furious and chatty – just what you wanted as he walks out into the scrums.

12:20:49 PM
Goudie, a former provincial cabinet minister, notes somewhat ruefully that it’s good to be back in familiar surroundings — he says he feels he’s now had the chance to explain what happened in his riding during the last election.

12:22:58 PM
And that’s it for the morning session. See you back here – or actually, in a followup thread – at 2pm for Act II.

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