Liveblogging the Ethics committee Day 2, Part 1: That is, if anyone bothers to show up

Read yesterday’s highlights here and here

Overview of potential witnesses here.

9:45:29 AM
Welcome to Witness Watch 2008, everyone! As mentioned in the ITQ preview, today’s agenda is somewhat unsettled, to put it nicely, since nobody knows whether any of the scheduled witnesses will actually show up. There’s also the small matter of that letter from the clerk – you know, the one in which he said that one person on the witness list told his staff that the Conservative Party had instructed them not to show up, which the Tories have categorically denied

Given the incendiary nature of that particular allegation – and the possibility that other wiitnesses might have received similar warnings – they may end up making more news by their absence than they would if they just showed up.

Which is sort of symbolic of this whole scandal, really.

9:58:58 AM
So far, no sign of any witness-like people at the table, or in the audience. No sign of Doug Finley either – although this might be the perfect opportunity for him to tell his story. He did, after all, just want to be heard, right? (If you’re out there, Doug Finley, it’s not too late!)

There are, however, four lonely nameplates, all in a row.

10:03:36 AM
Well, that was fast! The chair just opened the meeting, announced that the witnesses aren’t here, and adjourned until 2pm, at which point the Conservatives launched into bellicose heckling.

Now I’m outside, liveblogging Szabo’s scrum, because I’ve never done that before, and I figured y’all deserved something. He’s explaining the backstory – there are at least three proposed witnesses who specifically indicated that they were told not to attend.

10:07:01 AM
Szabo vows to continue with the hearings, despite the delay and disorder. The committee must be allowed to do its job, he says – and they’re going to follow up on the allegation that witnesses have been advised not to appear.

10:08:16 AM
And the phrase “witness interference” just found its way into the discussion, probably not for the first time.

10:08:51 AM

Reporters are querying him, and asking if he’s really saying that the Conservative Party is attempting to interfere with witnesses. Yes, that seems to be exactly what he’s saying. He’s not saying that this is an offence under the Criminal Code, but it does make him wonder. Also, he’s speaking really, really softly which means that I have to hunch very close to the microphones. If you see a flash of furiously flying fingers, those would be mine.

10:12:26 AM
According to Szabo, the four missing witnesses from today didn’t communicate with the committee to explain why they weren’t coming. “So they could be stuck in traffic,” wonders one of my colleagues. Yeah — in Quebec City.

10:14:11 AM
There is a tour going on just a few feet away, which really isn’t making it any easier to hear Szabo’s voice. Now reporters are playing guessing games as to the identities of these mystery witnesses – the three who claimed they were told not to appear. Are they all from the same province? Are they the witnesses who were supposed to appear today?

10:16:08 AM
Aha! Szabo reveals one clue: they were all agents of sitting MPs, which narrows the list of suspects (or, depending on your view, victims) considerably. They’re also not all from Quebec, which makes it even shorter.

10:17:50 AM
What’s interesting here – I mean, one of the many things that is interesting, really – is that the Conservatives now have no alternative but to accuse the clerk – or these mystery witnesses – of lying, or admit to doing so themselves when they denied that any such instructions had been given.

10:19:02 AM
Szabo is now recapping his back-and-forthing with Doug Finley over his appearance this week – he offered Thursday, Finley showed up yesterday. There, you’re caught up.

10:20:40 AM
Liveblogging while standing isn’t as effortless as it might sound.

10:21:29 AM
And now, the Conservative response, starring Gary Goodyear. It will no doubt come as no surprise to any of you that he blames Szabo for the whole thing. He blames Szabo for “scaring away the witnesses” and dismisses the claims made by the mystery witnesses as “allegations”. He’s also going on and on about affidavits of service — some of the summons, he claims, haven’t even been served! Maybe because they dodged service, like that guy who was supposed to testify yesterday.

10:24:39 AM
I’m so tired of hearing Gary Goodyear say that witnesses may need “legal counsel.” It’s just not true — testimony is privileged. Period. Full stop.

Now Goodyear is claiming that this is an illegal forum. This chair, he says, is running an “illegal forum”. Ooh!

10:26:21 AM
Julie Van Dusen wants to know why, if the Conservative case is so solid, the witnesses won’t show up — not even sitting MPs. “I’m not the spokesperson for them,” Goodyear says, who then goes further and claims that he’s spoken to “party officials” – all of them? – and they assured him that no such communication took place. So there.

10:29:58 AM
Oh, good – Gary Goodyear is now revisiting the question of whether or not the chair “changed his story” on when he found out yesterday’s witnesses weren’t going to show up.You remember, when he first said he found out “that morning” – but then – then! – he produced an email timestamped 12:28pm! So which is it?

He also doesn’t see a pattern here, other than the thuglike stormtrooper tactics of the kangaroo star chamber inquisitor that is Paul Szabo, or something like that.

Also, someone needs to explain the concept of sub judice to the Conservatives on this committee. Hint: It applies only to parties to a legal action, not the legal action itself. As such, the only person so far who has required an agreement not to discuss certain issues is Marc Mayrand.

10:34:13 AM
Julie Van Dusen suggests that he call a news conference “with all your candidates.” That’s what I’m doing, says Gary — just …. Without the witnesses. Tiny difference.

10:34:47 AM
Am I enabling Gary Goodyear by standing here, listening to him claim that this is “all made up stuff”? We’ll never know, because he just left after the longest last question in parliamentary history.

10:35:39 AM
And here’s Pat Martin, who gets things off to a rousing start by comparing this to the Hell’s Angels trials in Quebec, and then – hey, guess who’s here! It’s A. Hamilton, the lawyer who had Doug Finley’s back at committee yesterday, and who so violently hurled his chair across the room when he was eventually removed by security. His wheeled chair, just to be clear.

10:39:36 AM
Pat Martin wants “severe consequences” for anyone who is found to have violated the rules of Parliament, and notes that there have been recalcitrant witnesses before, but not on this scale. “It’s a conspiracy,” he soundbytes as only he can.

10:40:50 AM
With that, Martin departs and leaves the stage – er hallway – to Marcel Proulx, who is
here to oblige the Quebec media with some bon mots of outrage in French.

10:44:04 AM
You know, it’s worth pausing for a moment here to really appreciate the magnitude of what’s being alleged here. If these mystery witnesses – and the clerk – are telling the truth, then *someone*, at least, did something very, very, very wrong – and if it was the Conservative Party, or someone acting on its behalf, the political consequences could be immense. Fiddling with expenses is one thing; witness intimidation is quite another.

10:48:06 AM
Okay, Voice of Sanity is up now, and my French isn’t nearly good enough to liveblog *her* thoughts, so I’m going to sign off now. I’ll be back this afternoon, though – unless, of course, someone instructs me not to appear.

What, too soon? Bah. Later, y’all.

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