Oyez, oyez, the Court Of Star-Studded Kangaroo Stormtroopers is now in session, and the Head Inquisitor himself is already. scrumming, while an envious Dean Del Mastro looks on.
The session hasn’t actually started yet, but there is already much buzzing and burbling amongst the inmates – that would be us – over what today might bring. Team. Public Prosecution Service are already in place at the table, and Marc Mayrand – of the entirely reasonable accommodation that bears his name – will soon be here, we assume. And all without a single summonses!
What makes today particularly unpredictable – I mean, even by Ethics committee standards – is that nobody seems to know what, if anything, these witnesses can answer. The investigation by the Elections Commissioner is ongoing, so she – the deputy director of Public. Prosecutions – can’t exactly chat about *that.* Somehow, I’m sure the committee will find *something* to ask, though. They’re awfully creative.
Szabo gives the usual opening spiel – this time, not with a list of no-show witnesses, and the reasons, or lack thereof, for their non-appearance.
Midway through, however, a pleasant-looking, bespectacled spectator wanders up to the front of the room and tries, politely but inexplicably, to start a conversation with the chair. Szabo suggests that he remove himself from the camera frame, and he does – but not for long.
It turns out that this is one of the missing witnesses! Sam Goldstein, the candidate for whom the hapless Douglas Lowry! He just got his summons yesterday, and he decided to – wait, what? The Conservatives want him to be allowed to testify now — right now, in fact. “He’s your witness,” sneers Dean Del Mastro – “Don’t you want to hear from him?”
Okay, this now constitutes a stunt. Let the political games begin!
Now the wanna-be witness is yelling from the audience. I wonder who on earth could have suggested that he show up today, and make a scene. It’s a mystery, truly.
According to Szabo, the clerk’s office had contacted Goldstein last week, and he had demanded to be paid “up front” for his trip, asked whether he would be summoned, and eventually didn’t show up.
Oh, and he’s delivering yelling points from the audience, as the chair explains to the committee that he’s here. What sayeth the members?
David Tilson is crankily attempting to move a motion, but the chair points out that he already has a list of speaker. “But I have a motion,” he grumps. You certainly do. Now wait your turn, and you can move it later.
Karen Redman says it’s “wonderful” to hear from Sam Goldstein – but after the scheduled witnesses, not right this minute.
Szabo agrees that this seems “eminently reasonable,” but the Conservatives aren’t happy. Now *they* want a speaker’s list.
Meanwhile, the scheduled witnesses sit and wait.
Pat Martin points out that “you don’t get to pick and choose” when you appear — this witness, incidentally, was allowed to choose the day, and claimed it was the only one on which he could appear, and yet somehow, his schedule has magically cleared in time for him to be here today. He, in fact, wants *all* the scheduled business to be concluded before Goldstein gets his turn.
Sam Goldstein is sitting straight up in his seat, staring daggers at the committee. You know, when they say a witness “appears”, it doesn’t usually mean “without warning, out of thin air – or, more likely, Jay Hill’s office.”
Carole Lavallee calls this typical of the Conservatives – she agrees that the committee should hear from him, but along the lines proposed by Karen Redman.
After a general chiding from the chair on heckling – yes, he means you – Dean del Mastro moves a hostile subamendment to hear from Goldstein *immediately* and accuses the chair of having known for days that he wanted to testify today (after previously claiming that his only free day was Tuesday). He also claims that the chair is “the architect of this disaster” – I don’t think he’s referring to the dismal headlines that greeted Conservative Party media monitors this morning, by the way.
Acting Russ Hiebert Pierre Lemieux accuses the chair of “turning away” witnesses, and then “making a fuss” when they don’t show up. Schedules change! Timeslots free up! Damage control for inadvertently unhelpful witnesses needs to be done!
Szabo notes that he didn’t “dismiss” Goldstein – he just sent him back to his seat when he tried to interrupt him during his opening statement. Really, who does that?
Half an hour in, and not a single question. Dean del Mastro grins unpleasantly at Goldstein, who – is that his wife? He has his arm around her, so I hope so. It’s nice that he brought her along, though.
Szabo is close to the breaking point, I think: He just snapped at Lemieux for interrupting, but then gave the floor to Goodyear, who once again bemoans the tyrannical majority. What is the opposite of the tyranny of the majority? Benign dictatorship?
This is very simple, really, according to Goodyear: There is a witness here, who was summoned. “We have seats right there,” he points out. Yes, because it was the seating arrangements that were worrying Szabo.
You know, I think this witness is going to be a disaster for the Conservatives if he does end up being allowed to “tell his story.” He’s clearly being sent in under strict orders, and likely loaded down with talking points – and he seems to have bought into the idea that he can treat the committee with contempt.
Okay, it’s votin’ time – first on the del Mastro motion – to hear from him right now – which fails, not surprisingly – and then the main motion.
By the way, the Bloc Quebecois is handing out copies of the letter from the clerk to the chair — the infamous letter — but only in French. We’re looking piteously at the other staffers in hopes of getting the English version.
Well, the Conservatives have voted against a motion to hear from Sam Goldstein later today – after the scheduled business. I guess they don’t want him to tell his story after all.
Yay! Sam Goldstein will be allowed to speak! The committee voted to hear from him later today – well, *some* of the committee. Happily, it was the some that holds the majority, so all is well.
He looks – oddly unthrilled. And a bit confused. A. Hamilton is smiling, at least. It’s all going according to plan, clearly.
You don’t think he was hoping to be hauled out by security, do you? If Doug Finley jumped off a cliff, would he — oh, never mind.
And now, finally, we get an overview of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada from the acting deputy director, Chantal Proulx.
In the background, the Conservatives are in some disarray. A. Hamilton, who is apparently the coach, at least for today, is huddling with Lemieux, as one of Jenny Byrne’s Issues Managers watches from the staff row.
See, I *told* you – PPSC has *no investigatory power*. Also, it does not report to the Attorney General on prosecutions under the Elections Act, which means no awkward moments for Rob Nicholson.
Proulx finishes off by noting that she can’t answer questions about the investigation currently underway by the Elections Commissioner, since the office has provided legal advice to Elections Canada. Pierre Lemieux immediately moves what he claims is a point of order – something about her last point, and “special arrangements” for certain witnesses, and the sub judice principle – and Szabo suggests that he actually *read* that letter from the law clerk, which lays it all out in language so simple that even — no, that was going to be unkind.
Marcel Proulx provokes mild snickers by asking how the witness pronounces her name – they’re both Proulxes, of course – and confirms with her that her office does not report to any minister. He then asks her to explain how the process *could* unfold, if the Commissioner determines that there is reason to lay charges – and she explains that he would put together a brief, and the Public Prosecutor would decide whether to go ahead.
Marcel Proulx wonders what the potential penalties, or “accusations” would be, but Chantal Proulx doesn’t fall for that old “hypothetically speaking” trick, and declines to answer.
Did you know Sam Goldstein, who is sitting with his arms crossed in front of him in what could be a classic demonstration of hostile body language, is a lawyer? And a graduate of the University of Calgary? I wonder if he ever had Tom Flanagan as a professor.
Gary Goodyear, predictably, grumbles about Proulx’s refusal to answer the question – wait, does he actually *want* her to list the potential charges that some of his own party’s officials could face? *Really?* – and once again invokes the “Mayrand Accommodation”.
Szabo once again explains what sub judice is, and, for the first time, explains exactly why it is that nobody but *direct parties to a legal action* can claim that privilege. It doesn’t apply to anyone who just doesn’t feel like answering because they’re rooting for one side or the other.
Did you get all of that, Sam?
Goodyear, confusingly, now seems to be arguing that these witnesses shouldn’t be here at all, which leads to a long back-and-forth debate via domino effect points of order.
Carole Lavallee wants to know whether Goodyear is correct when he says the PPS are acting as Elections Canada’s lawyers – which, Proulx says, is not really the case — the office often provides advice, including in situations where a search warrant, for instance, is being sought – but doesn’t act as a solicitor.
Pat Martin takes over questions, and complains that it seems that “we are several quantum leaps away” from any determination that charges will be laid – the Commissioner has to decide, and then pass the matter along to the PPS.
What, he wonders, would be a “realistic timeframe,” once the commissioner reports? But we’re “still putting Liberals in jail for the sponsorship scandal,” worries Martin. How can this be resolved before the next election? Not surprisingly, the PPS representatives have no specific timeline to suggest.
Ooh, Proulx just declined to answer a question on the raid on Tory headquarters, which sparked grumbles from the government side – and then Martin makes a second attempt to get Proulx to predict possible sentences that could be imposed, with a similar lack of success. Nice try,
David Tilson asks more questions about client-solicitor privilege, because “quite frankly”, he thinks that it’s “inappropriate” that she be here today – and the way he says it, he makes it sound like he’s on her side, but his glower says otherwise.
He thinks the chair should excuse the witnesses – it’s “all very well” to have “lectures,” but the committee is “here to look at the motion.”
Dean del Mastro, meanwhile, seems to have mistaken the witness for a sympathetic bartender. He gives his now familiar litany of complaints – illegitimate study, Doug Finley “barred” from appearing, chair “changing the rules”, the usual schtick. Did the chair allowe her to “choose” a date to appear? Well, yes – just like all the other witnesses, according to the correspondence between the chair and the clerk, which has now been handed out to the media, and which is pretty much entirely distracting us from the proceedings as we read through the list of excuses for not appearing.
Dean del Mastro is now claiming that “some witnesses” were allowed to “pick” what date on which they would appear – like, say, Sam Goldstein, who was given a choice, and then failed to show up on the day *he* chose for himself.
Szabo points this out, but Dean del Mastro, somewhat rudely, walks out midway through his answer.
Sam Goldstein, by the way, is getting increasingly animated in his off-side chatting with the woman who may or may not be his wife. He doesn’t look happy.
A. Hamilton, meanwhile, is lurking in staffer corner, and Pat Martin is begging the chair to stop humouring the government members.
The chair warns all and sundry that they – the members of this committee – are “being observed” – and judged – and are not coming off well at all. Tone it down, he warns both sides of the table – they wouldn’t get away with this behaviour in business, or anywhere else.
And now, a little Grammar Rock with Gary Goodyear, who really, truly seems to believe that the political optics of senior Conservative party officials snub a parliamentary committee rest entirly on whether a summons was issued, or issued and served. In law, I believe that this is known as “trying to get off on a technicality.”
After a long, long intervention from Szabo, who tells Goodyear that he has answers to every one of the charges made against him during yesterday’s session, it’s back to the witnesses.
Yeah, they’re still here.
Karen Redman tries to ask Proulx about the search warrant, and the criteria by which the office decides whether or not to put forward such a request, and Proulx notes that it is actually put together by the investigator.
Finally, the so-called “leak” – did the PPS look into the allegation that this alleged leak was from their office? There were “informal inquiries,” says Bearsoll, but no “credible information” that suggested any such leak took place.
Dean del Mastro thinks he has Paul Szabo right where he wants him – it’s a Matlock moment for sure, y’all – there are special deals, the committee is a farce, and so forth: Did she, or did she not contact the chair? Yes, she did – and now del Mastro is claiming that the chair has “misled the committee” once again.
Wait. Wait a second. Is Dean del Mastro suggesting that the *acting director of public prosecutions* is somehow in cahoots with the chair? That by contacting his office, she was somehow tainting the process?
Dean del Mastro just accused the chair of lying, and that pushed him right over the edge – to the point that David Tilson told him, under his breath but not quite off mic, to withdraw. The chair explains exactly what happened – she – Proulx – called him while he was on vacation in North Carolina; she called him out of the blue; she wasn’t even a witness at that point, there were no side deals, and he didn’t mislead the committee.
Dean del Mastro has, at least, stopped waving what he thought was the smoking gun document at the chair with a silly grin on his face, so that’s something. But not much.
The ongoing slow-motion lynching of Paul Szabo having paused for the moment, the Bloc Quebecois’ Richard Nadeau has a few more questions for the witnesses. This feels oddly like main estimates.
Marcel Proulx just managed to sneak a reference to Gary Goodyear’s former campaign director, Reg Peterson, who ran into some trouble with Elections Canada last year, which resulted in an admission of guilt by Peterson, and a compliance agreement for Elections Canada.
For details, consult Google, or check the ITQ back issues, because I wrote about it at the time, since it came out during the nine-month Procedure and House Affairs filibuster, of which Goodyear, as chair, can be considered the “architect” by his own logic.
Massimo Paccetti asks the question we all want to know, and that the witnesses can’t possibly answer: Is anyone ever going to go to jail for this? I
Rick Dykstra – did I mention Rick Dykstra was here? – is frustrated that he can’t ask about the search warrant, and why it was that “so many people” seemed to know about it “before it was public”, even. Does he mean before Newsworld showed up?
The Conservatives are now passing out copies of the blues from Tuesday’s hearing, during which Szabo stated that “he had no direct contact with any witness at any time, other than Mr. Mayrand.”
According to Szabo, the conversation took place in mid-July – and I just now realized that at the time that Proulx contacted him – Szabo, that is – she wasn’t even a *proposed* witness. She was calling for information because her boss, Brian Saunders, was on the list.
So — yeah. Another wild goose chase cut short. Better luck next time, CRG!
That’s it for the Public Prosecution Service – as witnesses, that is. Now it’s time for Marc “Specially Accommodated” Mayrand for what we who missed breakfast can only hope will be a fast-moving session.
Karen Redman asks about yet another affidavit – this one from Conservative staffer Geoff Donald – that made the now familiar claim that “every party does it,” and Mayrand confirms that as far as he knows, that’s not, in fact, the case.
Is it illegal for a federal party to “download” an expense after the Broadcast Arbitor has “signed off” on it, wonders Redman. That’s up to Elections Canada, explains Elections Canada legal services director Francois Bernier. Redman tries to explain further – is this not a question of the letter vs. the spirit of the law? Expenses cannot be transferred, maintains Bernier – and that’s as specific as he’s going to get.
Ooh, Mayrand just confirmed that Martelli *was* involved in a media buy – contrary to what del Mastro claimed during his appearance this week.
Carole Lavallee is doing a remarkable job of coming up with questions for Mayrand, which the media camp might appreciate more if we weren’t all getting a bit punchy after the multiple plot threads that unravelled earlier this morning. Not much new, although she does get confirmation that there were no similar so-called regional media buys made by other parties.
Pat Martin gets things started with a round of rhetorical applause for Mayrand, and Elections Canada itself – he has full confidence, and appreciates the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer is willing to submit himself to committee, which is, he says, about as much fun as a root canal.
He then elicits the intriguing revelation that, during its review of the original expense claims, Elections Canada could find no good reason for the wildly disparate prices charged to candidates in nearby ridings for the same ads.
Pierre Lemieux now takes over the floor, and – oh, he’s part of today’s official campaign of distraction: Was Mayrand given a choice of when to appear? Yes, he was? Well, that’s actually fine by him – Lemieux – because he understands that it can be difficult to rejig your schedule, but other witnesses – including some who are here today – were just issued a “dictum” by the committee. Like Goldstein, I guess, who told the clerk that he could only appear on August 12th, and was then the subject of a summons for … August 12th.
Pierre Lemieux is just going on and on, and poor Marc Mayrand has to pretend it is somehow relevant, while being accused of having had the chair cut him a “sweetheart deal”, by which he means, I guess, the sub judice principle.
Hey, guess who *is* a party to an ongoing court case, and thus, entitled to claim privilege, although he would have to explain why he couldn’t answer a specific question? No, really – guess.
Okay, really – who brings their *mother* to committee? Especially a committee to which they haven’t been invited to appear, at least not on the day you show up, and when you were probably preparing to be rejected, rebuffed and possibly dragged out by burly security guards to the waiting scrum?
Not that I’m thinking of anyone in particular.
Proulx, who seems to get more serene by the moment, even as Gary Goodyear sinks into seething rage (note to self: could this be a Dorian Grey situation?), is blithely querying Mayrand on various tidbits that came out during the testimony from Retail Media, particularly with regard to the different amounts that were paid by participating ridings.
And now, a moment with Robin Sears, as played by Dean del Mastro, who reads that notorious op-ed that, for reasons best known only to himself, he wrote for the Globe and Mail last years – which leads to possibly the first actual news to come out of the hearng today: When asked why Elections Canada hasn’t reviewed the expenses of Oliva Chow and Libby Davies, Mayrand drops a bomb: How does he know he’s not?
It then transpires that, in at least one of these cases, the candidate’s expenses are still under review.
Now Goodyear wants the committee to compel Mayrand to answer a followup question – is Elections Canada looking into similar claims by Charles Hubbard, and other Liberal and NDP MPs?
Szabo rules that out of bounds – which sparks a challenge to the chair, who is sustained – so no, Mayrand won’t be forced to answer the question.
Before Conservative staffers issue a triumphant press release touting Mayrand’s comments as an incendiary revelation, they might want to take into account the fact that if it turns out Elections Canada *is* reviewing Libby Davies’ claimed expenses, it not only discredits their claim that the agency is somehow biased against the Conservative Party, but also severely damages the “It’s Perfectly Legal” argument as well.
That’s if Davies’ expenses are, in fact, being reviewed, and whether it has anything to do with transfers of expenses, which may not be the case.
Gary Goodyear, however, smells blood – he wants to know if there are *any* other open files – has he “shut the door” on “those Liberals” – or on the Bloc Quebecois? Mayrand doesn’t have an answer – not entirely unsurprisingly, he doesn’t have that information available.
Wait, what *is* this affidavit that Goodyear is reading from? It seems to have many characteristics in common with one of the affidavits rejected by the Federal Court as irrelevant. Doesn’t he have to table it? Shouldn’t Conservative staffers be passing out copies to the press?
We’ll never know, I guess – at least not right away, because Goodyear has run out of time, and Pat Martin is up – he once again lays out his theory of the crime – figuratively speaking. It’s very colourful, admittedly – lots of lovely soundbites and turns of phrase – but not much new.
Oh good, now there’s a debate over Martin’s suggestion that the committee suspend for two hours, and then return for what he predicts will be a “long evening” of committee business. Oh boy.
Now there’s a motion, and Szabo is getting very, very cranky, and – oh, that’s great; a speaker’s list. We’re never getting out of here, are we?
It sounds like the Conservatives will probably go for the motion – they probably want a break as much as anyone, although if they’re smart, they’ll push Goldstein’s ostensible appearance until later this afternoon. As late as possible, in fact.
Oh, speaking of Goldstein, I should note that he just bellowed his objection to giving Mayrand the choice of appearing later this afternoon from his seat in the audience. With his mother looking on, approvingly. Who does that?
Oh, now Gary Goodyear really, really, REALLY wants Marc Mayrand to stick around – this, just hours after complaining six ways til Sunday that there was no reason for him to be here at all. He has so many questions, it turns out – so, so very many. He just wants to get to the truth. Why does the opposition hate the truth?
Gary Goodyear is giving the same speech we’ve heard like, eighteen times before, although now with added conspiracy theorizing. Why was Doug Finley dragged out? Was it because the opposition had found out that he was going to help the Conservative case?
And we’re suspended, but I’m transfixed by the screaming witness, who is a one-man gongshow. He’s furious that he has to stay around, but yet he’s also furious that the committee won’t hear him, and he’s now screaming at the media that has encircled him, and this is going brilliantly, isn’t it? Oh, and exeunt, pursued by now hostile scrum.
I’m out for the duration – of the break, that is. But I’ll be back when the gavel bangs, never fear.