Once more into the breech: Liveblogging the Public Accounts Committee

Join ITQ as she attends her fourth – and, she can’t help but devoutly hope, last – committee meeting of the day.

3:26:11 PM
You know, I really think this may, in fact, be a personal record for number of committee meetings attended in a single day, but I have high hopes for this one ending on a less painful note: It’s Public Accounts, which managed to remain functional even during the meltdown of the 39th Parliament, and by saying that, I really hope I haven’t cursed them to a season of madness – other than by my very presence, that is.

3:31:41 PM
I like how it’s always a member of the government who nominates the opposition chair, and vice-versa when it is the government in charge. Unsurprisingly, it is Shawn Murphy elected chair – he had the job during the aforementioned Black Parliament – and Daryl Kramp and David Christopherson are installed as vice-chairs.

There. That’s done. Now – on with the routine motions!

3:35:28 PM
Wow, a lot of rookie Conservatives on this committee: John Weston, Terence Young, Andrew Sexton. Don’t get too used to the nonpartisan civility here, guys – this really is a unique committee, and I mean that in only the best possible way.

A nice little moment: Introducing the analysts. I don’t remember any chair doing that during this morning’s meetings.

3:37:53 PM
Ahh, good old motion to amend the rule on reduced quorum. It’s been – what, four hours since we last saw you? Let’s try to guess how long the debate will drag on, shall we?

3:39:56 PM
Yasmin Ratansi asks for some clarification on the amendment – she wonders, as so many have in the past, what the reasoning is behind the proposed change. Has there been any problem with reaching quorum in the past? Shawn Murphy gives a little background on the need for a number for reduced quorum, and expresses mild concern that this could allow one party to delay the work of, say, the steering committee by not showing up. Or, as Dave Christopherson is now explaining, “throw a wrench into the whole deal.”

3:44:45 PM
Oh, that’s interesting: Christopherson proposes instead that the rules be changed to allow the party from which the chair is drawn – in this case, the Liberals – to have an additional member on the steering committee so that the chair doesn’t have to play two roles.

That, the chair tells him, will require a separate motion.

John Weston attempts to bring the focus back to his doomed motion, and he does his best to make it sound as though he came up with the idea for this motion all by himself, with absolutely no partisan agenda, which would be more convincing if I hadn’t heard Mark Warawa on the subject earlier today.

3:48:24 PM
And – it goes to a vote, and it is a tie. “Oh dear,” mutters Murphy. Heavy is the hand that holds the gavel, chair.

For some reason, he takes the vote again, and this time, the amendment fails. Wait, how’d that happen? Did someone on the government side not vote? Or did he mean that it was a tie, therefore he would vote to preserve the status quo, and as such, against the amendment? I wish they’d do voice votes occasionally. I’m at the wrong angle to count hands.

3:54:18 P
On to the subcommittee on agenda, and the perennial question: Do all parties have to be represented? John Weston is being forcibly huddled by no less than three Conservative staffers.

The status quo is one member from each party, and the chair, and Christopherson explains to a somewhat bemused Bev Shipley that only rarely are the decisions made by the subcommittee not unanimous, and those that are could be subsequently rejected by the full committee. John Weston keeps peering intently towards the back of the room. I hope he’s not unpleasantly surprised by the lack of spectators: right now, it’s just me and two women who may or may not be confused tourists.

4:00:30 PM
Ahh, this is what David Christopherson was talking about earlier – adding a member to the subcommittee so that the party of the chair has an additional member. In a lovely demonstration of the new spirit of cooperation, he defers to a very similarly worded amendment from Bonnie Chrombie, and the government seems almost ready to agree, provided that the chair won’t vote to break a tie.

4:04:29 PM
More discussion of hypothetical controversial votes by the subcommittee that would or wouldn’t be decided by the chair in the case of a tied vote; Shawn Murphy points out that in that particular context, he, as chair, wouldn’t feel comfortable voting at all, and eventually, the amendment passed with all party support.

4:06:35 PM
And now, your regularly scheduled debate over reduced quorum. I don’t really have to explain this again, do I?

4:08:47 PM
Bev Shipley doesn’t like the idea of a meeting consisting of just two members and the chair. What would the witnesses think? It’s such a small number, unlike three, which is immeasurably more acceptable. If by immeasurable, you mean “by one”.

4:11:29 PM
Dave Christopherson – who, as longtime readers are aware, is a particular favourite of ITQ for his utter straightforwardness – lays it out for the government: this amendment would almost never be necessary, especially at this committee, but if one political party decides to boycott a meeting, it shouldn’t be able to shut the whole thing down, which happened at least once during the last parliament.

4:15:43 PM
Well, huh. The amendment carried – with only the Bloc Quebecois objecting. The new quorum is four, and woe betide any party that uses its newfound power to create hijinx.
Oh, PAC. Truly, your ability to not descend into partisan rancour is an inspiration to all committees.

4:18:43 PM
Now that the bonelettes of contention are out of the way, the committee is sailing through the rest of the motions – in camera meetings, travel costs for witnesses, that sort of thing.
A bit of discussion on the proposal to allow each member to have one staff member present, as well as someone from the Whip’s office; eventually, they agree to a rule that would allow one official per member, who could be from any office, including the Whip.

4:25:24 PM
Oh, order of questions. This is what broke me at Government Operations this morning, y’all. Daryl Kramp is proposing exactly the same amendments: cut the length of questions to seven from eight, and add another government slot to all rounds following the first.

Hey, it’s Yvon Godin! He just wandered into the committee room to chat with his staffer, Theresa, who is the only other person to have been to more committee meetings today than ITQ.

4:29:40 PM
Yasmin Ratansi has been adding up the minutes; under Kramp’s proposal, the Conservatives would get more than twenty minutes, the Liberals less than seventeen, and the rest going down from there; she proposes that they move the NDP up one slot, and take that one away from the government.

Unexpectedly, Meille Faille speaks up to say that the Bloc supports the amendment – she’s seen it used at other committees, and it works very well. David Christopherson is worried that the NDP may not even get a second round, given the time constraints.

4:33:32 PM
And there go Yvon Godin and Theresa; they’ll miss out on the vote, but that’s okay – it looks like it will pass easily if it has the support of the Bloc Quebecois. Bonnie Crombie still doesn’t understand why the changes are necessary; Daryl Kramp explains that it corrects an imbalance. “We’re committed to parity and fair-ity,” he jokes.

Motion passes. Have courage, we’re nearly through!

4:38:59 PM
How long should witnesses get for an opening statement? Five minutes? Ten? Whatever was decided, it passes unanimously, and that about wraps it up for routine motions. Shawn Murphy gives a little speech about how fundamentally different this committee is from any other – oh, they all say that, I know – and the special relationship that it has with the Auditor General and her staff.

4:43:59 PM
Murphy reminds his charges that the AG will, in fact, be providing a briefing to all parliamentarians on her upcoming report, discusses a few of the other bits of business that will be on the committee agenda, and on and on and on and on and yes, I’m paying attention, but this is pretty dry stuff. Essential, but not exactly fascinating reading. Or liveblogging.

4:48:18 PM
A few final housekeeping reminders from Murphy: no long, rambly questions – be “precise and concise”, and he’ll hold you to that by sticking strictly to the time limits, and – that’s it. Meeting adjourned – and liveblogger out.

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