Procedure and House Affairs: Liveblogging the very first committee meeting of the 40th Parliament

Gosh, I hope I remember how to do this – it’s been so long.

Gosh, I hope I remember how to do this – it’s been so long.

Anyway, presuming I’m still able to find the committee room, check back at 11am for the very first meeting of the “mother of all committees” – also known as Procedure and House Affairs – which kicks off with the traditional election of the chair.

Let the parliamentary games begin — in accordance with the New Spirit of Cooperation, of course.

10:48:30 AM
OMG, you guys, it’s so good to be back! I couldn’t resist coming early – had to get a good seat, after all (no snickering; for some reason, there are only two seats for media in this particular committee room) – and the second I walked in, I just couldn’t help myself from saying exactly that to the cluster of clerks, analysts and staffers scurrying to make the place perfect before the MPs arrive.

I should warn y’all that this could be a very short meeting — I’m assuming the NSOC(tm) will last long enough to elect a chair without outright mutiny within the opposition ranks. But I promise to make the liveblogging thereof as interesting as possible, even if that does mean short (if sweet).

10:53:15 AM
The NDP’s Yvon Godin is officially the very first MP to sit in his place as a member of a committee of the 40th Parliament. Somehow, it seems like there should be balloons and streamers falling from the sky. Tom Lukiwski, meanwhile, is the second. (I apologize if I sound a little distracted – my seat is ensconced in a small but lively band of translaters, who are gossiping furiously about all sorts of people I don’t know, but I can’t help but keep one ear tuned in, just in case they start talking about MPs past and present.)

The government side of the room is nearly full to capacity, by the way – five MPs means one order of parliamentarianhood more staffers, I guess.

Actually, this room is packed. I guess I’m not the only one who has been pining for the sound of the gavel.

10:57:53 AM
Michel Guimond sends everyone into fits of snickergiggles – which sound delicious – when he launches into a chorus of “We want Joe! We want Joe!” although in fairness, the ones coming from the Conservative side of the room have just the tiniest hint of nervous panic. Nobody wants to be the first to violate the NSOC, after all.

10:59:18 AM
One minute to go!

11:01:09 AM
And – action! The clerk kicks things off by saying that he sees a quorum, and – my goodness, Joe Preston gets the nod with a pro forma motion and in seconds, is returned to the chair, this time not against his will. Well, that’s a nice bit of symbolism – and one not lost on the committee; when his name was put forward, at least one muttered something about all that experience he’d had. And that’s that – well, two vice chairs, Marcel Proulx and Michel Guimond – and now Joe Preston takes the chair and launches into a somewhat self-conscious opening speech. “I can’t seem to lose an election at this committee,” he notes.

11:05:00 AM
Chairman Joe gives a nice little introduction – or reintroduction – to the committee known as “the great-grand daddy of all committees” – way to patriarchify our etymological claim on that one – and expresses his most profound hope that the partisan wrangling will be left at the door. Indeed.

11:06:28 AM
Michel Guimond follows, and points out that there’s no point in looking back – onwards, to the future – and if the chair respects the will of the committee, “things should go very well.” If not – well, anything goes, is the unstated warning.

11:09:10 AM
Last year’s committee “didn’t end well,” admits Tom Lukiwski, with remarkable understatement – really, it’s going around – before he introduces the three newbies on the government side: Kelly Block, Harold Albrecht and Guy Lauzon – as well as old hands Scott Reid and, well, him. He notes that the government has every intention of working cooperatively. Okay, we’re all going to play nice. Can we move on to the striking of the committees?

11:11:01 AM
No, we can’t, because Yvon Godin wants to remind us all of the importance of impartiality on the part the Chair.

11:12:23 AM
Chairman Joe heard my plea, and suggests that the committee move on with routine motions — which, if I recall correctly, turned out to be distinctly non-routine the last time committees were restruck, but we’ll see what happens this time around.

An assistant clerk hands out the minutes of that very meeting, and Chairman Joe says that they’re going to try to pass the same ones, starting with the retention of an analyst. (I should note that the clerk is keeping up a nearly steady stream of whispered instructions and explanations, which can just be caught on Chairman Joe’s mic.)

11:15:14 AM

A few more housekeeping motions – authorizing the Whips to submit reports on behalf of the committee, that kind of thing. Oops. Apparently, the interpreters didn’t get the most up to date list of motions, which is causing some consternation for poor Claude Debellefeuille, who reminds the chair she’s a unilingual francophone.

11:17:07 AM
The Tories, as it turns out, aren’t quite finished with committee assignments – Lukiwski pleads for a few more days. The other parties, however, are ready to go.

11:18:49 AM
The ghost of Peter Van Loan, House Leader still haunts the opposition members — Michel Guimond recalls that last time, for whatever reason, there was such a delay in providing the names that there was very little time to look over the lists before they were tabled in the House.

Marlene Jennings agrees – she thinks the government should try its best to have its list by the end of the day, since it will take a fair bit of time for all those names to be typed out by the clerk’s office.

Lukiwski tries not to get defensive – NSOC(tm)! – and reminds the committee that the government now has one more slot to fill on every committee, and also want to make sure that there are at least a few “experienced” members on each one.

11:23:19 AM
That motion having passed, it’s on to Private Members’ business — or, more specifically, the subcommittee that deals with it — and the members discuss their parties’ respective representatives. There is nothing particularly controversial about the selection, which is why it sailed through.

11:25:48 AM
Oh ho – Michel Guimond is suspicious of the order in which the motions are being passed, but Chairman Joe tells him that he’s reading them out in the order that the clerk handed them to him, but the opposition side seems to prefer that they follow the order in which they appear on the list.

11:27:18 AM
Scott Reid thinks the government should have two members on the agenda subcommittee, and claims that there is “a real advantage” to this, although it’s not clear how that is the case for anyone other than the government. Oh, because the sole government member had to be the chair, apparently, which put him in a conflict, according to Reid.

11:29:19 AM
Sorry, no deal, is the response from Marlene Jennings – who introduced the motion that Reid is attempting to amend – and Michel Guimond indicates that he fees the same way — he never felt that Gary Goodyear was there — on the last agenda subcommittee — to “defend Parliament” — so he will be voting against the Reid amendment, as it “goes against the consensual process.”

Marlene Jennings agrees, and begins to explain why, which provokes low but persistent grumbling from the government side. “Excuse me, Mr. Reid,” she says in a tone that brooks no nonsense.

This may be the first official test of the New Spirit of Cooperation. Ooh!

11:32:31 AM
…Or the first test of the NDP holding the balance of power; Yvon Godin informs the committee that he would support Reid’s amendment, as it would be “logical” to have someone from the government sitting on the committee who can “offer advice and opinions”, which frees the chair to run the meeting.

Look at that Yvon Godin – Making Parliament Work! I really hope he doesn’t come to regret this. “Yvon just made my argument for me,” points out Lukiwski.

11:35:34 AM
I should point out that there is a rather intense discussion going on between Guimond and Godin; I believe the former is attempting to explain to the latter why it might not be a good idea to pick *this* motion to break out the NDP’s version of the NSOC.

11:38:04 AM
Well, apparently he wasn’t quite persuasive enough; the amendment passed with government and NDP support, as did the amended motion, which the other opposition parties pointedly didn’t support.

11:38:47 AM
Moving on, a motion on quorum, which – according to Lukiwski, should include at least one opposition member, and one government member. Guimond points out that this would effectively give the government a veto – if they didn’t show up, the meeting couldn’t proceed. Yeah, gotta agree with him on this one. I wonder what the NDP will do?

11:41:21 AM
The NSOC appears to be in serious danger of giving way to the Old Spirit of Acrimony and Dysfunction – not as far as the official record, although Marcel Proulx is giving a pretty good rationale for not giving the government new powers that could be used as a weapon of dysfunction – but more as far as the cross-table chatter, which is taking on a distinctly snippy tone.

11:43:00 AM
Godin isn’t buying the government’s argument this time around – he’ll be voting against the amendment.

11:43:58 AM
Oh, that’s rather sad: Tom Lukiwski somehow mistook Godin’s opposition for support, forcing Scott Reid to gently break it to him that this particular amendment isn’t going to make it. Now Reid is getting unmistakeably balky as he attempts “not to belabour the point” while still taking a few shots across the table at Marcel Proux, and Guy Lauzon tries again to persuade Godin – well, the committee, but really, it is all about Godin – that this is an entirely “reasonable” proposal. “I’m a little disappointed,” he confesses – this committee isn’t getting off on the right foot *at all*.

Marlene Jennings isn’t having that, and she’s not about to let the government members “who lived through the last committee” knew very well that obstruction took place – and that it was the government that was responsible for that obstructing. She wants the government to demonstrate that they are “truly willing” to cooperate by – oh, this isn’t going to happen – admitting that it was their fault.

11:50:24 AM
Tom Lukiwski and Harold Albrecht are unwittingly mirroring each other’s slightly defensive hand movement as Marlene Jennings continues to berate those Conservatives who were members of the *last* committee for failing to take responsibility for their past action. She then gets even more irate at the chair when he describes her intervention as a “lecture.” Meanwhile, despite the disappointedness of Reid and Lukiwski, Yvon Godin hasn’t been convinced that giving the government a veto-by-absentia is such a great idea — and he reminds the members on the other side that it wasn’t the opposition that shut down meetings during the last session.

11:54:31 AM
The phrase “Spirit of Cooperation” (with or without the “New”) has very nearly hit the irony threshhold, as Rodger Cuzner brings up Dick Cheney’s hunting “accident” (or, more accurately, the accident that happened to the poor man who went hunting with Dick Cheney) to explain how even the best – or complete absence of negative – intentions don’t guarantee a particular outcome.

11:56:50 AM
Wait – in and out is officially going to the Ethics committee? Really? That’s what Tom Lukiwski says. But that committee hasn’t even been officially struck – how can he know that? Oh, and he does admit to filibustering last time, although for noble (from his perspective, at least) reasons: he didn’t think the motion before the committee at the time was in order.

12:00:49 PM
The amendment fails, the original motion passes – interestingly, without a single vote in support of it from the government. Gary Lauzon even voted against it, which was pointless, but might at least have made him feel better.

12:02:15 PM
On to a less contentious issue – translation of evidence, dealing with witnesses, that sort of thing. Only the clerk would be authorized to distribute documents, and only when they’re available in both official languages.

Everyone agrees with that one, and it passes unanimously – as does a motion to provide sandwiches at meetings, when necessary. (And datesquares! Why no amendment explicitly authorizing the provision of datesquares?)

I wonder if the Conservative contingent have any other amendments up their — no, apparently not, because that was the last of the routine motions.

Wait, I spoke too soon: Scott Reid has a motion on notice for ‘substantial’ motions to be considered – 48 hours, to be exact. Huh. I know this came up last time, but I forget whether there was some controversy over the length of time required.

I guess we’ll find out.

12:07:52 PM
Okay, Yvon Godin has a much clearer memory of this motion – or at least, the version thereof debated during the last session – and informs the committee that the NDP cannot support this, because this particular committee needs to be able to work “anytime it wishes” on any issue.

After a brief intervention from Rodger Cuzner, it goes down to defeat. Bring on the off-the-cuff motions, which are not infrequertly the most interesting ones, at least in ITQ’s experience.

12:12:40 PM
Michel Guimond puts us out of the threatened misery of sitting through more routine motions, dealing with even more minute details of committee administrivia, by convincing Lukiwski – who seems to be the new Gary Goodyear, as far as pushing the government agenda at the table – to send the whole lot of them to the steering committee first.

Chairman Joe seems to be settling in nicely, incidentally, although he still looks a little nervous when the discussion gets heated.

12:15:21 PM
Michel Guimond wants the Finance committee to be struck like, yesterday. Well, tomorrow, actually – in time to deal with the fiscal update – and the chair reminds him that it’s now in the hands of the Whips.

12:17:07 PM
And with that, the meeting adjourns – no bang, no whimper, just a determinedly cheerful dismissal from the chair. A somewhat mixed debut as far as the NSOC(tm), but in general, I’m so glad they’re back I would have covered a steering committee meeting. (And may yet, if they’re ever held in public.)