Burlington MP Mike Wallace gets a promotion, a raise in pay and then lands in hot water.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  January 11th, 2012

It was a great day in Burlington history and perhaps the brightest day in the life of Marvelous Mike Wallace; the Prime Minister had come to town and as Wallace tells it – “I spent four hours with the Prime Minister”.  Mike wore a smile for the next month.

It was a big day for Burlington MP Mike Wallace. The Prime Minister was in town and Wallace made sure everyone who wanted their picture taken with the PM got that chance. Expect those pictures in future campaign literature.

The obvious question we had for Wallace was: how did you get the PM to come to Burlington Mike? Every MP wants the PM to visit their riding.  The rules of the game are the MP puts together an outline and makes the case for the PM to visit.

“I had a contact within the PMO and was able to get a favourable look at Burlington.”

Wallace says he was “told two weeks before hand that the PM would be visiting Burlington and was sworn to secrecy.  Two days before the visit I am allowed to let the word out and the guests are advised and everyone shows up.”  And show up they did.  The Prime Minister toured the Performing Arts Centre and talked with members of the Burlington Teen Tour Band in the Main Theatre and then moved to the smaller Community Studio Theatre where the press conference took place.

Wallace believed he could have filled the Main Theatre at the Performing Arts Centre with guests, but the security people chose the smaller Studio Theatre.  Politically, it is better to have a small room filled to bursting rather than a big room with empty spaces.  The security people began to get a little edgy when people were milling around the Prime Minster and Wallace, along with Mayor Goldring, were directing people to where the PM was standing to have their picture taken.  Didn’t matter who you were; if you were upright and breathing you got your picture taken.

Prime Minister checks out the product at Ecosynthetix. Company CEO John van Leeuwen is on the left

The Prime Minister included a tour of Ecosynthetix, a newly minted public company with offices and research facility on Mainway in Burlington.

Great Day for Marvelous Mike and a pretty good year as well – he is now part of a majority government that has settled in for the next four years during which time, based on what we have seen so far, we can expect some significant changes.  For Wallace this is a very welcome change indeed. “We were always on edge as a minority government, we never knew when or if the government was going to fall.  I rented campaign offices on two occasions because I thought we were going into an election.”  When the election was called and the campaign offices were finally used Wallace got 54% of the vote, “for which I am grateful” he said.

When the government was formed Marvelous Mike wasn’t made a Cabinet Minister, but he did get a promotion to a very important House of Commons Committee.  “It’s an important job and it meant a little bit more money” explained Wallace who is now the Vice Chair of the Government Operations Committee, whose job it is to review all government legislation.

To give you some idea as to just how important this committee is – here’s what it is required to do:

House of Commons Standing Orders, the mandate of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates includes primarily the study of: the effectiveness of government operations; expenditure budgets of central departments and agencies; format and content of all Estimates documents; cross-departmental mandates – programs delivered by more than one department or agency; new information and communication technologies adopted by the government; statutory programs, tax expenditures, loan guaranties, contingency funds and private foundations deriving the majority of their funding from the Government of Canada.

Add to that, this:

The Committee is specifically mandated to examine and conduct studies related to the following organizations, whose operational responsibilities extend across the government.  Central Agencies and Departments,  Privy Council Office/Prime Minister’s Office, Treasury Board Secretariat, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Organizations Related to Human Resources Matters, Public Service Commission, Public Services Human Resources Management Agency of Canada, Canada School of Public Service.

It doesn’t end there.  Add these to the list of things this committee looks into.  Office of the Governor General, Public Service Labour Relations Board, Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat.  They look at legislation related to the following Crown Corporations:  Canada Lands Company, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Canada Post Corporation, Defence Construction (1951) Limited, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc., Public Sector Pension Investment Board, Queens Quay West Land Corporation and the Royal Canadian Mint.

Any legislation introduced in the House of Commons that passes first reading is sent to a committee for what is referred to as line by line review or Second reading.  Anything to do with estimates (basically money matters) goes to the Committee of which Mike is vice chair.  Because this is such an important committee, what happens there is of vital importance.

The story of Wallace’s attempt to get everything this committee does, done behind closed doors first broke when CBC radio did a short feature on it.   Wallace refers to the woman who broke the story, Kady O’Malley, as “a blogger who doesn’t do any research”.  Blogger she may be, but she was in the room, when Wallace put forward his motion, and she heard every word.  O’Malley has a sterling reputation around Parliament Hill.  Also, the printed minutes of the meeting show fairly clearly, what Wallace was trying to do.  He didn’t get away with it this time – we will watch to see, what he tries to do next time.

This time there he was , Burlington’s Member of Parliament; part of a majority government, new job, better pay – and what does he do – lands himself in hot water with an attempt to have the meetings of the committee for which he is vice chair held behind closed doors.

CBC’s very popular radio program, The House, (Saturday on CBC Radio One at 9:00 am) which is a must for anyone politically involved in Ottawa did a piece on Wallace December 17th in which they skewered him.  The Globe and Mail followed up with a short piece in which they said:

“The federal Conservative government is trying to move more of the debate at Commons committees behind closed doors – a tactic that opposition members deride as another effort by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to limit what Canadians know about the conduct of their Parliament.”  The news story went on to say: “It is normal that witness lists would be drawn in camera because the discussion covers personalities and qualifications and capabilities, Mr. Comartin (NDP House leader) said.  But “what they’re talking about here is all debate that goes on, unless there is a witness before the committee, everything else is going to be behind closed doors,” he said.

Wallace said in our interview with him that that what he proposed was “no big deal” and said he wasn’t put up to the move by anyone.  “I’ve not talked to anyone at the PMO (Prime Ministers Office) about this”.  Many don’t believe Wallace – they don’t think he’s smart enough to do something like this on his own.

Wallace says, that while he was thwarted in his first attempt to get things discussed behind closed doors,  he plans to serve notice of his intention to bring a motion, which will pass because the government has the most members on the committee.

Here is where this issue gets dicey.  There are times when Committees need to go into a closed session.  Burlington’s city council does it frequently.  What Wallace was thought to be trying to do was pass a motion that would have the Government Operations Committee always be in closed session.  Wallace says that isn’t the case – what he wanted was a motion that would allow the committee to go into closed session when “future business” was being discussed.

Burlington MO Mike Wallace at a federal Conservative Caucus meeting. Wallace usually wears a smile and tends to be a bit of a jokester at times. Known for his ability to play small pranks. Can't dance though.

We’re not sure if Wallace was trying to pull a fast one and set things up so that all reviews of government legislation gets reviewed behind closed doors or if he was misunderstood when he used the phrase “all future business”.  We will watch this one closely.  Wallace did say that the committee meetings were collegial, academic rather than political.  One doesn’t get that sense from a reading of the minutes.

Wallace is developing a reputation as someone who knows the process and sees the need for change.  The Hill Times, a magazine that focuses on what happens on Parliament Hill mentioned that : “Conservative MP Mike Wallace (Burlington, Ont.), vice-chair of the House Government Operations Committee,said MPs should do a better job of scrutinizing government spending, but also they don’t have the time, expertise or resources to do an adequate job. Mr. Wallace said he has been working on ways to improve the budget approval process and will present those suggestions to the Conservative caucus in the fall. He declined to elaborate on his ideas until he talks to Tory MP”.

The articles goes on to quote Wallace as saying: “Right now for you to get all the balls in order, you need to look at the budget, then you have to look at the spending estimates, then you have to look at the priorities and planning documents that the ministries put out in the fall and then you have to look a year and a half later to the public accounts. It’s a very time consuming and difficult piece to put together,” Mr. Wallace said. “I just think we should be doing a better job of it as Members of Parliament. I’m not blaming anybody for it, it’s just the way it is.”

Wallace has developed a personal niche for himself on Parliament Hill.  He likes looking at numbers and the details in a bill interest him.  Many get that glazed look in their eyes when they see page after page of numbers – but Wallace likes this kind of work and as a result has a better command than many of the numbers and details involved.  That kind of background comes in very handy when an issue is being debated.

There was a point in 2011 when Burlington was giving some thought to perhaps just giving up on the Pier and tearing it down.  That was certainly the advice former Mayor Jackson gave current Mayor Goldring.  Wallace quietly let the city know that if they chose to tear down the Pier, and that was a choice they could make, but if they did – they would have to return the millions of dollars the federal government had contributed.

Mike Wallace stands before a constituency map with all kinds of Tory Blue on it. He took 54% of the vote last time.

Wallace is particularly proud of the role he has played in the development of the arts in Burlington and having an brand new Performing Arts Centre might have been a part of the attraction for the Prime Minister to travel to Burlington.  Wallace was part of the group that organized in 1999 to get a Performing Arts Centre for Burlington.  Both Wallace, who was a Council member at the time and then Mayor Walter Mulkewich, worked hard to get Burlington to where it is today.  The task of making Burlington a worthwhile destination from a performing arts point of view is now in the hands of the people that run the Centre.  Burlington is fortunate enough to have an Executive Director, Brenda Heatherington, who brings an exceptional set of skills to the job. If anyone can make it happen, Heatherington can.

What she didn’t need of course was to have her MP on the stage trying to do a Gene Kelly impersonation during the Blue Jeans Gala and forgetting the line to Singing in the Rain.

Wallace has always been concerned about the lack of a strong voice for the arts community at city hall and points out that Oakville has a point person for the arts.

2011 was a good year for Mike Wallace.  He is popular in the community, he delivers for the community and unless there is a tidal wave of discontent with the current government Mike Wallace is going to be our MP for some time.  Governments of course eventually lose office – thank goodness for that. Can you imagine Jean Chretien getting away with the sponsorship scandal.





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