Ottawa reporter claims Burlington MP Mike Wallace is about to trash one of our parliamentary traditions

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  January 31, 2012    In the news business it’s called the “plain brown envelope” that was usually left at the front desk of a newspaper office.  The envelope usually c9ntained documents that were very incriminating – quite often a photograph of someone with someone they were supposed or expected to be with.  Journalists just love this stuff.

The internet changed the plain brown envelope to an email and earlier today we got one that went like this:

Extremely BAD NEWS, but typical of Wallace’s behaviour in the ‘Harper Government.’

Now we see the political slant and while we may not share the viewpoint what was attached to the email did interest us – and should interest anyone who cares a whit about our parliamentary democracy.

The one thing that makes a democracy work is that information flows and is available to the public.  We get to see what they are doing and what they are saying.

Always a smile, often a laugh; you're friendly local MP - putting forward amotion that will end the flow from a committee that does critical Second reading of government bills. a committee that will

Marvelous Mike, Burlington choice to sit in the House of Commons and represent our best interests appears to be the stalking horse for a change the government wants to make in the amount of information that is made available to the public.

A highly regarded Ottawa journalist, at least in the eyes of most members of the press bureau on Parliament Hill, Kady O’Malley said the following:

“Regular readers will doubtless recall last month’s aborted attempt by Conservative MP Mike Wallace to rewrite the government operations committee rules on the fly in order to force all discussion of future business behind closed door,  “as,” he remarked at the time, to the amazement of certain liveblogging onlookers, “it should be.”

What Ms O’Reilly is talking about is pretty technical stuff.  To help understand why this matters; know this.  The government introduces a bill into the House of Commons by what is known as a first reading.  The bill then gets sent to a committee for what is called  Second reading where it is given a line by line review.

It is these Second reading committees that we are focused on.  Marvelous Mike, Burlington’s MP, appears to want to have the committee that he is vice chair of meet behind closed doors – meaning the public never gets to know what they have to say.

Well when the federal government introduces a bill to change the way pension are paid out, you dear reader, will want to know exactly what those rascals are saying.  Bad enough that we taxpayers have to shell out tons of money to pay for the exceptionally rich Members of Parliament are currently given, but to not be able to hhear what each member says during the Committee review of a bill that impacts you directly – is just a little much.

Not much anyone can do about it because Prime Minister Stephen Harper commands a majority government.  In the Parliamentary tradition the House of Commons is expected to debate with each political party getting a chance to put their viewpoint forward.  You can watch and hear what they say during first reading but, if Marvelous Mike Wallace has way, you won’t get to read a word of what goes on during the line by line review of the bill the government has put forward.

Kayd O'Malley, respected Ottawa based journalist cover House of Commons committees like no one else. WAs in the room when Burlington MP Mike Wallace attempted to have a committee move into closed session. will be in the room when Wallace tries to do the same thing again.

What can you do about that – well you let your member know you aren’t pleased and ask for an explanation and listen carefully to the answer and don’t be fooled by the weasel words that get used.  Remember, Mike Wallace is in Ottawa as both YOU Member of Parliament but he is also a member of a government and the current government doesn’t appear to want to make some information available to you the taxpayer.

The committee that Marvelous Mike serves as vice chair is going to hear him put forward a motion – well let’s let Kady O’Malley tell the rest of the story.

“ At the time, the chair — NDP MP Pat Martin — deemed the motion too substantive to have been brought forward without proper notice, which, given the then rapidly approaching break, pushed the whole issue off until … well, now, apparently.

“Word has it that the required notice has been duly given, which means the motion to consider all future committee business in camera could be on the agenda as early as Wednesday, when the committee will convenes its first full meeting of the new year.

“It’s not clear whether that session will take place in public, but given the mathematics of majority, it may not make much difference: If the government wants it to pass, it will pass, which, frankly, would be worrying enough all on its own, considering that Government Operations is, after all, one of the four opposition-chaired oversight committees, and as such, should properly go about its business in public whenever possible.

“Far more unsettling, however, is the prospect that the Wallace manoeuvre was actually a test run, which, if successful, will be repeated at other committees until such time as all future committee business will be conducted beyond the gaze of the public.

“Also under procedural lockdown: the newly created Subcommittee on the Review of the Report on Organized Crime in Canada, a spin-off from Justice, which has been trying, and failing, to sign off on the report in question since the previous parliament, and, perhaps most notably, Environment, whose members are reportedly at loggerheads over the results of its statutory review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

“Given the Keystone XL/Northern Gateway-sparked musings from the prime minister and other senior Conservatives on the need to streamline what they now refer to as the ‘approval’ process, when that report is finally tabled in the Commons, it will likely provide considerable insight on how the government intends to proceed.

The Keystone Pipeline is a something many Canadians want to see built so that the oil from the tar sands in Alberta can be shipped to refineries in Texas.  The Northern Gateway is a pipeline many want to see built from Alberta to the west coast where it will be shipped to China.  These are all great exporting opportunities fr Canada – however they both have significant environmental concerns attached to them and many want to see this decision fully and openly debated.

“Now, it bears noting — again — that there is nothing particularly unorthodox in committees choosing to deal with some matters in private: travel budgets, witness selection and the drafting of reports.

“Still, though, the plethora of padlocks popping up on the committee schedule will likely do little to reassure those who worry that the party that came to power on a pledge to bring unprecedented transparency to Parliament Hill may no longer be committed to the principle that true accountability relies on the watchful eye of the beholder.”

Kady O’Malley is perhaps the very best reporter on parliament hill where she gathers material used on CBC’s Saturday morning radio program The House – best program there is on what is happening in Ottawa.  Marvelous Mike says he doesn’t listen to it – yeah right Mike

We will let you know what our man in Ottawa does on Wednesday.  Do the right thing Mike, and remember what they taught you in grade 10 civics.




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