A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, May 30, 2010

More Contempt

Scott Tribe recently summed up the latest attack upon our democracy like this:-

You’d think the Conservatives would have gotten the idea that they are accountable to Parliament after the Afghan detainee document mini-crisis, but in less then a month, they’re going to try and avoid accountability yet again by trying to “ban” their political staffers from being subpoenaed in front of a Parliamentary Committee.

As multiple others have pointed out, they are not allowed to do that, as the laws of Parliament clearly state:

..the power of Parliament to “send for persons” is explained in chapter 20 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice. A committee of Parliament can issue a summons to any individual, ordering their attendance at a specific time and place. Only the Queen, the Governor-General, provincial lieutenant-governors, members of Parliament, members of provincial legislatures and individuals not residing in Canada are, in practice, granted immunity from such a summons.

When the Conservatives attempt this stunt today, this clearly calls for another opposition point of order to the Speaker, and as far as I’m concerned, shows yet more “contempt for Parliament” as an institution by the current Conservative government. The opposition parties should act accordingly.


Here are some more extracts from the House of Commons Procedure and Practice Second Edition, 2009 as referred to in the above:-

The Standing Orders set out the powers held by standing committees.[135] Each is given the power to examine and enquire into all such matters as the House may refer to it, to report from time to time and to print a brief appendix to any report, after the signature of the Chair, containing such opinions or recommendations, dissenting from the report or supplementary to it, as may be proposed by committee members. Except when the House orders otherwise, committees are also authorized to send for persons, papers and records, to meet either when the House is sitting or when it stands adjourned, to meet jointly with other standing committees, to print from day to day such papers and evidence as may be ordered by them, and to delegate powers to subcommittees (except the power to report directly to the House).

Standing committees often need the collaboration, expertise and knowledge of a variety of individuals to assist them in their studies and investigations. Usually these persons appear willingly before committees when invited to do so. But situations may arise where an individual does not agree to appear and give evidence. If the committee considers that this evidence is essential to its study, it has the power to summon such a person to appear.[138] .

[138](This power, delegated to standing committees by the House, is part of the privileges, rights and immunities which the House of Commons inherited when it was created. They were considered essential to its functions as a legislative body, so that it could investigate, debate and legislate, and are constitutional in origin.)

Although they can send for certain persons, standing committees do not have the power to punish a failure to comply with their orders in this regard. Only the House of Commons has the disciplinary powers needed to deal with this type of offence.[151] If a witness refuses to appear, or does not appear, as ordered, the committee’s recourse is to report the matter to the House.[152] Once seized with the matter, the House takes the measures that it considers appropriate.[153]

.[151] The disciplinary powers of the House include the power to reprimand a person who is not a Member. They also include the power to suspend or expel Members from the House.


It would seem to me that the refusal to attend a committee upon request is a clear violation of the standing rules and should be referred to the House. As the House consists of ALL our MPs, of which the Conservatives constitute a minority, it is also clear that the House could, if it so desires, suspend or expel such members that refuse to appear. It is unclear what can be done to “staffers” who do so whether directed by said “members” or not, or to those “members” who direct them to do so. In other word if the committee specifically request a particular minister to attend and he does not there is recourse, but if a minister shows up in the place of a staffer it is the staffer who is in contempt, and the penalty's for him are not at all clear but would seem to be “a reprimand”!.

It does not say (so far as I can see) that it is an offense to direct or otherwise block someone from appearing, which is perhaps the loophole that this antidemocratic regime is counting upon to continue on their path to being totally secretive and unaccountable.

The question is will those MPs not totally controlled by The Harper Regime (or those controlled by other “constraints”) have the gonads to actually DO something about it? It is a sad state of affairs when a party that has a stated goal of exiting the confederation looks more democratic and respectful of parliament than the party currently in power. At this point a Coalition, which could even includes those particular duly elected MPs (who have “disrupted” parliament far less than those actually in power), looks much better than the demise of our democracy as we know it. In recent days rumors have been circulating that such a possibility is being investigated, I for one would welcome such a move but I am sure that the “coalitions are not democratic” lies will soon also be circulating.

At this point a Coalition government would seem to be the only way to save our democracy from this dictatorial and dishonest Harper Regime.

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