Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Harper Government breach of privilege extravaganza

Busy day of contempt rulings by the Speaker and the above ad just making the rounds seems quite appropriate.
The government is in breach of privilege for not turning over detailed cost estimates for its anti-crime agenda, and one of its ministers may have misled MPs, House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken said Wednesday in a ruling that reasserted Parliament's authority.

Milliken ruled there was a "prima facie breach of privilege," in other words, enough evidence to send the two separate motions back to MPs to decide the next step in complaints the government is refusing to give financial information to the House and that International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda may have misled a Commons committee.
The Oda matter, if it blossoms into a contempt finding, is significant and it seems inconceivable that Harper will let this situation develop: 
If Oda is found guilty, said Franks, she could be incarcerated until the end of the session of Parliament or her seat -- she represents the Ontario riding of Durham -- could be declared vacant, although she would still be eligible to hold a cabinet post.
The last time a person was sentenced for being found in contempt of Parliament was almost 100 years ago. In 1913, Montreal businessman R.C. Miller was jailed for four months for refusing to attend a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.
If found in contempt of Parliament, Oda would be the first sitting cabinet minister ruled in breach of parliamentary privilege.
 Some timing considerations:
Liberal MP Scott Brison agreed to take the Speaker’s ruling to committee for consideration. But his motion directed MPs to bring back their final recommendation to the House on Monday March 21, the day before the Conservatives bring down the budget.

The deadline ensures that the third week of March will be singularly tumultuous, and may well lead to the minority government's fall -- if not on the question of the budget, then on the question of contempt.
Combine these two privilege rulings, which are now starting to eat up news coverage, with the "in and out" motion passed yesterday and the narrative is moving away from and out of the control of the government's hands. All indications have been that Harper and his public relations firm of a government have been moving along toward an election, with their raft of economic action plan ads, their announcement tours across the country, attack ads, etc. That apple cart is being upset. At least in so far as the Harper script that has been written for an election. So it might very well be decision time for Mr. Harper. Is he a guy who likes for things to be out of his control? No. And whether we have an election or not has always been in his control.