Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In Camera government

Beyond all the excitement on the Hill today, there is an important development that Kady O'Malley has noted at the parliamentary committee level that is worth a look.

Apparently Conservative MP Mike Wallace of Burlington has put forth a motion at the Government Operations Committee that would mean that all future committee business conducted there would automatically be conducted in camera. I.e., without public viewing. The Conservatives want this to be the operating presumption at that committee which is antithetical to what a parliamentary committee's operations should be in a, you know, democracy.
...while much of yesterday afternoon's Hill chatter was -- again, rightly -- consumed by the Cotler ruling, something else was going on at committee that, depending on the ultimate outcome, could have a far more profound effect on the ability of Members of Parliament to do their job, not to mention the ability of the voters they represent to watch them do it.
Now, it's worth noting that going in camera for all discussion of committee business would not necessary result in all future meetings being held behind closed doors. (I say "likely" because it wasn't clear from Wallace's motion, which was tabled without notice, and, as such, not available in written form.)

If passed, the Wallace motion would still allow witnesses to testify in public -- but all other proceedings, including but not limited to debate over all future motions, ad hoc or substantial, would be held in secret by default.

It would also prevent opposition members from distributing copies of motions, since any matter scheduled to be dealt with in camera is considered confidential.
As several procedural experts have pointed out, the minutes will only reflect motions passed during an in camera session, not those that are ultimately defeated, which means we'll never know just what motions may have been nixed by the government majority.
What on earth is going on?