Monday, May 03, 2010

Detainee documents: the Liberals frame the issue

Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale's comments here merit serious attention. I find them worrying.

He begins well. He points out the unassailable nature of Speaker Peter Milliken's recent ruling on Parliamentary supremacy. And he goes further: "the judgment that is brought to bear on what is releasable or not, " he says, "must be a parliamentary judgment."


But at that point the tone changes. He starts talking about the sheer magnitude of the job of sifting through all of those documents. Our attention is diverted: now this issue is appropriate facilities, support services and what-have-you. He's not confident, he says, but hopeful, that the task can be carried out within "a manageable period of time."

Given that image of armies of bureaucrats toiling over a virtual Everest of paper, his concluding comments appear like nothing more than posturing:

Globe & Mail: If it turned out that no compromise on the documents can be reached between the parties within the two-week timeframe dictate by the Speaker, are the principles involved in this dispute worth going to an election over?

Goodale: The principles are critical. You could hardly imagine a more profound set of circumstances. If the government falls back from where it seemed to be going on Thursday in our preliminary meeting, if it falls back to a position of non-transparency and stonewalling and lack of respect for what the Speaker said, there could not be a more fundamental problem for our democracy and it would be critically important for political parties to not just look the other way but to stand up for the fundamental principles by which we govern ourselves.

Are there wheels within wheels here? Are the Liberals offering Harper a way out, by suggesting that the task will take months or even years--perhaps followed up with an agreement that nothing will be made public until that task is complete?

May I make a suggestion to the honourable member? Set priorities. Start with the redacted Richard Colvin memos--all of them, and any responses thereto. That's the work of half a day or so. And then get to work on these ones. Worry about the contents of the "sea container" buried somewhere in Kandahar, and additional troves of material wherever they might be, some other time.

Not to keep beating this drum, but Parliamentary supremacy is too important to be frittered away--either by accident or design.

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