"At the end of the day, [Ethics Committee Chair]Paul Szabo and this kangaroo court have no credibility and no one takes their summons seriously."
So said Con MP Pierre Poilievre in August two years ago when he was only an associate member of the Ethics Committee.
Since becoming fully-fledged, and also Parliamentary Secretary to Steve, his job there is apparently to pipe up "Point of order" every few minutes like some demented Energizer bunny until the Chair finally cuts his mike.
Lib MP Wayne Easter's spirited response to John Baird's surprise appearance before the Ethics Committee on Tuesday in place of Dimitri Soudas has already been well covered. Soudas cancelled only minutes before the committee convened, in keeping with Steve's new rules forbidding ministerial staffers from appearing before committees.
Chair Paul Szabo at first let Baird speak, setting off an hour of angry opposition motions to dismiss the usurper, interspersed with Poilievre's points! of! order! By contrast, the Con committee members dutifully bent over their brand new talking points on "ministerial responsibility for their staffers", carefully read aloud with heads bowed down when it was their turn to speak.
Eventually Szabo broke a tie vote over whether or not to let Baird stay and booted him out.
Well sure. After all, as Minister of Transport, Baird is not Soudas' boss and would not be able to answer any of the questions the committee was intending to ask Soudas, despite Baird's sinister hand waving about something he called "collective responsibility".
And as Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac of the Bloc pointed out, the last time a minister appeared before the committee on behalf of one of their staffers - that would be Christian Paradis, Minister of Asbestos - his idea of "ministerial responsibility" was to just blame the staffer.
Carole Freeman of the Bloc brought up committees' right to subpoena witnesses :
"[Soudas] is an ordinary citizen and should be treated as such. A house leader does not have the power to change existing rules simply by standing up in the House and making a statement."
But then there was another tie vote that I haven't seen discussed.
What to do about the many named bureaucrats already scheduled to appear in the few weeks remaining before the committee breaks for recess on June 22? And what to do if their ministers wanted to show up in their staffers' place?
Chair Szabo asked for a motion to give him authority to summon the witnesses already scheduled to appear ... if necessary ... even if it meant allowing those witnesses' ministers to come as substitutes in their stead.
A pretty weak motion but as he explained, they were waiting on an expected future ruling by the Speaker on such witness substitutions. And he was only asking for either the scheduled witness or his/her minister to appear if that's what was offered.
OK so it was an astoundingly weak motion to exercise parliamentary committees' right to summon witnesses, but you know what? That vote was tied up 5 to 5 - the Cons vs everyone else - and only passed because the Chair broke it by voting in favour.
Pierre Poilievre suggested what he called "a friendly amendment" to solve the impasse over the next scheduled witness :
"just replace the name of the political staffer in question with the name of the Minister."
Your moment of hideous irony : The work currently before the committee is looking into "allegations of systematic political interference by ministers' offices to block, delay, or obstruct the release of information to the public regarding the operation of government departments".