Today was supposed to be Dimitri Soudas' (communication director for the Prime Minister) big day testifying before the Commons ethics committee investigating government interference on Access to Information requests. Mr. Soudas was supposed to answer questions about ministerial attempts to block Access requests. Instead, he was replaced by the Conservative's pit bull Transport Minister John Baird.
The Conservative government, through Government House Leader MP Jay Hill (Conservative - Prince George-Peace River), stated that:
"Ministers are answerable to Parliament and its committees. It is Ministers who decide policy and Ministers who must defend it before the House and ultimately before the people of Canada...When they (Parliamentary staffers) accepted their jobs, they never imagined that one of the skills required was to stand up to the interrogation of a bitterly partisan parliamentary committee. They could not have expected, in our Westminster parliamentary system of responsible government, that hostile committees and tyrannical chairmen would deny them the protection of the rules and their minister."
Mr. Hill claims that Parliamentary staffers are not elected and that they are often intimidated and humiliated when asked to appear before a Committee that often consists of a majority of Opposition members. I can't imagine that either humiliation or intimidation happened when the Conservatives/Alliance/Reform formed the Opposition members in Committees, can you? And as for his comment about "bitterly partisan parliamentary committee(s)", Mr. Hill need look no further than his own Party if he wants to see bitter partisanship.
If Ministers must defend their policies before the House and ultimately to the people of Canada why is it then, that during Question Period, Ministers obfuscate when asked a question by a member of the Opposition? They'll dance a jig, sing a song, perform a magic trick and do just about anything but actually answer a question, difficult or otherwise. If you've ever written to a Minister about an issue and they actually make the conscious decision to respond, you get a letter full of platitudes and talking points that rarely address the issue at hand.
The issue of Dimitri Soudas' non-appearance today brings to mind two questions:
1.) Why did John Baird appear for Dimitri Soudas when, quite clearly, Stephen Harper would be Dimitri's superior/Minister?
2.) If a staffer does not appear before a Committee when summoned, would he/she be in considered in contempt? If the wrong Minister appears (i.e. not the staffer's actual Minister), would the non-appearance of the Minister be considered contempt?
My suspicion is that the current government feels that those who serve the public (rather than their political masters) as their underlings are not sufficiently versed on the CPC talking points and that they may slip up and reveal something that the government regards as unfavourable under the pressure of repeated questioning. All of this seems to have cropped up after Sabastien Tognieri, the aide to then-Public Works Minister Christian Paradis, testified on May 11th that he had "...made a mistake in judgement..." more than once when asked why he had intervened in the release of a document under the Access to Information Act by cutting the release to 30 pages from more than 130. Apparently, Mr. Tognieri was mistaken twice - the first mistake he admitted to when questioned by the Committee, the second was that, by association with him, the current government had made a mistake. As Canadians, we are well aware that this government makes no mistakes; Mr. Harper will not allow it.
It appears that Canadian democracy is slipping away one bit at a time. Oh well, it was good while it lasted.