Saturday, June 6, 2009

Harper's Secret Handbook of Dirty Tricks

When Stephen Harper called an illegal election in the fall of 2008, he defended the decision by saying that Parliament wasn't functioning and he could no longer work with the opposition.

However, it was common knowledge that the Tories did everything in their power to stall progress, while finding ways to blame it on the other guy.

In fact Don Martin uncovered proof of this some time before that, when he came into possession of Harper's little black book to create mayhem, and make sure that his minority government did not work.

This is sad because there is a wealth of talent across the parties that should be tapped into. Instead, the Conservatives have reduced the hallowed halls of Parliament to a frat house, where the boys run amok, while the girls act as cheerleaders for their immature behaviour.

Harper government whips Tories into line with secret handbook
Don Martin,
Calgary Herald
May 18, 2007

It's the secret guidebook for Conservative MPs on how to unleash chaos while chairing parliamentary committees.

Running some 200 pages, including background material, the document given only to Conservative chairmen tells them how to favour government agendas, select party-friendly witnesses, coach favourable testimony, set in motion debate-obstructing delays and, if necessary, storm out of meetings to grind business to a halt.

The binder fell into my hands on Thursday evening, two days after the government whip Jay Hill called the chairs to his office for a refresher course on advancing the government agenda over opposition objections.

A source at that meeting confided that Hill "lavished praise on the chairs who caused disruptions and admonished those who prefer to lead through consensus" -- an interpretation the whip strongly denies.

But the document does illustrate a government preference for manipulative tactics over collective, all-party compromise and proves that the chairs are under intense supervision.

Its tactics also fly in the face of Thursday's complaint by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that opposition parties are responsible for the committee paralysis now seizing Parliament Hill as the summer recess approaches.

It paints in vivid detail what Conservative chairs should say when confronted by challenges to their authority, how to rule opposition MPs out of order during procedural wrangling and how government MPs should debate at committee when a hostile motion is put to a vote. The manual even offers up speeches for a chair under attack and suggests they have been whipped into partisan instruments of policy control and agents of the Prime Minister's Office.

Among the more startling heavy-handed recommendations in the document:

- That the Conservative party helps pick committee witnesses. The chair "should ensure that witnesses suggested by the Conservative Party of Canada are favourable to the government and ministry," it says.

- The chairs should also seek to "include witnesses from Conservative ridings" and make sure the local MP replaces a member at the committee when a constituent appears.

- The chairs should "meet with witnesses so as to review testimony and assist in question preparation."

- Procedural notes tell the chairmen to always recognize a Conservative member just before a motion is put to a vote "and let them speak as long as they wish" -- a tactic used to kick-start a filibuster as a stall tactic.

- Chairmen are told to notify all affected ministries before a motion is voted on. "Communicate concerns with the Prime Minister's Office, House leader or whip," the document insists. "Try to anticipate the response of the press and how party could be portrayed."

- The guide says a "disruptive" committee should be adjourned by the chairman on short notice -- "no debate, no appeal possible."

The document uses the recent committee kerfuffle over Shane Doan's appointment as captain of Team Canada as a case study in how Conservative chairs should behave when confronted by controversial decisions.

It shows that the PMO was particularly nervous about the government's public perception in the aftermath and delivered MPs their marching orders on how to vote.

It reveals that Conservative MPs were briefed on the testimony of Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson in advance of the meeting
. The chair was told to rule any motion out of order if it touched Doan's lawsuit against Liberal MP Denis Coderre and warned all Tory MPs to "vote against the matter or at least abstain from the vote. Alternatively Conservative members could consider refusing to deal with the matter and simply leave the room so as not be party to this charade."

Government whip Jay Hill makes no apologies for increased contact with committee chairs to keep tighter control on tactics, but blames a gang-up of opposition parties for the combative stance.

"They're increasingly behaving as though they're
a coalition government cooking up deals behind closed doors. We're going to use the tools at our disposal to try and push back," he told me. "Canadians elected a Conservative minority government, not a coalition of opposition parties."

Hill believes next week's break will allow cooler heads to prevail when MPs return for the final legislative push before adjourning for the summer.

Ironically, the manual also advises committee chairs to act fairly and build trust with members of all parties, getting to know them personally.

It warns chairs not to "use negative body language" or "use humour inappropriately" and tells them not to "interrupt unnecessarily or argue with individual members" -- orders clearly ignored by some of the more partisan chairs.

Hill, who has a solid, long-standing reputation for fairness as the Conservative MP in charge of moving the government's agenda forward, admits all of Parliament is getting a black eye in public for its recent shenanigans.

"I hope we can come back and restore civility. The whole thing is getting absurd and ridiculous."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

So this is what government has been reduced to? Secret handbooks and childish behaviour. The Conservative MPs forget that they are sent to the House of Commons to work for their constituents, not the Conservative Party of Canada. They also need to remember that Stephen Harper is not their boss, we are. Stephen Harper does not pay their salaries, we do.

No comments:

Post a Comment