Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Burlington MP leads the Way Reforming Parliament

“So there you go.”

(Mike Wallace at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, December 13, 2011)

We talk primarily about municipal politics here. 

But we ought to learn from all levels of government.

So when former Burlington and Halton Councillor Mike Wallace, now the Burlington MP, brings new procedural ideas to a democratic body such as the House of Commons we pay attention.

On December 13th at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates (OGGO) Wallace insisted that this committee go into camera to discuss future business of the committee.  Not just at this meeting but at all future meetings. 

There followed some procedural discussion. It appears that Wallace needs to put forward a notice of motion to be voted on before a final resolution of the matter.  Since Wallace’s Conservatives (aka Harper Government) have a majority the outcome of that vote is inevitable – all discussions of “future business” of this committee will take place in camera.

The Globe and Mail reported on this last week. (http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/opposition-attacks-motion-to-make-commons-committee-debate-private/article2271681/?service=mobile)

Their story quoted Michael Behiels, a professor of political history at the University of Ottawa. Behiels said that in the past committees used discretion to decide when to go in camera.

 “You do your best to make sure that as much of the committee’s business as possible is open to the public for scrutiny, and so members, in a sense, can be as accountable as required under the law and under the proceedings of Parliament and under democracy.  Simply to shut all that off legally, I think, is sending a terrible signal to Canadians that much of the government’s business is in fact closed to them.”

Wallace is one of the Vice Chairs of the Committee.  I was his wardmate from 1994-97 and in those days he believed in openness of government.  Have his views changed or is Ottawa democracy just different from the local variety?

The mandate of the OGGO includes the study of the effectiveness of government operations, expenditure budgets of central departments and agencies and more.  It oversees Privy Council Office/Prime Minister’s Office, Treasury Board Secretariat, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Crown Corporations like Canada Post and human resources matters in areas like the Public Service Commission.

It looks like OGGO does important work but most of it will be behind closed doors from now on.