A Commons committee plans to hold rare summer hearings into alleged violations of Canada's election laws by the Conservatives after a months-long Tory filibuster of the plan ended before Parliament shut down yesterday.Now, if the Cons had simply allowed the committee to do its work this spring, it's likely that the hearings would already be done with. And in light of the other activity in Ottawa - including the Libs' capitulations in the House of Commons, the usual flow of legislation, and the news coming from other committees - it seems relatively likely that the hearings could have been lost in the shuffle, or at least subject to relatively limited exposure.
Opposition MPs, who form a majority on the ethics committee, voted late yesterday to open hearings into a scheme under which the Conservatives allegedly transferred money for advertising in and out of local ridings in the final days of the 2006 election in a bid to get around national campaign spending limits.
New Democrat MP Pat Martin said he expects the hearings to begin in late July with Elections Canada officials as the first witnesses. The committee also wants to hear testimony from ministers and others who are alleged to have been part of the scheme, he said.
"We really can't allow another election to take place until this action is either clarified or stopped because clearly it's a recipe for exceeding the spending limits if it's allowed to continue," said Mr. Martin, a member of the committee.
But now, the hearings will take place at a time when the political scene is otherwise silent. By the time the committee starts sitting again in late July, stories about the leaders' time on the barbecue circuit will be growing old, meaning that the Conadscam hearings should be timed just right to become the dominant political story of the summer. And it's hard to see what the Cons could have in their back pocket to deflect attention for more than a day or so at a time.
Mind you, there's always the option of proroguing Parliament before the hearings start. But especially given that any speculation about prorogation has focused on the Cons' desire to hold off on a fall sitting until after their November policy convention, that course of action could leave the Cons and the country in serious trouble if any crisis demands Parliamentary intervention in the meantime - not to mention undercutting the claims of Parliamentary privilege which Con MPs are currently using to avoid having to avoid the courts. And there could hardly be a more sure signal that the Cons are scared to death of Conadscam than for them to put Parliament as a whole on hold solely to avoid having to answer for their actions.
As a result, the Cons' attempt to suppress any talk about Conadscam seems only to have resulted in committee hearings taking place when they'll raise the profile of the scandal the most. And by the time the hearings are done, the Cons may very well end up wishing they hadn't stonewalled when they still had the chance to cooperate.