Sunday, March 07, 2010

On time pressures

I'll echo the many posts this weekend to the effect that the opposition parties need to press forward with their Afghan detainee document order in order to preserve any semblance of Parliamentary supremacy (even if I'm pessimistic about the prospect of their taking the advice). But it's worth pointing out that their case to do so will only get weaker with time if they choose to let the Cons off the hook - even if they claim only to be waiting to see what questions the Cons get around to asking Justice Iacobucci.

Remember that just last week, Lib MP Derek Lee was hemming and hawing as to whether or not to introduce the privilege issue immediately - balancing what I still find to be weak concerns about interfering with the throne speech and budget against a requirement that privilege issues be brought up as soon as possible:
Mr. Lee has told Speaker Peter Milliken he wants to raise a point of privilege, arguing that Defence Minister Peter MacKay and an assistant deputy minister in the Justice Department “obstructed” the release of the documents by stating a “false basis” for withholding them.

He also says the Conservative government is in contempt of Parliament for not producing the documents in defiance of a motion passed by the House of Commons on Dec. 10.

The rules around matters of privilege state they must be raised at the earliest possible time and that they take precedence over other business.
Now, we can only hope that Lee's reticence hasn't already led to a situation where the Cons can avoid being held in contempt due to his delay - particularly since he inexplicably backed down again on Friday in response to Rob Nicholson's stalling tactics.

But if the Cons are allowed to delay any contempt motion by stringing out the introduction of Iacobucci's terms of reference into next week or beyond, that will only make matters worse. If even a day or two posed a potential problem last week which justified working out an extensive review of the available options as to how to bring the matter forward as soon as possible, then surely another span of time without the same considerations in play will be no less problematic.

And there's little prospect that Lee will be able to use anything that's now in play as an explanation for any delay. In particular, even the most expansive terms of reference for Iacobucci wouldn't seem to provide a reason to hold off on pressing a privilege claim: in the unlikely event that Iacobucci is acually asked to deal with the privilege issue, his ruling won't be binding on anybody, and indeed won't even be publicly released unless the Cons choose to make it so (since the indication is that it's the government that's retained him).

So there's a real risk that if Lee keeps holding off on the privilege motion, it'll become less and less viable with time. And whenever the Iacobucci report is released (or suppressed, or the retainer cancelled), the Cons will surely have no qualms about claiming that the fact that the opposition allowed his review to play out prevents it from acting on the order passed in December.

In sum, the opposition faces a choice of use it or lose it when it comes to its authority to enforce the order which the Cons are ignoring. And the fact that the smaller fight over documents may have ramifications in all kinds of areas should only provide all the more reason to tell Harper and the Cons that they can't simply ignore the will of the majority.

Update: Impolitical points out on Twitter that the NDP has set a March 19 date for a contempt motion if the Cons haven't complied with the order by then. That will at least alleviate the risk of the issue being left hanging for months, though I'd still think there's little reason to wait.

No comments:

Post a Comment