Friday, May 11, 2007

Freedom of speech ends where we disagree: Committee Edition

The NDP's hard-fought effort to win hearings on the Security and Prosperity Partnership may only be a first step in attracting public attention to the issue of deep integration. But it's managed to cause yet another Con to blow a fuse - this time the committee chair Leon Benoit, who attempted to shut down the hearing to prevent a witness from testifying about the consequences of guaranteeing energy supplies to the U.S.:
Amid heated charges of a coverup, Tory MPs yesterday abruptly shut down parliamentary hearings on a controversial plan to further integrate Canada and the U.S.

The firestorm erupted within minutes of testimony by University of Alberta professor Gordon Laxer that Canadians will be left "to freeze in the dark" if the government forges ahead with plans to integrate energy supplies across North America...

The deal, which calls North American "energy security" a priority, will commit Canada to ensuring American energy supplies even though Canada itself -- unlike most industrialized nations -- has no national plan or reserves to protect its own supplies, he argued.

At that point, Tory MP Leon Benoit, chair of the Commons Standing Committee on International Trade, which was holding the SPP hearings, ordered Mr. Laxer to halt his testimony, saying it was not relevant.

Opposition MPs called for, and won, a vote to overrule Mr. Benoit's ruling.

Mr. Benoit then threw down his pen, declaring, "This meeting is adjourned," and stormed out, followed by three of the panel's four Conservative members.

The remaining members voted to continue, with the Liberal vice-chair presiding.

Mr. Benoit's actions are virtually unprecedented, observers say; at press time, procedure experts still hadn't figured out whether he had the right to adjourn the meeting unilaterally.
It's mildly surprising that Benoit was himself taken aback by testimony which shouldn't have come as much surprise given the NDP's legitimate concerns about the effects of ceding Canadian sovereignty. But that aside, Benoit's action seems only to be yet another symptom of the Cons' general belief in a right to shut down any discussion which doesn't suit their political purposes.

Fortunately, the effect of Benoit's snit will likely be to win more attention for Laxer's testimony than might otherwise have been received. And if the opposition parties continue to ensure that information is available despite the Cons' desire to suppress it, it shouldn't be long before the wave of truth washes Harper and company out of any position to dictate who says what.

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