Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Speaker to rule on government's conduct in detainee scandal

Speaker Peter Milliken will rule shortly on whether the Cons are in contempt of Parliament:

Either Thursday or next week, House Speaker Peter Milliken will rule on whether Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is in contempt of Parliament.

If Mr. Milliken finds in favour of the opposition parties that made the claim, then thousands of pages of heavily censored documents could be made public, showing whether the government and armed forces knew they were sending detainees to be tortured in Afghan jails.

If he rules in favour of the government, an already powerful executive will grow yet more powerful.

“It’s huge,” said Errol Mendes, a professor of law at University of Ottawa and constitutional expert. Centuries of precedent dictate that Parliament is supreme in holding the government to account, he observed.

“If the Speaker rules against the opposition motions, it would not be too hyperbolic to say we have changed our system of governance,” he maintained. “The executive would no longer be accountable to the House of Commons.”

From the Globe. To my mind this seems like a pretty clear case, despite the Cons' protests about "national security" (which, as I've said before, most likely means Harper's job security). There's a complication, though:
Mr. Milliken’s word is not the final word. Technically, he will rule only on whether the government appears to be in contempt. If he finds against the government, a parliamentary committee will thrash out the issue, and the matter will be brought back to the House for a final vote.

Rather than release the material, the Conservatives could force an election by making that vote a matter of confidence in the government.

The question then becomes, how would an election arising from this play out? Stay tuned.

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