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Liberals foil NDP bid to challenge Tory ban on staffer testimony

Speaker Peter Milliken delivers a ruling in the House of Commons on April 27, 2010.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Michael Ignatieff's Liberals have helped kill an NDP motion that would have required Speaker Peter Milliken to decide whether the Harper government is breaching parliamentary privilege by refusing to allow ministerial staff to testify before Commons committees.

The motion, which was debated Thursday by the Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee, was introduced by New Democrat Bill Siksay. If it had been adopted, a report outlining the chronology of the government's refusals would have been sent to the House and then on to Mr. Milliken for a pronouncement on the government's actions.

A determination by Mr. Milliken that privilege had been breached could have resulted in the government being found in contempt of Parliament - and an election would have been almost unavoidable.

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But the Liberals introduced a motion at a committee earlier Thursday to further study the matter instead. Its passage gave them the justification they needed for voting against Mr. Siksay's motion and taking the election threat off the table.

"The precedent has been established that the government can block witnesses appearing before committees. Committees can't control who they need to hear from and who they need to call as witnesses to do the work that they have decided to undertake" Mr. Siksay said after his motion was defeated.

"Even if this study that this study that the Liberals have proposed goes ahead - and I can't imagine it being successful - it's not going to report for five or six months," he said. "There's a timeliness question when raising a question of privilege in the House and I think, if we wait six months to do it, it will be seen as something that should have been raised much earlier.'

The Liberal motion, put forward by Yasmin Ratansi at the Commons procedure and House affairs committee, asked that guidelines governing the appearance of cabinet staff members at committees be completed by March of next year.

The access to information committee has been trying to call staff members of cabinet ministers to testify about allegations that they interfered in the release of documents requested under access law.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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