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Was Potash takeover torpedoed out of spite?

A Potash Corp. employee inspects a sample at a mine in Saskatchewan on Sept. 30, 2010.

DAVID STOBBE/David Stobbe/Reuters

1. How decisions are made. Tony Clement has already tweeted that it is " utter utter balderdash" but the Regina Leader-Post has an interesting story Tuesday that says the federal Conservative government planned to approve BHP Billiton's takeover of Potash Corp. until just before the Industry Minister said no way.

Murray Mandryk writes that even the 13 Conservative MPs from Saskatchewan were left out of the loop and the provincial government of Brad Wall had been told there was no way Mr. Clement would reject the proposal.

According to the report, the federal government changed its mind when a poll conducted by Potash Corp. suggested that between four and six of those MPs would lose their seats if the deal was approved. Mr. Mandryk quotes sources as saying that was one factor that changed the government's mind.

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The second factor was a report by former Postmedia columnist Don Martin, who that said the deal was to be approved with conditions. "Sources believe the need to disprove the Martin leak was such that it became the other big reason why the Harper government changed its position on the BHP Billiton takeover," Mr. Mandryk writes.

Is it possible a $39-billion deal was scuttled to prove a columnist wrong?

2. Exposing a cover-up queen. Parliament watchers will have to choose between two competing Commons committees Tuesday morning, each with the potential of igniting into something hot.

The standing committee on public accounts will hear from Auditor-General Sheila Fraser, who will answer questions about the report she released last week into the activities - or perhaps the non-activities - of the former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

Christiane Ouimet, who retired earlier this fall three years into her seven-year mandate, was found to have been abusive towards her staff at the same time she did almost nothing to investigate the allegations of wrong-doing brought to her by federal whistleblowers.

As interesting as it will be to hear from Ms. Fraser, the more noteworthy witness is Joe Friday, the former chief legal counsel for the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner who is now acting as its head.

Mr. Friday provided advice to Ms. Ouimet. So he is likely to get a bit of a grilling from MPs who will want to know whether it was he who advised inaction on more than 200 files - and, if so, why?

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And, of course they will also want to know if he has decided to go back and review those that were dropped without being investigated.

3. Who needs advice? Across the hall of Centre Block, at the standing committee on procedure and House affairs, a former aide to Conservative MP Kelly Block will be asked to explain why he leaked a draft budget report to five lobbyists, three of whom have ties to the Conservative party.

And just to make the interrogation more interesting, the lobbyists have also been asked to appear.

Russell Ullyatt, the man who is accused of leaking the document, was fired for his alleged actions. The breach means next year's budget will be put together by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty without the input and advice from MPs contained in the document - and MPs, especially those in the opposition parties, are not happy.

One might expect, then, that Mr. Ullyatt is in for a rough ride. Parliamentary Law Clerk Rob Walsh has told the same committee that there is no limit to the sanctions it could choose to impose on Mr. Ullyatt.

But "if the individual is found to have breached privilege or to have acted in a manner that's contemptuous of the House, the individual is given an opportunity to, as it were, purge the contempt. That's usually done by an apology, okay? If the apology is found to be genuine and complete, and there are no other lingering mala fides at issue, the House or the committee might be happy with that," Mr. Walsh said.

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The chances that Mr. Ullyatt will spend time behind bars if he is found to have actually leaked the document are slim. According to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice: "The reluctance to invoke the House's authority to reprimand, admonish or imprison anyone found to have trampled its dignity or authority and that of its Members appears to have become a near constant feature of the Canadian approach to privilege. Though the power of the House to imprison remains, it is difficult to foresee circumstances arising that would oblige the House to invoke it."

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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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