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Updated: Thu, 17 Oct 2013 11:49:01 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

House resumes with NDP targeting secret committees



NDP House leader Nathan Cullen speaks about procedure the Conservative government has used following question period Wednesday April 17, 2013 in Ottawa. Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

NDP House leader Nathan Cullen speaks about procedure the Conservative government has used following question period Wednesday April 17, 2013 in Ottawa. Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Parliament resumes today after an extended summer recess with NDP MPs Nathan Cullen and Nycole Turmel setting out a proposal to stop government MPs from pushing committees in-camera.

Committees can go behind closed doors for planning purposes or when preparing a report, but Conservative MPs have been pushing them in-camera more and more than previous governments. They often use the tactic to kill opposition motions in secret. Conservative MPs form the majority on all parliamentary committees.

MPs are also forbidden from discussing what goes on behind closed doors afterward.

"The minute Conservatives don't like a discussion that's taking place in any of our committees, they go in-camera and shut the door on Canadians," Cullen said.

- NDP bid to limit secret committees would put in camera votes on the record

"The abuse of this in-camera tool is undermining the work of all members of Parliament and increasing the skepticism of the Canadian public."

New Democrat MPs will present motions in all committees next week, Cullen and Turmel said, laying out specific instances in which they can go in-camera:

- To discuss wages, salaries and other employee benefits, contracts or other labour or personal matters.

- For briefings concerning national security.

- To discuss draft reports.

The motion also mandates that minutes be taken, including how each member votes when votes are taken.

NDP on offensive

"As parliamentarians, we must be accountable to those who elected us," Cullen said, adding that towns and school boards use the same rules the NDP want to see in Parliament.

"In a healthy democracy, shutting the doors on debate should be limited to only the most exceptional circumstances."

The Official Opposition hit the Hill on the offensive this morning.

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus raised a question of privilege, which the party announced Wednesday. Angus is asking House Speaker Andrew Scheer to find Prime Minister Stephen Harper misled the House, when he said nobody in the Prime Minister's Office knew about a deal between his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and Senator Mike Duffy.

Wright paid back Duffy's wrongly claimed Senate expenses. An ongoing RCMP investigation into the payment, and into Duffy's expense claims, alleges Wright told them three other PMO staffers, plus Senator Irving Gerstein, about the agreement. 

The Senate committee in charge of financial and administrative matters, the board of internal economy, met Thursday at 9 a.m. ET.

The Senate as a whole will resume at 2 p.m. with a new government leader, Claude Carignan, and deputy leader, Yonah Martin. But unlike his predcessor, Carignan will not sit in cabinet.

Harper has removed the Senate leader from cabinet for the first time in 50 years.

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