Public Accounts vs. F-35s: Preview edition

Liberal MP Gerry Byrne held a press conference this morning to preview this afternoon’s meeting of the Public Accounts committee, where they’re going to lay out the process by which they’ll examine the Auditor General’s report on the procurement process for the F-35s. Byrne has a relatively open-ended motion before the committee that includes a suggested witness list, a list of documents he wants tabled, and the provision that they begin immediately.

But the Conservatives aren’t quite so keen. They’ve tabled a competing motion which says that sure, they’ll begin a study on that chapter of the report, but they don’t want to meet to start scheduling witnesses until Tuesday, and they don’t have any suggested witnesses or requests for documents.

So why is this difference important? Byrne says that by beginning immediately, they can hold a full day of hearings starting tomorrow, rather than the four hours a week that the committee is allowed to sit while the House is in session. (He wanted to start this past Monday, but NDP committee chair David Christopherson called the meeting for today, and he respects that decision). He is also concerned that because the Conservative motion is less open-ended, that the Conservatives will use it to limit the number of meetings held and witnesses heard from in order to keep the process and investigation under wraps. The Conservatives have publicly said that they won’t support his motion – only their own, and they do hold a majority on the committee as well.

“There is no games being played unless my motion is defeated with no explanation, and with no alternative witness list actually being presented at that point in time,” Byrne said, and reiterated that he’s quite open to friendly amendments with regards to witnesses.

Byrne suspects that the Conservatives are trying to take control of the issue after the hammering they’ve taken in the media over the past two weeks. And if they try to take the meeting this afternoon in camera, he will let the media know what went down behind closed doors, even if it opens him up to a charge of being in contempt of parliament.

“Holding a public accounts committee in private is a bit of an oxymoron into what public accounts are what all about,” Byrne said. “It’s contemptible – the real contempt of parliament here is holding such important meetings in private and trying to basically squander the opportunity that’s available to us.”