The C-32 Legislative Committee held its first meeting yesterday morning with MPs from all parties wasting little time in expressing disappointment over the way the committee was functioning. After some initial procedural discussion over the length of witness statements and the order of questioning, the committee spent nearly an hour debating the frequency of meetings. The Conservatives pushed for an aggressive timetable, with Dean Del Mastro and Mike Lake taking turns proposing up to 18 hours per week of hearings in the hope of hearing from all witnesses by the end of 2010. The opposition MPs rejected the Conservative proposals, standing firm on 4 hours per week of hearings (two 2 hour sessions on Monday and Wednesday afternoons with three witnesses per hour).
The key takeaways from day one? First, the current timetable should push the committee into late February at the earliest. There will be three weeks of hearings before a winter break from mid-December until January 31st. The House will sit for three more weeks at that time, followed by another week break. Six weeks appears to be the bare minimum to hear witnesses and work through clause-by-clause. Second, while the numbers have always been obvious, the hearing provided an immediate reminder that the Conservatives will need to find compromises in order to pass the bill. The opposition can block the bill or any particular provision and support from at least one party will be needed to get the bill through.
There will be another meeting this afternoon to develop a work plan and identify likely witnesses, followed by a special hearing on Thursday morning for Industry Minister Tony Clement and Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore.