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Government MPs kill languages committee 

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:15 p.m. May 15, 2007]

OTTAWA  — Opposition MPs are outraged after the Commons official language committee has been shut down by government MPs.  

The Conservative MPs on the committee refused to put forward a replacement chair after all three opposition parties voted no-confidence against Conservative chair Guy Lauzon.  

Because a committee requires a government MP to chair it, without a Conservative replacement the committee's work ceases. 

The controversy stemmed from Lauzon's decision last week to cancel two scheduled committee meetings to hear witnesses opposed to the government's decision last fall to cancel the Court Challenges Program, a legal program many minority language groups have used.  

Ironically, the uproar at the official languages committee comes the same day Graham Fraser, the Commissioner of Official Languages, tabled his annual report which also criticized the government's cancellation of the program. Fraser said that decision harmed 40 language-related court cases. 

In question period, Liberal leader Stephane Dion accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of being behind the decision of his MPs and said the PM was "muzzling" the committee. 

"He doesn't like to be questioned by the members of this House, he kills committees," Dion said. "I ask him to choose one of (his MPs) to chair this committee as the prime minister should, according to the law."

The prime minister denied any involvement in the matter. 

"It's the committee that decides on the chair and according to my information the Conservative members of this committee believe that (Lauzon) is doing a good job," he said in response. 

"Unfortunately, the Liberals and the opposition have decided to play games and as a consequence the committee can't meet because they don't have a chair. That's something the committee has to rectify."

After question period, NDP Leader Jack Layton said Harper was displaying a "contemptuous" attitude towards Parliament and said the PM's behaviour was "arrogant" and "contrary to the law." 

"The prime minister should not be arbitrarily preventing that committee from doing its work when the committee's lost confidence in the chair."

Last week, Lauzon said in television interviews that the reason he acted alone and cancelled the meetings was that the committee had become too partisan and political following the recent hearings where Hockey Canada officials were called to defend their selection of Shane Doan as captain of Team Canada for this year's world hockey championship in Moscow. 

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe scoffed at Lauzon's reasoning, calling it "stupid."

"Of course, there's politics," Duceppe told reporters after question period. "We're in politics. We're elected to debate political issues. It's very surprising that Mr. Lauzon is learning that we're debating political issues here in Ottawa."

The official languages committee is not the only Commons committee to see its work shut down over the past week because of the Conservatives. 

Last week, Leon Benoit, chair of the Commons trade committee unilaterally adjourned a special meeting examining the Security and Prosperity Partnership with the U.S. and Mexico. 

: Related Links

> MPs will vote no- confidence in Tory MP 

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