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Opposition considers motion finding Harper in contempt

[PoliticsWatch Updated 4:15 p.m. March 9, 2006]

OTTAWA  —The opposition parties increased the pressure on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to cooperate with Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro's probe and are even considering tabling a motion finding Harper in contempt of Parliament.

"If he won't comply with the ethics commissioner's inquiry, I'd be prepared to table a motion to see the prime minister in contempt," NDP MP Pat Martin said outside an NDP caucus meeting on Thursday.

Martin said he believes such a motion would have broad support because "it's not just the NDP that wants to see this come to its logical fruition."

"The onus is on Harper to comply with the office of the ethics commissioner and we're going to do everything we can to force him to do that," he said. "It isn't up to him to dictate the terms and conditions of the inquiry."

Last week Shapiro announced he was going ahead and launching a preliminary investigation of Harper for his role in having Liberal MP David Emerson cross the floor to become Harper's trade minister. 

Shapiro launched his inquiry after receiving complaints from three opposition MPs. 

Harper and his office have fought back against Shapiro's move and said last week the PM was loath to cooperate with him. 

On Tuesday Harper said he did not believe Shapiro had the power to investigate the PM's ability to pick cabinet ministers. 

Harper said he has made his views known to Shapiro's office.

The PMO is now framing the dispute as a constitutional matter after originally trying to discredit Shapiro as a Liberal appointee who is biased. 

Harper also refused to meet with Shapiro in an earlier investigation of the Gurmant Grewal affair. 

Shapiro is in the second year of a five-year term, but there are signs that Harper is looking to replace the ethics commissioner who has been criticized by all parties, is in court with Democracy Watch, barely survived a vote of non-confidence and was found in contempt by a committee. 

Harper confirmed this week he asked former NDP MP Ed Broadbent if he wanted the job last month. 

Shapiro is an independent officer of Parliament on par with the auditor general and cannot be summarily dismissed by the PM. The Ethics Commissioner Act says dismissal requires cause and a vote in the House of Commons. 

Liberal MP Wayne Easter also held a news conference on Parliament Hill Thursday morning where he also described Harper's treatment of Shapiro as contempt and "unbecoming" for a prime minister. 

He said the showdown with the ethics commissioner is a "very, very serious matter."

Easter noted that section 27(8) of the MPs code of conduct says MPs "shall cooperate with the Ethics Commissioner with respect to any inquiry."

"Prime Minister Harper is currently violating section 27(8) of an act passed in this Parliament," Easter said.

"Now Mr. Harper has admitted he has even gone so far as to try to have Dr. Shapiro replaced, showing utter contempt for the Parliamentary process by trying to unilaterally remove a duly appointed officer of Parliament.

"This sets an extremely dangerous precedent. This sets the precedent that a new prime minister coming into place could basically overrule in some fashion or another the laws of the lands and try and find ways to have that individual replaced."

Easter said some of the PMO's comments about Shapiro could be construed as a form of intimidation.

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