Tory MP steps down as committee chair
[PoliticsWatch posted 2:45 p.m. May 10, 2006]
A Conservative MP who made controversial comments about the chief
justice of the Supreme Court announced Wednesday he was resigning as
chair of the aboriginal affairs committee.
Maurice Vellacott, a Saskatchewan Conservative MP first
elected to Parliament in 1997, in effect short-circuited an
embarrassing no-confidence vote at the committee later
All three opposition parties had signaled they would vote
no-confidence in Vellacott, guaranteeing his defeat.
"I hereby submit my resignation as chair of the
committee," Vellacott said in a lengthy statement.
Vellacott became the target of criticism
for the Liberals in the House of Commons this week following comments he made to a CBC reporter about
He said it was not the role of Supreme
Court judges to "play the position of God" and suggested
that Beverly McLachlin, the chief justice of the Supreme Court,
herself said a "mystical power" comes over judges on the
In a rare move, McLachlin through the court's executive legal
officer denied making the comments Vellacott attributed to her. The
Canadian Bar Association also condemned his comments on
Tuesday saying it brought disrepute to the judiciary.
In his statement, Vellacott took shots at the Liberals who brought
forward the non-confidence motion.
"Regrettably, I see displayed a more reckless partisan nature
by the Liberals on the aboriginal affairs and northern development
committee than I have in all my nine years as a member of
Parliament," Vellacott wrote.
"They seem to think that they have some divine right to govern
and it is greatly upsetting to them when the public judges
Vellacott said Liberal MP Anita Neville, who put forward the
non-confidence motion, had "poisoned" the tone of the
He said he had received "expressions of encouragement"
from MPs from his caucus and other parties and affirmative messages
from across the country.
Although he is not a cabinet minister, Vellacott becomes the first
casualty for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative
Harper immediately distanced himself from Vellacott's comments
earlier this week, but defended him in the House of Commons from
Harper pointed out in the House the
hypocrisy of the Liberal complaints and to a degree media coverage
of Vellacott's comments, when similar statements have been made by
Liberal MPs in the recent past without great fanfare.
Vellacott's resignation did not stop the Liberals from continuing to
pound away at his controversial comments in question period on
Even though some members of the Liberal caucus believe the courts
have been too activist in recent years, the Liberals believe that
comments such as Vellacotts' by Conservatives raises questions in
the minds of voters about the future intentions of the Tory
government -- the so-called hidden agenda revealed.
In the House of Commons, Harper said Vellacott "decided
himself" to step aside as chairman of the committee.
"I gather that (Vellacott's) view was that the committee and
the opposition members on the committee should not be fighting over
the chairmanship, they should be working on aboriginal issues,"
But interim Liberal Leader Bill Graham said the issue was not
over for the Liberals.
"This issue has now far surpassed the matter of (Vellacott),
it's now the credibility of the office of the prime minister that's
in question," Graham said.
"Why did it take the condemnation of the Canadian Bar
Association, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, aboriginal
leaders, and a host of other Canadians to get this prime minister
and this member to act in the best interests of Canada?"
Harper said if Graham believes someone with views on judicial
activism should not be chair of a committee then "surely he
must believe they should not be senior critics in his own
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