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Tory MP set to go down

[PoliticsWatch posted 5:15 p.m. May 9, 2006]

OTTAWA  — A backbench Conservative MP will become the first casualty of the new Tory government on Wednesday when opposition parties will vote no confidence in him as chair of the Aboriginal affairs committee.
Maurice Vellacott, a Saskatchewan Conservative MP first elected to Parliament in 1997, has become the target of criticism for the Liberals in the House of Commons for the last two days following comments he made to a CBC reporter about Supreme Court judges. 

In that interview Vellacott 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 high court.

In a rare move, McLachlin through the court's executive legal officer denied making the comments Vellacott attributed to her.  

On Monday, Liberal MP Anita Neville gave notice of a motion of non-confidence against Vellacott as chair of the Aboriginal affairs committee. 

Because the Conservatives do not have a majority of seats, the opposition parties control the committees.  

On Tuesday, all three opposition leaders said their MPs will vote in favour of Neville's no-confidence motion, effectively removing Vellacott as chair.

During Tuesday's question period, Interim Liberal Leader Bill Graham demanded Prime Minister Stephen Harper ask for  Vellacott's resignation before the committee members remove him.  

Harper said he would not interfere in the committee's business. 

NDP Leader Jack Layton said Vellacott's remarks about McLachlin were "unacceptable."

"We believe what Mr. Vellacott said requires some appropriate action," Layton added. 

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said his party's two MPs on the committee would vote in favour of the Liberal motion. 

"(Vellacott) just opened the door to be dismissed ... we'll vote in favour of that motion."

The Tories appear resigned to the defeat of Vellacott with Harper distancing himself and his government from the comments over the last two days. 

While Harper was willing to go to bat for floor-crossing Trade Minister David Emerson and appointed Senator and Public Works Minister Michael Fortier, he is not ready to fight a battle over Vellacott's comments suggesting judicial activism on the Supreme Court, something a number of small-c conservatives have complained about in recent years.

Harper himself made comments about the Supreme Court in the final days of the last election campaign when he said the Conservatives would never have a true majority government because a Supreme Court and public service predominantly appointed by Liberals in the past would act as a check. 

The prime minister, however, has been pointing 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. 

If the Liberals succeed in removing Vellacott, it will be the first battle they have won since becoming an opposition party.  

The party has been struggling in question period over the first few weeks of the new session.  

On Tuesday, Liberal MP John McCallum, the party's finance critic, decided to attack Finance Minister Jim Flaherty for a controversial policy idea he had when he was running to be leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party in 2002.  

At the time, Flaherty proposed a plan to remove homeless people from streets that was modelled on a successful anti-vagrancy strategy enacted by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani that included putting street people in jail.

During his questioning, McCallum twice referred to Flaherty as an "extremist."

Liberal MP Mark Holland, meanwhile, suggested in the House that Harper's attendance at a conservative group's meeting in Kanata over the weekend and Vellacott's comments were evidence of the Tories' "real agenda, an agenda to destroy the independence of our judiciary."

Harper rose to respond to Holland's allegations saying, "Mr. Speaker, I cannot resist answering the question about the vast right wing conspiracy. 

"What I will say is that I will speak to the Minister of National Defence and see if there is any possibility in the budget of a black helicopter, so we can fly the honourable member around to investigate his concerns."

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