The Commons ethics committee has decided to hear from a former Liberal staffer who was behind a Twitter feed that broadcast messy details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’s divorce – but they may have to wait a while.
The committee met behind closed doors late into the night Thursday and eventually passed a motion in camera to ask Adam Carroll to testify next Tuesday. But Mr. Carroll is apparently ill and it was uncertain Friday afternoon whether he would be well enough to make an appearance.
The Conservatives are determined to hear from the man who resigned from his job at the Liberal research bureau after an investigation by the House of Commons linked him to the Vikileaks30 Twitter feed.
"One way or another he will be appearing before committee in the very near future,"Dean Del Mastro, the parliamentary secretary for the Prime Minister who is also a committee member, said Friday.
“We want to know who else in the Liberal Leader's office was involved in this misuse of taxpayer resources that smeared the Public Safety Minister,” he said. "We remain concerned that the Liberals abused tax dollars in this egregious, sleazy and distasteful fashion.”
The ethics committee originally discussed the motion to call Mr. Carroll in public. But Brad Butt, the Conservative MP from Mississauga-Streetsville, successfully moved, over the objections of the opposition, that the debate be conducted in private.
The Conservatives hold a majority on the committee can pass any motion they see fit. Earlier this week, they successfully challenged a ruling from NDP committee chair Jean Crowder who said the investigation of Vikileaks was outside the committee’s mandate.
Mr. Carroll did nothing illegal when he released the material related to Mr. Toews’s marital split via Twitter – it was all contained in publicly available court documents. But his actions violated the rules around the use of government computers.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae has admitted to the Commons it was a member of his staff who created the Twitter account and has apologized to Mr. Toews for the embarrassment it caused. Mr. Toews accepted that apology and Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer said in a ruling earlier this week that, as far as he was concerned, the matter was settled.
The Liberals have indicated Mr. Carroll may well turn up to provide his own evidence to the committee. But, when Conservative staffers were found to have breached rules and laws at the time their party had a minority in the House, cabinet ministers were dispatched to testify in their place.
While committee was in camera, an amendment by Liberal MP Scott Andrews to have MPs examine all government resources used on Twitter accounts disappeared off the table.
“An apology was made, an apology was accepted, but they are still in this attack mode and they are acting like children in trying to drag the staff person before committee,” Mr. Andrews said Friday.
“And just go back a few years when their staff persons were called before committee: ‘Nope, nope, nope, the staff person doesn’t come, the minister comes and is responsible and will talk for the staff person,’” he said. “So it’s kind of funny how they have changed their tune in a couple short years.”
Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said cabinet ministers are accountable to Parliament so they appear in place of their staffers when staffers are called to testify before committees. But that position has never extended to those who no longer work for the government, Mr. MacDougall added, pointing out that Mr. Carroll is not longer in the employ of the Liberal Party.
Charlie Angus, the NDP ethics critic who is a member of the committee, has said he believes the Conservatives are dragging out the Vikileaks investigation to distract from allegations that someone tried to suppress the vote in the last federal election by making calls that diverted people to the wrong polling station.
Mr. Angus told the committee he had not read what was published on Vikileaks and he has no interest in going through the sordid details of Mr. Toews personal life. But, he said, if Mr. Carroll testifies, it will be incumbent upon the committee members to go through the tweets to assess their veracity.
The New Democrats would rather deal with substantive issues, Mr. Angus added Friday, but that doesn't seem to be the approach of the Conservatives.