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Speaker of the House of Commons, Peter Milliken poses for a photo outside his Parliament Hill office on Oct. 15, 2009. (Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit for The Globe and Mail)
Speaker of the House of Commons, Peter Milliken poses for a photo outside his Parliament Hill office on Oct. 15, 2009. (Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit for The Globe and Mail)

Procedure

Will auditor's G8 report postpone Speaker Peter Milliken's retirement? Add to ...

His rulings as Speaker of the House of Commons were called historic and unprecedented. His findings that the Conservative government acted in contempt of parliamentary orders prompted opposition outrage - so much so that they united to bring down the government, leading to the current election campaign.

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Now retired Liberal MP Peter Milliken could be set for one last moment in the parliamentary spotlight.

Political circles are abuzz of whether and how to release an Auditor-General's report into G8 and G20 spending, now that parts of a draft report have become public.

While Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released a report on the costs of the Afghanistan mission during the 2008 election campaign, he reports to the Library of Parliament and is not a full officer of Parliament like Auditor-General Sheila Fraser.

According to Queens University Parliamentary expert Ned Franks, it may take a decision from Mr. Milliken to release the report.

"If the four party leaders unanimously agreed that this document should be released, I think that the Speaker could probably set a precedent and say 'yes,'" Prof. Franks told iPolitics Monday. "Nothing wrong with setting a precedent."

But the Auditor-General's duties are governed by an Act of Parliament, which includes a section that spells out how her reports are to be released - and appears to prevent any release when the Commons is not sitting.

In a statement, Ms. Fraser said she would not release the report. "Under the Auditor General Act, we can only present reports when Parliament is sitting. The Office of the Audit General of Canada remains the custodian of its reports until they are presented to the Speaker of the House of Commons for tabling."

The Auditor-General Act stipulates that the A-G sends her reports to the Speaker of the Commons, but if the Commons is not sitting - and it is now dissolved for elections - the Speaker must table it on one of the first 15 days after the Commons resumes sitting. Mr. Milliken, who views himself as a conduit through which parliamentary officers report to the Commons, has not yet received a copy of the final report.

The issue of the leaked G8 report exploded just an hour after Mr. Milliken made a rare public appearance.

After winning seven straight elections for the Liberals and being at the heart of some wild parliamentary showdowns, the former Speaker was just a guy at the back of the room Monday when Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff made a campaign stop in Kingston.

He has not said much about his rulings, which prompted a flurry of partisan outrage. But to hear him tell it, it all sounds like no big deal.

Speaking after Mr. Ignatieff's event, he suggested the only reason his rulings turned into such big deals is because the government was outnumbered in a minority Parliament. "I don't think the rulings were wildly out of whack with past practice. In my view, they were exactly in accordance with it," he told The Globe.

"The difference is that in a minority Parliament, the government majority can't stop certain motions from passing. So you get a motion ordering the production of papers and the government doesn't comply, the Speaker has to make a ruling on it. In a majority situation that just would not happen.

"So I don't think there's anything particularly unusual about the rulings that were made. In my view, they were entirely in accordance with past practice, it's just that the practice didn't come up very frequently because we usually have a majority government in Canada and those kinds of motions don't normally pass."

Because the job of Speaker requires a certain level of non-partisanship, Mr. Milliken was never a highly partisan campaigner during elections. He said, at most, he expects to do some door knocking for Liberal candidate in his riding, Ted Hsu.

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