"I think you've been set up."
Charlie Angus, the New Democrat MP, was telling the controversial nominee for the post of Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien, that he'd been sabotaged by the government that appointed him. He was right.
Intentionally or not, the Conservatives botched Mr. Therrien's appointment so badly that he'll enter the post with one hand tied behind his back.
Now, the Conservatives are poised to take the unusual move of appointing an Officer of Parliament over the objections of the opposition parties in the Commons.
Tall, beige-suited, and sporting a gray moustache and goatee, Mr. Therrien was the picture of a public servant as he appeared before a Commons committee, soft-spoken at first, and only expressing his own view clearly when MPs insisted. Then he offered criticism of the government's data-collection plans. He was earnest and humble. He cut a sympathetic figure.
Too bad the Tories seemed intent on blowing up any goodwill he could garner.
He comes in at a time when Canadians are learning how much of their private info is already collected by security services, and the government wants a new law to make it easier to collect more.
He is a controversial pick because he spent his whole career advising the government behind closed doors and was most recently the justice department official responsible for legal matters related to spying and cross-border data exchanges with the United States. Privacy experts suspected the government was trying to find a soft-touch. The NDP opposed him.
When he first started to testify on Tuesday, Mr. Therrien's appearance seemed likely to spiral into farce.
Mr. Angus asked if he agreed with other privacy advocates that the government's Bill C-13 – legislation that would expand warrantless searches of Canadians data tacked onto a bill to combat cyber-bullying – should be split in two.
Mr. Therrien replied that he's still a Justice Department lawyer, so he didn't want to give his opinion.
It seemed to confirm the problems with the appointment – this was a man who wasn't likely to speak out against the government he served. But then the committee's chair, New Democrat Pat Martin, told him he didn't have the right to remain silent. Mr. Therrien started to sound more like a privacy commissioner.
Yes, he said, the government should split Bill C-13 in two, so cyber-bullying and data-collection aren't mixed up. Yes, he said, the government is going too far in its pursuit of warrantless data collection. No, he doesn't agree with the government that collecting internet IP addresses is as benign as collecting information from a phone book.
He argued the actual conflicts of interest from his old job wouldn't be vast. He didn't have much of a role in Bill C-13, he said, though lawyers that reported to him did. He asserted his legal training and public service detachment would help him switch roles.
It didn't answer all the questions. What role has he had in giving advice to spy services? What should the government reveal publicly about police and spy-service data collection? But he was answering some. Even New Democrat MPs, opposed to his appointment, started to treat him sympathetically.
Then the Conservatives shut it down. The NDP wanted three more hearings, but instead, Paul Calandra, the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary, moved to close the one-hour question period ten minutes early. MPs had to vote on Mr. Therrien. The Conservatives used their majority to approve him.
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister who has worked with Mr. Therrien and thinks he is a good choice, said Mr. Calandra's move made him unable to vote for Mr. Therrien. After all, he said, the process was short-circuited. He abstained.
For the Conservatives, it fit the pattern. If they wanted Mr. Therrien to be well-received, they did everything wrong, acting like they were trying to sneak him into the post.
The government picked a government insider whose views were unknown to the public, over the favourite of their own vetting committee. The PM, required by law to consult opposition leaders, advised Mr. Mulcair of his choice in a letter, and when the Opposition Leader objected, just went ahead. Then the Conservatives gave MPs only a brief opportunity to question him.
It all means Mr. Therrien will be a Parliamentary Officer without a solid endorsement from Parliament.