What this whole contempt of Parliament thing was about

For a little while everyone was talking about this contempt of Parliament thing and I wanted to know what it was all about. I found very little analysis on the events that led to this ruling. I did however find the text of Speaker Milliken’s ruling. The story goes like this:

Step 1: In the fall of 2010 the Finance committee ordered the government to product documents relating to the corporate tax and justice bills.

Step 2: The government refused citing “cabinet confidence.”

Step 3: The finance committee asked why these documents are a matter of Cabinet confidence but did not receive a reasonable explanation. The government refused a couple times to produce the documents.

Step 4: Months later in Feb 2011 the government tables more documents but not all the ones requested.

Step 5: The House of Commons passes a motion ordering the government to produce the documents with a deadline. It isn’t clear in the ruling but I’m assuming the documents were not produced.

In his ruling the Speaker reminded the House of the rules which state that there are no restrictions on what documents the House can order. A rule everyone in government would have been well aware of because it was brought up over the whole fight over the Afghan detainee documents just about a year ago.

I have yet to find the Conservative explanation for the choices it made in the whole affair. Harper has said that they thought they complied with the motion to produce the documents. It is hard to believe as they had multiple chances to produce the documents and they didn’t do it.

The speaker didn’t rule the government was in “contempt of Parliament” but that he did find that the government breached parliamentary privilege. The matter was referred back to the finance committee which then found the government in contempt.

Some have maintained the whole contempt ruling was a partisan witch hunt but without a very good explanation for the decisions made by the government it looks very much like the government refused to give parliament the documents the parliament had every authority to order them to produce.

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