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Conservatives Grabbing Most Prestigious Positions In Parliamentary Associations

The Conservatives have a majority in the House, in the Senate and in parliamentary committees, and now they are grabbing the most prestigious positions in parliamentary associations.

For weeks now, Conservatives MPs have been buying up memberships to parliamentary associations and voting en masse to place their own MPs and senators at the head of the all-party committees.

Tuesday evening, according to eyewitness accounts, more than 100 Conservative MPs and senators paid $25 to join the Canada-China Legislative Association and vote on a new executive, booting the long-time co-chair of the committee, Liberal Sen. Joseph Day, from his position.

"It was not an unexpected result but still disappointing because I have worked long and hard at that," Day told The Huffington Post. "I had a tremendous amount to offer Parliament and, in fact, the government because the government is now professing that China is important. Why would we not choose in a leadership role … someone that has spent many years building up contacts there? I was hoping that that logic would prevail … but unfortunately many of the people who came out to vote had no background knowledge about the Canada-China Legislative Association or the particular attributes of the candidates and they just voted party lines."

There were slightly more than a dozen NDP MPs at the meeting but not enough to make a difference, Day said.

"The NDP is basically letting them do it, without huge numbers of NDP there, the Liberals are not by themselves significant enough to rebalance that," he said.

The Conservatives' apparent desire to embrace parliamentary associations like never before was first noticed last month at the annual meeting of the Canada—Israel inter-parliamentary group when the Tories took every position on the executive. The few Liberals who showed up suggested the Conservatives were politicizing the traditionally non-partisan committees.

Canadians should be concerned, Day warns, because when parliamentary associations travel abroad they are supposed to act like diplomats with a good cross-section of points of view. But now, "only one point of view might be coming out of Canada in the future, if all of the leadership roles are occupied by one political party," he said.

Parliamentary associations are mostly friendship groups, offering networking opportunities as MPs and senators engage in parliamentary diplomacy via meetings, receptions and study trips abroad. The committees’ executives have little real power but can help determine who gets to go on international trips.

"Guess who is going to get to go if the entire executive are Conservatives and they are the people making decision about who can go?," Liberal Senator Terry Mercer said. "The possibility of a NDP or Liberal going are fairly remote."

Day insists the trips are not "junkets" and that parliamentarians work very hard while they are abroad and often have little time to visit the places they are in.

"I hope that they (the Conservatives who voted) realize that these are not junkets, and I hope that the people getting elected realize that," he said.

The Tories, however, insist the Liberals are just voicing sour grapes since they no longer have the numbers to get themselves elected to the top posts.

"This attitude of entitlement. They always had the majority on these committees when they had the majority in the House and things change," said Conservative Senator Don Plett, the new co-chair of the Canada-China group who ran against Day and won in a secret ballot.

"The fact of the matter is that on the House side the Liberals are in third place. Have you gotten a complaint from the NDP? No, the fact of the matter is quite frankly the Liberals have an attitude of entitlement," he said. "They are going to have to get over the fact that they are the third party in the House and their majority has gotten away in the Senate. And that's the result of democratic process across the country and now the democratic process in these committees."

Mercer said Plett doesn't know what he's talking about.

"It's not true. Senator Plett wouldn't know. He hasn't been here long enough," Mercer said, adding that parliamentary associations have a long tradition of giving opposing parties rotating chairmanships or vice-chairmanships.

Mercer ran for the vice-chairmanship of the Canada-United Kingdom Inter-Parliamentary Association Monday afternoon but was defeated.

He's not that upset about losing the vote, but is frustrated because the location and timing of the vote kept changing and he wasn't able to make the meeting, he told HuffPost. Mercer was en route from Nova Scotia to Ottawa to get there in time for the previously scheduled evening meeting.

"It's a fairness thing, in the past, we always tried to be fair about it. It's frustrating, it's obviously the new reality around here, that's the way they want to play the game."

Conservative MPs are interested in the associations and they are showing up in larger numbers because there are more of them, Plett said. During the Canada-China meeting they fought among themselves, Plett noted, to get on the executive of the association.

Indeed, Conservative MP Bob Dechert, who was recently involved in a mini-scandal relating to flirtatious emails he sent to Chinese Xinhua agency reporter Shi Rong, was kicked off of the executive of the committee Tuesday.

Thursday, MPs and senators voted on who would lead the Canada-Japan Inter-Parliamentary group. The Senate co-chair went to Conservative Senator David Tkachuk and the Commons' co-chair, formerly Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert's position, went to Conservative MP Mike Wallace.

Like Huffington Post Canada's Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj's reporter page on Facebook and follow her onTwitter for all the latest news from Parliament Hill.

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