11/29/2013 01:28 EST | Updated 01/29/2014 05:59 EST

Senate Speaker to chair embattled internal economy committee

All but overlooked amid the furore over yesterday's testimony by the Mike Duffy audit team from Deloitte was the news that Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella is the new chair of the committee that is handling the questions over Senate expenses.

The appointment raised an eyebrow or two when it was re-announced via official press release on Friday.

For Hill reporters accustomed to covering the House, the notion that a speaker could be put in charge of a committee may seem unorthodox, but as it turns out, it's not unprecedented on the Senate side of the Hill.

According to the Senate website, then-Speaker Guy Charbonneau chaired the very same committee in the mid-'80s.

Still, as the same page notes, Senate speakers "play no direct role" in administration and, as such, aren't automatically added to the membership role.

In this case, though, Kinsella has sat on internal economy committee since 2007, so it's not like he's been dropped in midway through an ongoing existential crisis.

It's also worth noting that Kinsella has also been remarkably even-handed in dealing with his colleagues in the chamber, including ruling against members of the government caucus — of which he is not only a member, but reportedly even attends the weekly closed-door confabs — on a regular basis.

That may be why Liberal Senate sources seem to be reacting to news of his new gig with cautious optimism, particularly given the — let's call them difficulties — that arose under the chairmanship of Senator David Tkachuk, many of which have now been retroactively exacerbated by subsequent revelations on just how closely he seems to have been working with PMO officials on the Senate expense file.

Kinsella, however, appears to command equal respect on both sides of the aisle, which may bode well for a de-escalation of the hyperpartisanship with which the committee has only recently been beset. 

It may, however, put him in an awkward position next week, when he may be asked to rule — and, quite possibly, vote — on a Liberal motion to instruct the committee to hear what Deloitte partner Michael Runia has to say about the Duffy audit report.

(If you missed Thursday's testimony, Duffy audit team member Gary Timm confirmed that Runia had, indeed, called him midway through the investigation, allegedly to find out how much Duffy would likely end up owing.) 

Given the haste with which the Conservative majority on that same committee stomped an effort on Friday to hear what Runia had to say, it's a good bet his new charges will be watching Kinsella closely for clues as to how he would handle the situation.

That is, in the unlikely event the Liberal motion actually passes.