Paul Martin's big plans on fixing the democratic deficit appear to be stalled. MPs from all parties have started complaining they haven't been given enough direction to put into motion the many reforms floated earlier this year. "Quite frankly," said Liberal MP Judi Longfield, "nobody really knows where to start, they don't know what the parameters are." Ms. Longfield made the comment last Tuesday at a stock-taking meeting of the Procedures and House Affairs Committee which is coordinating the implementation of major portions of Government House Leader Jacques Saada report tabled on Feb. 4 called, Ethics, Responsibility, Accountability: An Action Plan for Democratic Reform. Committee members were visibly frustrated about the progress made to date, and by the end of the meeting, Liberal MP Peter Adams, chair of the committee, suggested writing a letter to Mr. Saada indicating where the committee has reached a "dead end." Ms. Longfield said the plan to review all governor-in-council appointments, a key part of Mr. Saada's plan, is going nowhere. Each standing committee of the House recently got a list of appointments that are relevant to their mandates, and are now supposed to recommend which ones they think should be subject to Parliamentary oversight. Mr. Saada had originally told committees to report back by March 26, "if possible." But that deadline has come and gone, and it now looks as if it could be weeks before anything gets done. Ms. Longfield, who chairs the Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities Committee, later told The Hill Times that committees are frustrated because most don't know where to begin reviewing the hundreds of appointments that apply to them. "We need to know which ones we can do and to establish a proper framework from committee to committee to committee. And that's not clear right now," she said. MPs were also at a loss over how to tackle improving Parliament's oversight over government spending ­ what is known as the estimates process on the Hill. The reform is another major plank in Mr. Saada's plan. But Conservative MP Chuck Strahl stressed that the issue has been studied at length already, and criticized the government for failing to take a stronger position on the matter when it tabled its action plan last February. Mr. Saada's plan is only 15 pages long, was short on specifics, and didn't include price tags or mention funding. It recast a number of promises made by Paul Martin during his bid for the Liberal leadership to restore power to the backbenches of the House of Commons, such as a three-line whip structure. "We need some specificity or else we have nothing to chew on," said Mr. Strahl. "We now have to throw the ball back in Mr. Saada's court." During the entire debate Liberal MP Roger Gallaway, who is Mr. Saada's Parliamentary secretary, was conspicuous by his silence. He later told The Hill Times that the government didn't produce a more fulsome action plan because it's not up to the government to tell Parliament how to conduct its affairs. "It's a very complex topic. It's not one where you can compile a rule book and say 'Here it is folks,'" he said. "The government doesn't tell committees how to operate. Liberal members are not given direction on how to move on the estimates because that's a violation of members' privileges." Meddling with committees MPs on the House's Aboriginal Affairs Committee recently took the rare step of allowing non-elected aboriginal leaders to join them as permanent but non-voting members. Though critics said the move raises major accountability problems, it was far from precedent setting. Peter Dobell, head of the Parliamentary Centre, reminded The Hill Times last week that back in 1983, the Assembly of First Nations was allowed to designate well-known aboriginal leader Roberta Jamieson to sit on a special committee known as the Parliamentary Task Force on Indian Self-Government. Though Ms. Jamieson ­ who today is chief of Ontario's Six Nations ­ wasn't an MP, she got to sit in on the committee and enjoyed full voting privileges. This time around, the five federally-recognized and federally-funded aboriginal groups each will be asked to send a representative to meetings of the House Aboriginal Affairs Committee, though the new members won't be able to vote and they'll only be able to join the committee when MPs are studying legislation that affects their constituents. The move was NDP MP Pat Martin's idea. He argued that a "bunch of white men in suits" couldn't be trusted to make laws for aboriginal peoples. Yet the committee already has four MPs who identify themselves as aboriginal, Tanis Fiss, director of the Centre for Aboriginal Policy Change of the Alberta-based Canadian Taxpayers Federation, has pointed out. Ms. Fiss, in a press release last week, showed that Liberals Nancy Karetak-Lindell, an Inuit-Canadian, Rick Laliberte, a Métis-Canadian, Lawrence O'Brien, a Métis-Canadian, and Ethel Blondin-Andrew, a Dene from the Northwest Territories, all sit on the committee already. Ethics bill gets Royal Assent With little fan fare or celebration, the Senate quietly passed the Liberal government's much vaunted ethics bill which will finally fulfill the party's Red Book promise made over a decade ago to create an independent ethics watchdog for Parliamentarians. The bill actually creates two watchdogs, one for MPs and another for Senators. It will replace Ethics Counsellor Howard Wilson, who was widely criticized as a "lapdog" because he reports to the Prime Minister, not to Parliament. Nine Liberal Senators led by Sen. John Bryden, along with the Conservative opposition, tried and failed to amend the bill at third reading last Tuesday. But the government got out the vote in a big way, getting fifty Liberals to vote down Sen. Bryden's amendment. Five Liberal Senators didn't turn up in the Chamber for the vote. Of that group, four had voted for a similar amendment last fall that effectively left the bill to die on the Order Paper. They are Senators George Baker, Jerry Grafstein, Colin Kenny, and Peter Stollery. The rebel group of Senators had been trying to wrest control of the appointment of the Senate ethics officer out of the hands of the Prime Minister and into the hands of Senators. MPs and Senators must now create respective codes of conduct for their ethics watchdogs to oversee. Unlike Cabinet ministers, Parliamentarians don't have ethics rules to govern their conduct. The bill must still be proclaimed into law. The expectation is that the Martin government might wait until after the expected spring election to do this, as getting the opposition to agree on potential candidates ­ who will have to be approved with votes in each Chamber ­ could prove to be an impossible task in the interim. New committee The Liberal government tabled its consultation paper on Wednesday to inform MPs and Senators how to create a new Parliamentary Committee on National Security, whose members are expected to be sworn in as privy councillors and will have access to secret government documents. Anne McLellan, the government's public security minister, tabled the paper that provides background information on how Canada's closest allies have approached the issue, including the U.S. and the U.K. Opposition MPs responded positively, but seized the opportunity to slam the government for its lapses in protecting Canadians from terrorist threats detailed in last week's Auditor General's report. "The Auditor General found the government as a whole failed to adequately assess intelligence lessons learned from critical incidents such as Sept. 11," said Conservative MP Kevin Sorenson. The week ahead Both Chambers are off this week, though the Public Accounts Committee continues its probe into the sponsorship scandal this week. The House is set to return on April 19, while the Senate is back on April 20. email@example.com The Hill Times Status of business in Parliament House of Commons C-2*- Radiocommunication Bill (committee) C-9*- Patent, Food and Drugs Bill (committee) C-10*- Marijuana Decriminalization Bill (third reading) C-11*- First Nation Self-Government Bill (report) C-12*- Protection of Children Bill (third reading) C-15*- International Transfer of Offenders Bill (report) C-19*- Corrections and Conditional Release Bill (committee) C-23*- First Nations Fiscal Management Bill (report) C-25- Whistleblower Protection Bill (committee) C-28- Canada National Parks Bill (second reading) C-29- Mental Disorder Bill (first reading) C-31- Land Claims Bill (second reading) Senate C-3*- Canada Elections Bill (second reading) C-7*- Public Safety Bill (report) C-14*- Criminal Code Bill (report) C-17*- Amendments and Corrections Bill (committee) C-21- Customs Tariff Bill (committee) C-22*- Cruelty to Animals Bill (second reading) C-24- Parliamentarians Health and Dental Bill (committee) Adopted / Royal Assent C-4*- Ethics Watchdog Bill C-5*- Electoral Boundaries Bill C-6*- Human Reproduction Bill C-13*- Capital Markets Fraud Bill C-16*- Sex Offenders Bill C-18- Health Equalization Bill Amended by Senate C-8*- Library and Archives Bill *Denotes reinstated bills.