Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked the governor general to prorogue Parliament — a move that shuts down committee meetings on the WE Charity scandal — and says he will give a new speech from the throne laying out the plan for navigating the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The news comes after a rollercoaster start to the week with the resignation of Bill Morneau on Monday evening from his post as minister of finance following reports of a rift between the two men over plans for the best path forward on the coronavirus recovery.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has been named the country’s first female finance minister and president of the Queen’s Privy Council Dominic LeBlanc is now intergovernmental affairs minister.
Prorogation is the process to end the current session of Parliament.
It kills all bills currently under consideration and no committees can sit during the prorogation period.
Reconvening requires a new speech from the throne, or a new declaration from the government of its vision outlining legislative priorities for which it must get support from at least one other party in a minority government scenario.
News of the plan to prorogue comes as the Liberals continue to face the scrutiny of four separate parliamentary committees studying the government’s conduct in the WE Charity scandal.
The House of Commons finance, ethics, government operations and official languages committees have been holding or planning to hold meetings on why the government granted administration of a student service grant program to a group with financial ties to the families of both Trudeau and Morneau.
Legal advisors are working with the finance committee, in particular, to arrange the release of some 5,000 government documents related to the decision to grant the deal to WE.
Read more: Bill Morneau steps down as finance minister
The Liberal 2015 election platform pledged: “We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny. Stephen Harper has used prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances. We will not.”
Trudeau was asked by journalists on Tuesday during a press conference how he could have said that in 2015 and yet taken the decision now to prorogue, knowing it will shut down the committees studying his government’s conduct in the WE Charity scandal.
Trudeau insisted the decision is about forcing a confidence vote this fall on the new plan his government will present on its vision for recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Stephen Harper and the Conservatives prorogued Parliament in order to shut it down and avoid a confidence vote,” Trudeau said. “We are proroguing Parliament to bring it back on the same day it was supposed to come back anyway and force a confidence vote.”
He was asked whether he was doing this because he wants an election.
“No. We do not want an election. But it is obvious that the throne speech we gave eight months ago is no longer relevant to the reality Canadians are living,” Trudeau said.
“I think it is important that Canadians have a clear idea of the plan we have.
“We need a mandate from this Parliament to move forward on implementing these ambitious ideals and it’s important now that we have an opportunity to debate it.”
Following a prorogation, Trudeau will face a confidence vote with a new speech from the throne.
He would face another vote if and when the government decides to table a budget or fiscal update for the new parliamentary sitting. The government cancelled its spring budget in March as parliamentarians grappled with the question of how to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The government did table what it billed as a “fiscal snapshot” earlier in the summer that pegged the deficit at $343 billion.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who is in the final week of his tenure as party leader, issued a statement on Tuesday condemning Trudeau’s push for prorogation, calling it a “disgusting attempt to make Canadians forget about his corruption.”
“At a time when Canadians are looking for stability and leadership, Justin Trudeau has given them corruption, chaos, and cover-ups,” Scheer said.
“Canadians have serious questions about the Trudeau WE scandal. They deserve better than a spineless prime minister who uses the power of his office to shut down multiple investigations into his decision to hand $900 million of your tax dollars to his friends at WE.”
Scheer, however, has declined to attempt to trigger an election and said the question of when to do so will lie with his successor, set to be announced on Aug. 23.
Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, one of two frontrunners for the party leadership, would not commit to a timeframe for triggering an election during an interview with The West Block last week.
He vowed to topple Trudeau at “the right time” but wouldn’t say whether that will be this fall.
Peter MacKay, also a frontrunner, said in May he does not believe a fall election in the midst of the pandemic would be a top priority for Canadians.
Both of those statements were made before New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs triggered an election on Monday for Sept. 14.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet pledged earlier this month to try to force a confidence vote in October if Morneau, Trudeau and Trudeau’s chief of staff did not resign over the WE scandal.