In trying to make sense of the prime minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament back in August, derailing the committee investigations into the WE Charity scandal always seemed like a plausible explanation.
But after witnessing the government’s desperate attempts to prevent those committees from resuming their work, it now seems like an inescapable conclusion.
On Thursday, the finance committee was bogged down by 11 hours of filibuster from Liberal members trying to block a Conservative motion to lift some of the redactions in over 5,000 pages of documents pertaining to the scandal that the government released in August (coincidentally, right around the time Parliament was prorogued).
And then, Friday, the committee hearings were cancelled altogether.
Meanwhile, the ethics committee was subjected to the same delay tactics from Liberal members as the committee was trying to debate a motion concerning records from the agency that had arranged speaking engagements for Trudeau family members at various WE Charity events.
The Liberals’ defence of these tactics is to try and portray this scandal as old news and a distraction from more pressing matters. That’s rather disingenuous.
Again, had Parliament not been prorogued, these committees could have continued their investigations — perhaps they might even have concluded much of that work by now given that we’re now about two months removed from the decision to prorogue.
This past Tuesday in the House of Commons, Trudeau suggested that this matter is closed as far as his government is concerned, and that instead it will remain focused on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the prime minister put it, “We are entirely focused on this second wave of COVID-19. We will continue to stay focused on what we need to do to support Canadians facing a very difficult time right now.”
The needless five-week delay caused by prorogation is hard to square with the notion of a government laser-focused on the pandemic and it’s rather hypocritical to be complaining of wasted time while simultaneously deploying filibuster tactics. Furthermore, that focus hasn’t prevented the government from devoting attention to other issues (like its plans to ban single-use plastic, for example).
And even if one accepts the premise that the government is preoccupied with the pandemic response, the work of the finance and ethics committees — or even the special anti-corruption committee proposed by the opposition — doesn’t have to interfere with that response.
Moreover, though, the WE Charity scandal is very much relevant to the question of the Liberals’ handling of the pandemic and what kind of economic response there needs to be from Ottawa.
This whole controversy arose because the Liberals were convinced that a $900-million Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) program was a necessary part of that economic response and that this program could only be administered by WE Charity, which of course had many close ties to the government.
Not long after it was announced, the CSSG arrangement was abandoned and it’s unclear whether the government still believes such a program is necessary.
So trying to understand the government’s decision-making process when it comes to pandemic response, and what else might be motivating those decisions, seems like a very relevant and important undertaking at the moment.
As much as it’s in the Liberals’ vested interest to have everyone to forget about and move on from this scandal, we don’t yet have all the answers here. Were it not for prorogation and these other delay tactics, we might actually be a step closer to finally moving on from this.
The government, though, continues to act like it has something to hide. Just because Canadians expect the government to be taking this pandemic seriously doesn’t give the Liberals a free pass on this matter.