Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending the decision to designate as a confidence motion a Conservative motion pushing for the creation of a committee tasked with looking into “ethical problems” with government spending, including the WE Charity scandal.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Trudeau was questions about the move which raises the risk of sending Canadians back out to the polls in the midst of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It will be up to parliamentarians, the opposition, to decide whether they want this minority government to work or whether they’ve lost confidence,” said Trudeau.
“We know that if Parliament determines they no longer have confidence in the minority government, then unfortunately there will be elections.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland offered similar remarks.
He said he would change the name of a proposed “anti-corruption” committee in a bid to defuse Liberal threats to turn the vote on the motion into a confidence vote, but said he believes the government’s move is another attempt to evade further accountability on the WE Charity scandal.
The government shut down several committees conducting probes into the scandal in August when Trudeau prorogued Parliament, and Liberal MPs have so far filibustered attempts at those committees to conduct similar investigations now that the House of Commons is back in session.
“To whom much is given, much is expected. Canadians deserve the truth. They deserve accountability,” said O’Toole. “We’re changing the name of the committee and we’re putting a specific amendment saying this is not about an election.”
Conservative MP Blaine Calkins likened the move by the government to “throwing down the gauntlet.”
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said his party will vote with the Conservatives in support of the motion, leaving the fate of the government once again in the hands of the NDP.
The Tories, the NDP and Bloc Québécois have all raised concerns the Liberals are trying to avoid extensive scrutiny of contracts and programs set up to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
They point to a decision to prorogue Parliament in August, which shut down the work of existing committees probing one deal in particular, that with WE Charity.
The Tories had initially billed the committee as one focused on “anti-corruption” in the context of probing the WE deal and other potentially questionable agreements.
While the Liberals say they agree a special pandemic spending committee could be set up, they argue the Conservative approach is overtly partisan and would just tie the government in knots.
Rodriguez has said giving the committee a specific “anti-corruption” focus implies an inherent lack of confidence in the government and that any vote in favour of probing government corruption would have to be interpreted as a lack of confidence in the government.
The wording of the motion proposes giving the committee the power to call everyone from the prime minister to civil servants as witnesses. It also calls for the production of what’s likely to be thousands of pages of documents related not just to the WE Charity affair, but also the Liberals’ decision to prorogue Parliament.
The committee would also review records related to the prime minister’s chief of staff’s husband’s involvement in lobbying for two COVID-19 relief programs, an issue the federal ethics commissioner, Mario Dion, has already declined to review.
It could also probe a contract given to former Liberal MP Frank Baylis’s company for ventilators not yet approved by Health Canada.
The Conservatives would need the support of both the NDP and Bloc Québécois for their motion to pass and for the committee to be formed.
The NDP has suggested plunging the country into an election would be irresponsible, but isn’t confident the Liberal counter-proposal for a special committee would work.
They say they fear a repeat of what’s happening now — Liberal MPs holding up the work of committees.
While the debate on the Conservative proposal is set for Tuesday, the vote itself will take place later this week, possibly on Wednesday.
That day marks exactly a year since the last federal election, which reduced the Liberals to a minority government.
With files from the Canadian Press.