One year after Canadians sent the Liberals back to work governing with a reduced minority mandate, the government has survived a key confidence vote that had threatened to send Canadians back to the polls in the midst of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Liberals secured the backing of the NDP and the Greens in defeating a Conservative motion seeking to create a special committee tasked with probing the propriety of government spending.
The Liberals had decided to make the vote a confidence matter, meaning the success of the motion would have technically been deemed to declare the House of Commons did not have confidence in the government, even though the Conservatives had asserted it was not intended to do so.
The government has the prerogative to make any vote a confidence matter, though normally such votes are reserved for throne speeches and budgets.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had suggested on Wednesday that New Democrats would not support an election but had refused to say specifically how the party would vote on the confidence motion itself.
“New Democrats will not give Prime Minister Trudeau the election he’s looking for,” Singh said.
“We are voting against an election.”
However, he was asked several times specifically how “voting against an election” would translate in relation to the motion itself: does it mean a yay or nay vote?
He would not give a clear answer, saying that was still under discussion.
All 24 NDP MPs subsequently ended up voting with the government against the motion, as did three Green MPs and two Independent MPs.
Defeat of the motion means the Liberals remain in a minority government, though Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez told reporters after the vote that the Liberals had not made any concessions to the NDP in order to secure their support.
At issue was the proposed scope of the motion the Conservatives have put forward.
The Tories were pushing to create a committee to investigate the WE Charity scandal and other aspects of government pandemic spending that the opposition has argued are funnelling funding to Liberal friends and supporters.
The motion would have given the committee broad powers to call witnesses, including the prime minister and other ministers, and to demand documents on a range of issues, including the speaking fees earned by Trudeau’s mother and brother over the past 12 years.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole issued a statement following the vote criticizing the decision to make the matter a question of confidence given the risk of an election during the pandemic.
“Our motion was clear that the creation of a special committee is not a matter of confidence. The prime minister threatened to use this committee as an excuse to call an election in the middle of the second wave – which would have needlessly put the health and safety of Canadians at risk,” he said.
“Canadians don’t want an election.”
He said the Conservatives would continue pushing for more answers into accusations that the government in giving contracts for work related to the pandemic to party insiders and supporters.
The Liberals maintained the committee would amount to a time-consuming fishing expedition that would paralyze the government when it should be focused on helping Canadians get through the second wave of the pandemic.
They’ve proposed their own special committee to examine all government pandemic-related spending, including but not exclusively the WE affair and other matters the Opposition deems suspicious.
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, who does not have a seat in the House of Commons and could not vote on the proposed motion, issued a statement on Tuesday stressing the need for parties to work together in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I would like to remind all members of Parliament that people in Canada are counting on us to keep our eye on the ball and to focus on their needs. Anything else is just unwelcome drama,” Paul said.
“Cross-party cooperation and collaboration remain the order of the day. It is what people in Canada continue to expect from their political leaders.”
The Green Party’s three MPs voted against the motion.
The two Independent MPs in the House of Commons also voted with the government.
One of those was Marwan Tabbara, who resigned from the Liberal caucus after being charged with assault and criminal harassment earlier this year.
The other Independent MP was Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former attorney general who Trudeau ejected from the Liberal caucus last year after she repeatedly raised concerns about political interference in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Wilson-Raybould called the fact the government would risk an election during the pandemic “shameful” in a series of tweets issued just after the vote.
Trudeau was found to have broken federal ethics rules with his behaviour in the SNC-Lavalin affair, which marked the second such ethics violation slapped on him during his time as prime minister.
He is under a third ethics investigation right now over failing to recuse himself from cabinet discussions on the decision to award a contract to administer a now-cancelled student service grant program to WE Charity, which has longstanding financial ties to his family.
Former finance minister Bill Morneau is also under investigation by the ethics commissioner for similar accusations. Both have apologized for not recusing themselves from the conversations.
With files from the Canadian Press.