The Liberals have agreed to allow the non-partisan parliamentary law clerk to peruse a pile of WE Charity documents, opening the door to more information potentially spilling out about the drawn out scandal.
“We have now agreed to send unredacted documents to the Law Clerk, except those that were redacted to protect cabinet confidences and unrelated material as already allowed by the committee motion,” Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez confirmed in a tweet on Monday.
For weeks now, the Liberals have filibustered finance committee meetings as the government and opposition remain at loggerheads over the WE Charity issue – leaving them unable to study any other financial matters.
The opposition has been arguing that the redactions to the more than 5,000 pages of government documents that were made available to the House of Commons finance committee were overreaching and should be considered a breach of the committee’s privileges. Opposition members of the committee have demanded that the documents be made available, without redactions, to the parliamentary law clerk – who could then determine what, if anything, should be removed.
Potential grounds for such blackouts include the personal privacy of those mentioned and information that falls under cabinet confidences.
Senior public servants were behind the initial redactions of the documents, and the country’s top public servant, Privy Council clerk Ian Shugart, has offered to testify about the reasons why certain chunks of information were blacked out.
However, the opposition has pushed back on this offer, noting that it could kill the push for a legal review on the documents as the Speaker will only rule on matters of privilege that are presented to him promptly.
In a bid to end the stalemate, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre held a press conference Monday to propose a compromise.
“Why don’t we take all of those documents the government has said are cabinet confidential and let’s just put them aside. Let’s just put them aside for now and give the other 54 per cent to the parliamentary law clerk,” Poilievre said.
He said the move would allow the finance committee to inch closer to moving on from the WE Charity scandal and instead study financial issues relating to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Let’s hand over the documents, let’s put on our big boy pants, Mr. Trudeau, and let’s get back to work.”
However, right as Poilievre took to the podium, Rodriguez fired out a series of tweets effectively agreeing to the demands Poilievre stood poised to make.
“Finance committee must move forward,” Rodriguez said as he announced the plan to free up a portion of the documents.
“It is time that the opposition sets partisanship aside and gets back to the important work of combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and protecting Canadians.”
Poilievre took issue with one aspect of the plan Rodriguez laid out that differs from his own. Specifically, the fact that the government will leave out “unrelated material” from the documents it forwards to the law clerk.
“The only difference is that Mr. Rodriguez is claiming that he can decide what is ‘unrelated.’ That’s the key sticking point. But if these documents that he wants to cover up are really unrelated, why were they included in the original bundle and blacked out?” Poilievre questioned.
However, he said the compromise is “fine,” at least for now.
“If the government insists that it needs to put aside what it claims are cabinet confidences, fine. We’ll do that for now,” Poilievre said.
The ongoing scandal started when the government decided in June to pay WE Charity $43.5 million to administer a student grant program – despite the group’s close ties to the prime minister and then-finance minister and their families.
While WE backed away from the deal and the program was subsequently cancelled, the fallout from the decision is ongoing.
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau have apologized for not recusing themselves from the decision to grant WE Charity the contract.
An ethics commissioner investigation into the issue is ongoing.
–With files from The Canadian Press