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Parliamentary showdown looms as Conservatives, Liberals dig in heels over anti-corruption committee

  • October 20, 2020

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said today that creating a special committee to probe possible misuse of tax dollars during the coronavirus pandemic does not constitute legitimate grounds for triggering a general election.

During a news conference in Ottawa, O’Toole said his party’s push to strike a so-called “anti-corruption” committee to scrutinize government spending, lobbying and the delivery of federal aid programs is simply about holding the government to account on possible misspending and ethical lapses.

The Liberal government says the motion to create the parliamentary committee will be considered a confidence vote — meaning it could lead to a snap federal election.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to take questions on the looming parliamentary showdown during a news conference at 11:30 a.m. ET with public health officials on COVID-19. CBCNews.ca is carrying it live.

O’Toole said the Conservative motion to be debated today has been amended to include language specifying that creating the committee should not be deemed grounds to order an election.

He said he’s also open to changing the name of the committee if that would bring other opposition parties on board.

“Canadians expect the truth. They deserve accountability. That’s what this committee will do,” he said, adding that the Liberals have dodged accountability by withholding documents, proroguing Parliament and shedding a key minister embroiled in the WE Charity controversy.

Trudeau says election not in Canadians’ best interest

In an interview with Toronto radio station RED FM Tuesday, Trudeau accused the Conservatives of playing political games as the government tries to focus on supporting Canadians through the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve said if they think we’re so corrupt, then maybe they don’t have confidence in the government, and I think that’s something very important. If they want to make criticisms, they have to be willing to back it up in the House,” he said.

Trudeau said he does not want an election and that holding one now would not be in the best interests of Canadians.

“But if the Conservatives are saying that this government is completely corrupt, then I think they have to face the consequences of that,” he said.

Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez called the Conservative motion “totally irresponsible” and confirmed the government will deem it a confidence motion.

He said the committee will detract from the government’s efforts to help Canadians through the health and financial crises.

“Their motion is nothing more than a dangerous political plan to paralyze the government, and they’re doing this at a time when we should all be focusing on keeping Canadians safe and healthy during the pandemic,” he said.

The Conservative motion would give the new committee a mandate to examine the Canada student service grant and the ties between WE Charity — which had been selected to administer the program — and members of the Liberal government and their family members.

It also would be tasked to examine other issues related to the government’s COVID-10 response.

The Conservatives say the committee would have the power to call Trudeau as a witness, as well as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and other cabinet ministers.

Conservative House leader Gerard Deltell called the Liberals’ effort to present the Tory motion as a matter of confidence “ridiculous.”

“That you are even entertaining such speculation demonstrates to me — as it would to all Canadians — the desperate ends to which the Liberal government will go to further its coverup of a very troubling scandal which reeks of corruption,” Deltell wrote in a letter to Rodriguez yesterday. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Canadian Press.

NDP to Liberals: ‘Calm down’

Weeks ago, the NDP pitched a special committee that would focus exclusively on pandemic-related spending — an idea the Tories’ anti-corruption probe would amplify.

The Liberals countered with their own proposal for a COVID-19 committee, detailing their pitch Monday in a letter to the House leaders of the other parties.

They’re proposing one that focuses on pandemic-related spending, with six Liberal MPs and six members of the opposition parties. The Tories’ version would have 15 MPs, with the opposition holding the majority.

The Liberals’ approach is too broad, Deltell said.

“All Mr. O’Toole’s motion would do is to establish a committee with a focused mandate to review the most troubling reports related to your government’s pandemic response measures,” he wrote in his reply to Rodriguez.

“This would allow the 24 standing committees of the House to focus on their usual mandates, and how they intersect with the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring Parliament discharges its primary purpose: to hold the government to account.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s party is moving ahead with a motion that calls for the creation of a special ‘anti-corruption’ committee of MPs that would scrutinize specific COVID-19 relief programs. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said earlier Monday he feared the Liberals would stymie the work of a new committee, much as they have done with existing ones by filibustering proceedings to avert votes.

He suggested, however, that to toss the country into an election over it would be folly.

In any confidence vote, the votes of NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs would be critical in deciding whether the minority Liberal government fell.

“Our message to the Liberals is, calm down, we have work to do,” Angus said. “Work with us.”

Documents dropped Monday

More light was shed Monday on the interactions between WE Charity and the government with the release of dozens of pages of documents previously demanded by the finance committee. The documents include details of fees paid to, and expenses covered for, members of the Trudeau family who participated in WE events.

The charity said previously that Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the prime minister’s wife, had been paid a $1,500 speaking fee for one appearance. The documents released Monday also disclosed that the charity covered $23,940.76 in expenses for eight appearances between 2012 and 2020.

The Commons’ ethics committee also has demanded to know how much money Trudeau and his family received in speakers’ fees over the last several years. Trudeau released details of his own fees Monday — amounting to about $1.3 million — which he disclosed when he ran for leadership of the party in 2013.

But the Liberals said his family’s records were off limits.

Article source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/conservatives-we-opposition-day-1.5768993?cmp=rss

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