NEWS
03/23/2018 09:33 EDT | Updated 03/23/2018 10:02 EDT

Tories maintain pressure on Liberals to force testimony from PM's adviser

OTTAWA — Bleary-eyed members of Parliament, some wearing sweat pants and track suits, continued their partisan standoff Friday in the House of Commons over Opposition demands to have Justin Trudeau's national security adviser testify at a committee about the prime minister's disastrous trip to India.

While the governing Liberals deemed the round-the-clock voting on more than 250 motions a waste of time and taxpayer money, the Conservatives insisted the drastic action was necessary to shed light on what they consider to be a major foreign affairs scandal.

The tactic was launched Thursday in retaliation for the Liberals voting down a Tory motion calling on Daniel Jean to testify at the national security committee about a briefing he gave journalists during Trudeau's India trip.

Jean suggested to reporters covering Trudeau's trouble-plagued trip last month that rogue factions in the Indian government had sabotaged the prime minister's visit. Since then, Opposition MPs have demanded they hear first-hand from Jean so he can explain his reasoning about how one-time Canadian Sikh separatist Jaspal Atwal was invited to attend a Trudeau event in India.

"We've already seen the Indian government express outrage, raise tariffs," said Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole.

"We've angered a major Commonwealth partner ... and the prime minister clings to this conspiracy theory that directly contradicts his own MP, Randeep Sarai."

While Trudeau has defended Jean as a professional, non-partisan, veteran public servant who only says what he knows to be true, Sarai has taken responsibility for getting Atwal on the guest lists for Trudeau events in India after Atwal said he requested an invitation. 

Only one of those two scenarios can be true, said O'Toole: either Atwal was invited by a Liberal MP or he was an Indian government plant, and Jean should be allowed to testify so he can clear the air over the controversy.

But Liberal House Leader Bardish Chagger said it was entirely up to MPs on the national security committee — the majority of whom are Liberals — to decide whether Jean should be called to testify and they said no.

"The committee should be able to choose if they would like him to come and testify or not," said Chagger. "And that's a choice for committee members to make."

NDP members, however, noted that the committee had not voted on a motion to compel Jean to testify. Instead, committee members adjourned debate before a vote could be called.

Based on the pace of voting in the Commons early Friday, both the Conservatives and some Liberals estimated the procedural stall tactic could continue well into the early-morning hours of Saturday.

However, unless the government agrees to let Jean testify, the Conservatives would employ a similar strategy to disrupt parliamentary business again next week, hinted Conservative House leader Candice Bergen.

"There's always Monday," she said as she left the Commons chamber for a break.

MPs were taking shifts Friday, with scheduled one-hour breaks to eat or nap, to ensure that enough of them were in the Commons for voting on motions that were deemed as confidence measures.

The filibuster was having an impact on the normal course of government. Many MPs, particularly from far-flung parts of the country, normally return to their ridings on Thursday nights. Cabinet ministers also tend to fan out across the country on Fridays to make announcements or attend events.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau had to cancel his plans to travel Friday to Lac Megantic, Que. — site of the 2013 rail disaster that levelled half the downtown area — where he was scheduled to discuss rail safety with the Quebec Federation of Municipalities.

A PMO official said the prime minister, who arrived in the House early Friday after his plane was delayed in returning from New Brunswick the night before due to a snowstorm, was scheduled to spend the day in Drummondville, Que., but had to cancel. It was to be the first visit to the city by a sitting prime minister in decades.

Veteran Liberal Hedy Fry, who was seen walking around barefoot on the Centre Block's marble floors, lamented that she had to cancel an announcement that was planned for her in Vancouver.

"This is just a game," she said, recalling several other filibusters she'd experienced over the years.