Conservatives stormed out of the House of Commons during Finance Minister Bill Morneau's budget speech Tuesday to protest the government's handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The move came hours after Liberals on the House justice committee decided in a closed-door meeting to end their probe into the controversy — a move the Tories said amounted to a "coverup." Opposition MPs had pushed for the committee to call back former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to testify, arguing she should be allowed to offer a rebuttal to government witnesses.
"The actions of the government today have been unprecedented, have been an assault on democracy," Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told the House after rising on a point of order that interrupted Morneau's big budget announcement.
"They have shut down the only public investigation into the prime minister's SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal," he said. The federal ethics commissioner is, however, probing the matter.
Scheer noted that the scandal "touches on the finance minister himself." In her explosive testimony to the justice committee last month, Wilson-Raybould alleged that members of Morneau's office were among the government officials who applied undue pressure on her to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal prosecution on corruption charges.
Morneau — like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — has denied his staff crossed the line with Wilson-Raybould.
"...[Morneau] has been implicated in an unprecedented assault on the independent rule of law and Conservatives will not sit idly by will Liberals destroy the integrity of our justice system," Scheer said.
The Tory leader then left his desk, bowed to House Speaker Geoff Regan, and led a procession of his MPs out the door.
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The moment capped a day of high drama and hijinks.
After Liberals on the justice committee opted not to invite back Wilson-Raybould, Scheer teased to reporters that his party was prepared to take "emergency" steps in the House. Scheer also hinted that Tories could somehow delay the release of Morneau's budget in the afternoon.
Morneau pre-empted all that by quietly tabling his spending plan in the Commons minutes before 4 p.m. EST, the time at which markets close.
Watch that moment:
But before Morneau could speak about his plan, Tories forced a vote on a motion to allow MPs on the fisheries committee to travel. In a deliberate time-wasting exercise, a number of Tory MPs voted both for and against the motion, only to rise later, apologize, and work in a reference to how Liberals should "let [Wilson-Raybould] speak."
"I understand that I may have voted twice in that last vote. I appreciate the fact that you are recognizing me and allowing my voice to speak, to allow me to clarify the record," Tory foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole said, in one instance. "Allowing someone to speak allows for clarity and sunshine, Mr. Speaker. Let her speak."
When Morneau finally began to deliver his speech, about an hour later than expected, Conservatives drowned him out with loud heckles, stomping, and chants. He finished his remarks, uninterrupted, once Tories left the chamber.
With files from The Canadian Press