Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell charged in a statement Monday that Liberals are “playing games” at a time when the focus should be on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Canadians don’t want a risky pandemic election, but with every filibuster, delay in producing House-ordered documents, and the poorly organized legislative calendar, it’s becoming more and more clear that the Liberals are trying to engineer one,” he said.
Liberals have for weeks “deliberately confused constructive debate” with political delay, Deltell said. He accused the government of having made mistakes in the past by seeking to “rush” legislation through the House of Commons without proper scrutiny, pointing to a loophole in the government’s Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit that allowed quarantining vacationers to access the $1,000 benefit. Ottawa pledged to close the loophole in January.
Watch: Trudeau, in January, says pandemic a bigger priority than election
Deltell said Tory MPs are doing their jobs and that it is the Liberals who are faltering.
“They failed to manage the legislative agenda, call bills in no logical order, schedule insufficient time for debate on their legislation, and then make public statements accusing Conservatives of playing games,” he said.
Deltell was firing back against Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez, who told The Canadian Press late last month the Tories were blocking the government’s agenda, including a bill to enact billions in spending from the fall economic statement and proposed legislation to introduce new measures to safely conduct a national election during the health crisis.
“It’s delay, delay, delay and eventually that delay becomes obstruction,” Rodriguez said.
As an example of the alleged “games played by Conservatives,” Rodriguez noted a three-hour debate in the House last month on a three-sentence committee report on the Canadian Tourism Commission president.
Rodriguez’s press secretary, Simon Ross, said much the same when asked about Deltell’s accusations.
“We are seeing a pattern in how the Conservatives play political games in the House. Delay, delay, delay. And eventually it becomes obstruction,” Ross told HuffPost via email.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland also urged the Tories — both in an open letter to Tory Leader Erin O’Toole last month and in the House — to speed up the passage of Bill C-14, which seeks to authorize new pandemic-related aid, including targeted support for hard-hit industries.
“Mr. O’Toole, this is delay for the sake of delay — at the expense of the country,” Freeland wrote at the time.
O’Toole responded that “modest debate” over the bill was appropriate and said it was up to Liberals to manage their legislative calendar and prioritize proposed legislation.
C-14 cleared second reading in the House Monday afternoon and is headed to the finance committee for further study.
Liberals have also accused the Tories of obstructing their assisted-dying legislation, Bill C-7, by refusing to hold evening sittings in the House on the matter.
Deltell said in his statement that his party wants the minority Parliament to work so Canadians aren’t forced to the polls again. “To that end, we call on the Liberal government to put aside their political games so we can focus on helping Canadians,” he said.
Though there has been speculation about a possible spring election for months, both Liberals and Conservatives maintain they don’t want to send Canadians back to the polls. O’Toole has said several times the pandemic must be behind Canadians before another election is called.
Conservatives are currently running TV ads that introduce O’Toole to Canadians, six months after winning his party’s leadership race.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also publicly ruled out trying to trigger an election amid the pandemic. Last month, Singh told reporters his caucus was prepared to “vote to keep the government going” on confidence matters.
The NDP helped prevent an election in the fall by voting with Liberals against a Conservative motion to create a new committee to examine the WE Charity controversy and pandemic-related spending — originally pitched as an “anti-corruption committee.” Liberals deemed the vote to be a confidence test.
Singh also took the matter to question period, asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Feb. 17 to commit he would not call an election while Canadians are fighting the pandemic.
Trudeau responded at the time that, in a minority Parliament, the government does not have the “sole power” to decide when we head into another campaign. Though there is nothing stopping the prime minister from calling an election should he wish to do so, Trudeau appeared to be referencing the overall functioning of Parliament.
“The opposition members have a role to play not only in providing confidence for the House, but also by being able to function appropriately to deliver the help to Canadians that Canadians so seriously need,” Trudeau said.
If the prime minister should soon change course and claim he was forced to call an election because Parliament wasn’t functioning properly, he’d be taking a page from his predecessor.
In 2008, Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper called a snap election that ignored his government’s own fixed-election-date law because, in his words, the minority Parliament had become “dysfunctional.” The election that year resulted in a stronger minority government for the Conservatives.
With a file from The Canadian Press