POLITICS
10/19/2020 18:39 EDT | Updated 10/22/2020 14:57 EDT

Tory Push For 'Anti-Corruption Committee' Could Spur Election, Liberals Warn

“If passed, it will raise serious questions about whether the House of Commons continues to have confidence in the government.”

OTTAWA — The minority Liberal government suggested Monday the Opposition Conservatives are pushing the country to the brink of an election with their potential demand for an “anticorruption” committee to probe COVID-19 spending. 

Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez said in a letter to his opposition counterparts that the Tories’ effort to strike the committee is “blatantly partisan,” and designed to paralyze the government. 

“If passed, it will raise serious questions about whether the House of Commons continues to have confidence in the government,” he wrote. 

Rodriguez’s letter comes as the Tories were still deciding which of three potential subjects they’ll put up for debate Tuesday during one of the regularly scheduled days on the parliamentary calendar devoted to opposition business. 

The committee proposal is one option. It would incorporate ongoing efforts to scrutinize the Liberals’ decision to farm out management of a COVID-19 aid program to WE Charity, known for its long-standing ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family.

Another is about China’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong, and a third relates to banning the Chinese telecom firm Huawei from Canada’s networks. 

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre laughed off Rodriguez’s suggestion that the creation of a committee ought to push Canadians to the polls. 

“Is he really suggesting that if the committee looks into Trudeau’s corruption, Trudeau’s just going to call an election? Is that really what he’s going to do?” Poilievre asked Monday. 

“Setting up a committee is not a matter of confidence.”

Poilievre suggested his party is ready to do whatever it takes to hold the Liberals to account over the WE matter, but the Conservatives were also waiting on the Liberals’ own pitch on a special COVID-19 spending committee. 

Rodriguez laid out details of that as well Monday, proposing a 12-member committee where government and opposition MPs would have an equal number of spots.

That’s roughly in keeping with the standings in the full House of Commons, but rounded in the Liberals’ favour.

Setting up a committee is not a matter of confidence.Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre

Among other things, the Tories want the Opposition to have more seats.

The NDP’s Charlie Angus said Monday he has concerns the Liberal approach could just result in the government stonewalling that committee in the same way they’ve filibustered others in recent days

But Angus said it would be reckless for the government to push Canadians to the polls, and he’s hoping cooler heads prevail. 

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

For the Conservatives’ motion to pass over Liberal objections, it will need the support of the NDP and Bloc Québécois. 

Last week, several parliamentary committees were forced to sit for hours as the Liberals sought to block the resumption of studies into a decision to award WE Charity a contract to run a COVID-19 student program. 

The ethics committee spooled back up Monday, where opposition MPs are trying to get more details on how much Trudeau and members of his family received in speaking fees in connection with not just WE but for attending other events.

How two disclosures earlier Monday, one by WE Charity and the other by the Liberals, will affect that effort wasn’t immediately clear. 

Watch: Trudeau says fate of WE Charity ‘unfortunate’. Story continues below.

WE Charity released dozes of pages of documents that had previously been demanded by the finance committee, including details of fees paid to, and expenses covered for, members of the Trudeau family who participated in WE events. 

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

Meanwhile, in his letter Monday, Rodriguez released how much Trudeau himself had made via speaking engagements between 2006 and 2012. 

That data had been demanded by the opposition, though many of the details were put into the public domain seven years ago when Trudeau was running for the leadership of the Liberals. 

In 2013, he disclosed that he’d made about $1.3 million speaking fees, which corresponds to the data Rodriguez released Monday.

The revelation, however, that WE Charity, via a speaking agency, had paid Trudeau’s mother and brother to attend events was one of several factors that forced Trudeau to conclude he should have recused himself from the decision to award WE the COVID-19 grant.

In turn, MPs wanted the speaking agency to turn over all the records of how much Trudeau family members have been paid in total. The Liberals continued to insist Monday that how much his family has made is off limits.

It was a point the NDP appeared to concede as Angus sought to narrow the ethics committee’s request to records related only to the prime minister and his wife. 

Angus said if the committee could agree to that, then it could move onto what he considered the bigger issue: how WE Charity got the contract in the first place. 

The Liberals have maintained there was nothing nefarious or corrupt in the decision, and it was made upon the recommendation of the public service, which is also WE Charity’s position. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published October 19, 2020.