Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will call an election that “nobody wants” this week if the House of Commons passes a Conservative motion that he says will confirm it has lost confidence in his minority government.
“It will be up to parliamentarians and the Opposition to decide whether they want to make this minority Parliament work or whether they’ve lost confidence in this government’s ability to manage this pandemic and continue to govern this country during this crisis,” Trudeau told reporters at a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday.
The prime minister was responding to a high-stakes motion introduced earlier in the day by Tory Leader Erin O’Toole that calls for a new parliamentary committee to investigate alleged misuse of public money on COVID-19 relief programs, including the WE Charity controversy.
Though the original text of the motion stated the group should be called an “anti-corruption committee,” the Tories scrubbed that language after Liberals announced they would treat the vote as a confidence matter.
The Liberals counter-offered to create a special committee to examine the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of spending his government has put forward since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Trudeau said. He called it an “extraordinary measure” in exceptional circumstances.
“We have rolled out unprecedented measures to support Canadians, to support small businesses, to support families, to support communities right across the country. And we feel that parliamentarians should, in this exceptional time, have an ability to look very carefully at all that spending and that’s why we’re proposing this special committee,” he said.
If the House instead votes to create the Tory-proposed, 15-member committee — on which the Liberals would hold six seats and lack the power to control the agenda — he’ll ask Gov. Gen. Julie Payette for the dissolution of Parliament.
“If Parliament determines that they no longer have confidence in the government… in a minority Parliament, unfortunately, there would be elections. We also know nobody wants elections,” Trudeau said.
“People want to continue to have their government focus on helping them in their jobs, helping them in this health crisis, and that’s what we will continue to concentrate on.”
The prime minister said he hoped opposition parties will “not side with the Conservatives who have decided that they no longer have confidence in this government, as leader O’Toole said this morning.”
Trudeau referenced comments made by O’Toole at his own press conference earlier in the day. The Tory leader explicitly said he did not have confidence in the Trudeau government but also said he did not want an election.
“In many parts of Canada kids can’t go trick-or-treating but the Liberals think Canadians should go to the polls rather than… answering several simple questions,″ O’Toole said. “They don’t want the truth to come out.”
In addition to removing references to government corruption, O’Toole amended his motion to state the establishment of the committee would not “constitute legitimate grounds for calling a general election.”
The proposed committee on “allegations of misuse of public funds” is about truth and accountability, O’Toole said. He claimed that Liberal filibusters at committees last week to prevent investigations into the WE Charity affair from being reopened, and Trudeau’s prorogation of Parliament in August, suggest they are hiding something.
Liberals would rather “deliver 500 boxes full of spending documents and bog down Parliament for months,” he said, than answer questions about the government’s since-reversed decision to tap WE Charity to run a student grant program, despite the charity’s ties to the families of Trudeau and his then-finance minister, Bill Morneau.
“Threatening an election rather than being accountable, for a prime minister who is already on his third personal ethics investigation? It’s time for some accountability and we’re going to bring that,” O’Toole said, referencing the ethics probe Trudeau faces from the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner over his role in the WE decision.
In question period Tuesday, Trudeau and O’Toole accused one another of forcing the country to the brink of an election.
Government House leader warns against ‘dangerous partisan plan’
Conservatives have argued a new committee investigating Liberal controversies would free up other House committees to concentrate on other matters. But Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez called the motion “nothing more than a dangerous partisan plan to paralyze the government” during an ongoing health and economic crisis.
Rodriguez said O’Toole removing the word “corruption” from the proposed committee name isn’t a concession at all. “If you write a book about Frankenstein and you call it ‘Cinderella,’ it’s still a book about Frankenstein,” he said.
The Government House leader warned the Tory proposal would see committees turned into “partisan inquisitions” that would see public servants and key government figures pulled away from working on fighting the pandemic to answer questions.
He noted the motion states that Trudeau, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos, and Youth Minister Bardish Chagger may be “ordered to appear as witnesses from time to time, as the committee sees fit.”
Rodriguez also noted the Liberals would be outnumbered by opposition MPs on the committee O’Toole is proposing, something he said would not respect the results of last October’s election. The motion also states the group should be chaired by a Tory MP.
In a possible sign of what’s to come if this matter results in Canadians heading to the polls, Rodriguez accused O’Toole and his party of turning their backs on Canadians and only caring about “political games” at a time when Canadians want Parliament focused on the crisis.
“The truth is simple: MPs cannot establish a new committee with sweeping powers to investigate what they call the government corruption and assume there is no consequence,” Rodriguez said. “Because if they do that, they’re saying that the government is corrupt. And that means that they don’t have confidence in the government. We all know that. The Conservatives know that.”
Bloc will support Tory motion
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, who earlier in August demanded Trudeau step down over the WE controversy, has said his caucus will vote in favour of the Tory motion. It will be the fault of the Liberals, he told the House Tuesday, if the vote ultimately results in another election. “It’s their choice, it’s their fault, they are doing it,″ Blanchet said.
NDP MP Charlie Angus was critical of both the Conservatives and Liberals during debate Tuesday, but noted his party had earlier proposed setting up a committee dedicated to the government’s pandemic response. Yet he said such a committee should be chaired by a member of the opposition to prevent Libearls from “monkeywrenching” and shutting it down.
NDP Jagmeet Singh would not give a clear answer Tuesday afternoon when asked multiple times by reporters if he and his party will support the Conservative motion or not. He said discord over a motion that proposes the creation of a committee is not a reason to go into an election.
The job of the opposition is to hold the government to account, Singh said, calling the government’s hostility to the motion “ludicrous.”
Despite saying he would not give the prime minister an excuse to plunge the country into another campaign, Singh did not clarify if his party will vote to support, reject, or abstain on the Conservative proposal.
MPs are poised to vote on O’Toole’s motion Wednesday.
With files from The Canadian Press, Zi-Ann Lum