A Conservative motion calling for the suspension of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pay was swiftly ruled out of order at the House of Commons finance committee Wednesday.
Veteran Tory MP Pierre Poilievre, his party’s finance critic, attempted to move the motion in the dying moments of a three-hour meeting. The committee is investigating the Liberal government’s since-scrapped deal with WE Charity to manage the Canada Student Service Grant, a program that had a budget of $912 million.
Though the House reconvened at different points over several weeks to pass emergency legislation, a special COVID-19 committee — limited in focus to the crisis — allowed MPs to meet virtually and in the House. Tories pushed for the full resumption of Parliament instead.
In May, Liberals, New Democrats, and Green MPs voted to suspend regular sittings until the fall, with four meetings of the COVID-19 committee in the summer. Though Trudeau attended two such meetings in July, he was on holiday and not in attendance when the committee met again Wednesday.
“His absence meant he could not answer questions about his $500 million grant to a group that had paid his family more than $500,000 in fees and expenses,” Poilievre said, reading the text of his motion. He was referencing the speaking fees and expenses paid to members of the Trudeau family, chiefly Margaret Trudeau, for attending WE Charity events in recent years.
The critic said Trudeau has “taken off 20 days in six weeks,” based on the prime minister’s daily itinerary that notes when he has “personal days,” including on weekends. At that point, Liberal MP Wayne Easter, the committee’s chair, questioned if Poilievre’s motion related to the group’s work.
Poilieve pressed on and called for the finance committee to “suspend the prime minister’s pay until he returns to work and takes questions in Parliament.”
“It does not relate to the business of this committee so I’m ruling it out of order,” Easter said.
Poilievre protested the motion was related because it referenced a grant program that was part of the government’s COVID-19 spending. “Furthermore, pay for members of the government is a financial matter,” he said. “It is very much in order.”
“Mr. Poilievre, I’m not going to argue with you. It may be a motion that could be put in Parliament but as to the business of this committee, I’m ruling it out of order,” Easter said, before adjourning the meeting.
The Tory MP later tweeted he would try again. The committee meets again Thursday afternoon.
Poilievre told HuffPost Canada in an emailed statement he is “building a procedural case” for his motion.
“Canadians mandated Conservatives to hold the government to account and we have committed to use every mechanism possible in our parliamentary toolbox,” he said. “My motion was exactly one of those parliamentary tools.”
As prime minister, Trudeau’s salary this year is set at $365,200, exactly double the base MP salary of $182,600. In April, Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh were among many MPs who committed to donate a legislated MP pay bump of more than $3,700 to charity.
Rising in the House Wednesday for what is expected to be his last time as Tory leader, Scheer charged that the prime minister was ducking accountability for the ongoing WE Charity controversy by not being there to answer questions.
Scheer said that when Liberals “cancelled Parliament” for four summer meetings, they could have picked any days they wanted.
“So, can the person auditioning for the role of prime minister today please tell us why the prime minister picked today if he wasn’t going to show up?” Scheer asked.
Youth Minister Bardish Chagger pointedly referred to Scheer as the “interim” Tory leader in her response and noted the prime minister recently testified directly about the WE controversy before the finance committee. The prime minister is facing an ethics investigation for not recusing himself from his government’s decision to tap WE Charity for the program, given his family ties to the organization.
“It looks like my last question period as leader of the Conservative party is just like my first: warm, sunny and the prime minister nowhere to be found,″ Scheer said.
Watch: Scheer marks last day in House as Tory leader
The prime minister missed Scheer’s first question period as Tory leader in May 2017 because he was on an official visit to the Vatican and Italy.
The Globe and Mail reported in June that Tory MPs had the worst attendance record of all five parties over 21 meetings of the COVID-19 committee. Tory whip Mark Strahl told The Globe at the time that log-in records “only indicate which MP watched the proceedings on their computer, not whether they watch on their TV or without logging in.”
Trudeau spokesperson Alex Wellstead told HuffPost Canada the Prime Minister’s Office had no comment about the failed motion.