Saturday, October 17, 2020
Politics

NDP open to Tory special committee on WE scandal, says MP Julian, as Liberals slam the proposal

NDP open to Tory special committee on WE scandal, says MP Julian, as Liberals slam the proposal
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The NDP says it would consider working with the Conservatives to form a special committee probing the WE Charity controversy, among other ethical issues.

Speaking to The Hill Times Friday, House Leader Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.) said he could see the NDP greenlighting efforts by its fellow opposition party to shed more light on the feds’ controversy, if it comes to a vote. It’s only one of three issues the Tories could put forward Tuesday in the House during the opposition day debates.

“They’re presenting something very similar to what we have presented,” he said, noting he tabled a similar motion at the House Finance committee last week that called for such a group to be set up.

While the Conservatives are pitching a special “anti-corruption committee,” Mr. Julian said he prefers a special committee to look into all allegations of misspending and favouritism in pandemic-related contracts, which would still include the WE Charity controversy.

Asked how he felt about the Liberals’ counterproposal to set up a committee that looks at all general pandemic spending, Mr. Julian threw cold water on the idea, saying that role should rest with the House Finance Committee (of which he is a member).

“We believe putting it into one special committee makes sense, but not taking on the evaluation of overall government spending, because that’s the role of the Finance Committee,” he said.

The Conservatives’ pitch of an “anti-corruption committee” comes as Liberal filibusters have taken over the House Ethics and Finance committees this week. Liberal MPs on both committees have been using procedural tactics to block opposition efforts to revive studies into the since-cancelled deal the feds struck with WE Charity to deliver the troubled Canada Student Service Grant.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.) gave notice that the motion could come forward on Tuesday, the party’s first scheduled opposition day of the session, proposing the creation of a Conservative-chaired committee. It would include 15 MPs and dig into alleged conflicts of interest as well as the WE Charity controversy. It includes a request to access documents already being sought by the two other committees, including unredacted copies of files first released in August that were heavily censored.

Liberal MP Francesco Sorbara holds up a mask Thursday that he encouraged his colleagues on the House Ethics Committee to buy. Screen capture via ParlVu

The committees had their work cut short when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) prorogued Parliament on Aug. 18 until Sept. 23. Motions to release documents related to the controversy have come forward at those committees, but Liberals have so far been successful delaying votes on such motions. As a minority government, the Liberal MPs can’t control the outcome and could be defeated.

Speaking to reporters Friday afternoon, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier, Que.) slammed the Conservatives’ motion as “partisan and irresponsible,” instead pitching a body that would dig into all pandemic spending.

“There’s been lots of programs put in place [during the pandemic], and it would be very useful to have a committee look at all of that,” he said. “That’d be a real committee where real work is done, not something partisan like the Conservatives are proposing.”

During the presser, Mr. Rodriguez did not rule out turning next week’s possible vote into one of confidence. He dismissed the Conservatives’ proposal, saying that his focus remains on supporting “serious work with a serious committee.”

It was “very bizarre” that Mr. Rodriguez didn’t rule out a confidence vote, said Mr. Julian.

“As Parliament working together, we’ve already given this role to the Finance Committee to evaluate spending to make sure that the programs match the interest of the government,” he said. “The reaction is so over the top, and it is concerning that there may be some real truth to the allegations of misspending and favouritism.”

The Conservatives could force debate on the floor of the House on Tuesday, meaning a vote on their motion could come shortly after.

The Finance Committee, which met into the evening Thursday beyond its scheduled time, had its Friday meeting “abruptly cancelled” an hour before it was slated to meet at 11 a.m., said Mr. Julian. His committee colleague, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre (Carleton, Ont.), also noted this on Twitter, and Mr. Julian said there was “no explanation” given.

Evelyn Lukyniuk, clerk of the Finance Committee, confirmed in an email to The Hill Times that the group was not meeting Friday. When asked why it was cancelled, she would only say it’s the chair’s responsibility to convene a meeting.

It was a long night for Liberal Finance Committee chair Wayne Easter, seen during Thursday’s meeting. Screen capture via ParlVu

The committee’s chair Liberal MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.) could not be reached in time for publication. Ms. Lukyniuk said that formally, “no notice of meeting was published for this meeting, therefore, no cancellation notice will be published.”

Her comments came shortly after Liberal MPs filibustered for hours at the two committees.

Rookie Liberal MP Ryan Turnbull (Whitby, Ont.), who does not officially sit on the Ethics Committee but stood in for a colleague on Thursday, waxed poetic about the merits of rhetorical devices and philosophers like Plato and Aristotle.

Liberal MP Francesco Sorbara (Vaughan-Woodbridge, Ont.) said Ethics committee members should be “very judicious and diligent” in choosing what to study. At one point, he looked down at his notes and later encouraged his colleagues to support the Royal Canadian Legion’s non-medical poppy masks, which have been running about $10 and are available online.

Conservative MP Michael Barrett speaks to the House Ethics Committee on Thursday as the sun shines through behind him. Screen capture via ParlVu 

“I ordered about 10 and they arrived yesterday. I wear it with much pride,” he said, holding one up, noting that Remembrance Day ceremonies may be more virtual to comply with public health guidance this year.

Conservative MP Michael Barrett (Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, Ont.), his party’s ethics critic, provided a literal window into the prolonged nature of the proceedings. Those tuning into the meeting could track how the lengthy event stretched on, with the daylight hours slowly winding down over his shoulder where he was sitting in front of a window.

Conservative MP Michael Barrett speaks to the House Ethics Committee on Thursday, this time into the late hours of the evening. Screen capture via ParlVu 

“Folks of any political stripe do not like corruption and they do not like cover-ups. And that’s what this is,” he said.

The Liberals have repeatedly pointed to the appearances, before Parliament was prorogued, of Mr. Trudeau, some of his aides, and numerous officials from Finance Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada at committees as proof of the government’s willingness to answer questions related to the controversy.

The Hill Times





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