Conservatives renew push to examine WE affair, want PM to testify on prorogation
OTTAWA -- After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's summer prorogation shut down all parliamentary business, including the series of committee studies into the WE Charity student grant controversy, the Conservatives are looking to revive them and have Trudeau testify to his reasoning for the August reset.
At the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC), the Conservatives have brought forward a motion asking for the prime minister to testify and turn over documents related to the decision to prorogue Parliament, as well as requesting a series of new disclosures related to the WE Charity affair.
Under changes made by the Liberals in response to what they viewed as a misuse of prorogation by past Conservative governments, Trudeau already has to table a report in the House 20 sitting days into a new session detailing the reasons for the prorogation.
This report will be coming to PROC to consider, and the Conservatives' position is that in order to prepare, they'd like to receive ahead of time a series of emails, documents, notes and other records from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office, dating back to the day that the WE Charity was named to run the grant program, "concerning options, plans and preparations for the prorogation of Parliament."
The Conservatives' position since the prorogation was announced was that the reason for it was to avoid accountability and shut down the series of probes into the troubled plan to have WE run a COVID-19-prompted student grant program.
In addition to Trudeau, they want to hear from Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez, and Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger, who was the minister in charge of the canned student grant that was put on ice amid political controversy this summer, leaving students without an avenue for income ahead of the fall semester.
On Monday, deputy Conservative House leader Karen Vecchio moved the motion to study the reasons for prorogation and to call for the further disclosure of WE Charity-related documents, including more communications between the embattled charity, and the government.
"I think we're having a simple request to the government: Why did you prorogue?" said Vecchio at PROC. "Yes, there may be a little bit of skepticism of course, but it's our job to investigate. We're parliamentarians and our job in committee is to investigate."
With the committees that were studying this not yet up and running, the Conservatives say that PROC is the only venue other than the House of Commons for the opposition to try to advance inquiries into the affair, which they view as not yet finished.
"You're assuming that prorogation is about the WE issue. That's an assumption that you're making in order to justify the rest of it," said Liberal MP and committee member Mark Gerretsen at Monday's PROC meeting.
He said that he doesn't think the WE Charity affair is top-of-mind for Canadians, as the country now faces a second wave of COVID-19, and questioned why the Conservatives feel this matter is pressing.
"Yes, there's questions that the opposition deserves to get answers to, and in due course that can happen," he said.
The motion proposing the massive turnover of documents and further testimony from Trudeau and others has yet to come up for a vote.
Liberal MP and chair of the committee Ruby Sahota said during question period on Tuesday that the reason for the holdup on considering the motion further was that the proposal is "quite complex" and she is seeking the guidance of procedural officials as to whether or not it's in order and entirely within the scope of the committee's mandate.
The Conservatives say they're confident the motion will be supported by the other opposition parties if it's called for a vote, which is why they're now calling for the Liberals to schedule another meeting of the committee.
A Wednesday afternoon attempt to get the House to unanimously call for the meeting to be held on Thursday was shut down.
In a statement about the potential invitation for him to appear, the Prime Minister's Office said that “while the opposition only wants to talk about the WE Charity, the Prime Minister and our government will stay focused on standing up for Canadians during this pandemic, and protecting their health and safety.”