Liberals, NDP vote to shut down Conservatives' renewed push to examine WE affair
The WE controversy that has been dogging the Liberals is expected to continue to follow Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government after Trudeau's appearance before a House of Commons committee Thursday, July 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
OTTAWA -- The Liberal and NDP members on a House of Commons committee voted on Tuesday to sunset another Conservative attempt to examine the WE Charity scandal, and invite the prime minister and key members of his cabinet to testify.
The Liberal chair of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC), Ruby Sahota, outlined her reasoning for shutting down further study of the issue, arguing that Conservative House leader Karen Vecchio’s motion to review the reasons for prorogation and to call for the advanced disclosure of WE Charity-related documents presupposes the reason for dissolving Parliament.
Under changes made by the Liberals in response to what they viewed as a misuse of prorogation by past Conservative governments, Trudeau has to table a report in the House 20 sitting days into a new session detailing the reasons for his discontinuing the session of Parliament.
That report will be presented to PROC to consider, and the Conservatives' position is that in order to prepare, they'd like to receive, in advance, 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."
"Undertaking a pre-study at this time would be seen as being premature," Sahota said. "In this instance, because the government has not yet tabled in the House a report outlining the reason for prorogation, the committee is not in a position to have a base of reference from which to begin the study nor would it be appropriate to pre-suppose the outcome of the report."
The Liberals were joined by NDP MP Rachel Blaney in voting to uphold the committee chair’s ruling, while the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois MP Alain Therrien voted against it.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian called the Conservative motion a "dog’s breakfast" in an interview with CTVNews.ca on Tuesday.
"It was simply procedurally incorrect, it was throwing too many things together. I’m a little surprised, the official Opposition should understand procedure but I think they just made a number of errors," he said.
He said his party is committed to continue the WE Charity investigation but in a more "professional" way, which he says includes putting forward a motion to create a separate special committee to study a host of expenditure allegations implicating the Liberals.
"We believe one special committee, that is focused on these allegations, is the best way to proceed because otherwise what we’ve got not only is duplication but also potentially gaping holes between the various committees studying this at various times," Julian said.
Julian said the idea, if passed first by a standing committee and then by the House of Commons, could focus not only on the Canada Student Service Grant contract, but on the controversial outsourcing of the COVID-19 rent-relief program to mortgage finance company MCAP, which employs the husband of Trudeau’s Chief of Staff Katie Telford.
"We have that important role of oversight but let’s put it into the hands of one special committee that has representatives from all of the recognized parties so that they can look into whether those allegations deserve further investigation or whether members of Parliament are satisfied that the allegations don’t hold water," said Julian, who intends to introduce the motion "as soon as possible."
The Liberals at the time pushed back against allegations of unethical conduct as well as comparisons with the WE controversy, saying they followed the rules when it came to the MCAP contract and that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. alone made the decision to have the company run the program without any political involvement.
All other committee activities, including the Finance and Ethics committee’s study of the WE Charity affair, have been suspended since the dissolving of Parliament and won’t be considered until new members are named and a chair elected. At that point, members will decide whether studies will be resumed.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has publicly apologized for not recusing himself of cabinet decisions involving WE Charity’s involvement in the now-defunct student grant program given his family ties to the organization.
With files from CTV News' Rachel Aiello and The Canadian Press.