Liberals, WE make disclosures as chance of confidence vote heats up on the Hill
OTTAWA -- The federal government appears to be drawing a line in the sand with the opposition parties’ ongoing attempts to revive the WE Charity controversy, by stating that passage of a Conservative motion to create a new anti-corruption committee would “raise serious questions” about whether the House of Commons still has confidence in the government.
While the government has yet to confirm outright if they are viewing this proposal and the vote on it as a matter of confidence, in a letter to his opposition counterparts Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said that if opposition MPs agree on the need for a new probe, it would have implications for the confidence in the Liberal minority government.
“The Conservative proposal is blatantly partisan. It is designed to paralyze the government. If passed, the proposal will raise serious questions about whether the House of Commons continues to have confidence in the government,” Rodriguez wrote.
Rodriguez later told reporters that the motion is “clearly” an indication that the Conservatives have no confidence in what the government is doing, and further, would result in government’s focus and time taken away from the ongoing fight against COVID-19 if the demands within the motion are to be met, such as having Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testify.
“We think that it’s extremely irresponsible on behalf of the Conservatives,” he said, but when asked outright if the Liberals would be willing to trigger an election, his response was “we’ll see.”
Rodriguez is hopeful that ongoing talks with the Bloc Quebecois and NDP will result in common ground being found. “Maybe we can agree on something.”
Conservative House Leader Gerard Deltell is calling this claim “simply ridiculous.”
“That you are even entertaining such speculation demonstrates to me—as it would to all Canadians—the desperate ends to which the Liberal government will go to further its coverup of a very troubling scandal which reeks of corruption,” Deltell continued in a rebuttal letter send Monday afternoon.
“Your government must acknowledge that it no longer enjoys a majority in the House of Commons and that it will, accordingly, begin to accept the legitimate and necessary exercise of parliamentary scrutiny without resorting to election threats, obfuscation and misdirection whenever you face the prospect of not getting your own way,” Deltell said.
Meanwhile, in new disclosures both the Liberals and WE Charity are looking to satisfy opposition demands for more documentation in relation to the now months-long controversy surrounding a cancelled student summer grant program.
POTENTIAL CONFIDENCE VOTE
Tuesday will be the Conservatives’ first opposition day of the session, and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole and his caucus have given notice they may be looking to force a vote on a proposal to create a new larger-than-usual parliamentary anti-corruption committee. The committee would take over investigating the WE Charity controversy as well as other lines of inquiry into alleged Liberal scandals and potential conflicts of interest.
This proposal includes a request for the same trove of documents the Liberals, WE Charity, and the public service are being asked to disclose at the House of Commons ethics and finance committees, where Liberal filibusters are underway to delay the votes on those motions.
The proposal is one of three motions the Conservatives could advance on Tuesday and O’Toole is set to reveal the direction they’ve decided to head during a 9 a.m. press conference Tuesday morning.
A confidence vote on this motion means that, if it is defeated, the government could fall and Canadians could be thrust into a snap election in the middle of a pandemic.
The backing of the NDP and Bloc Quebecois is needed in order to give the Conservatives the majority of votes needed over the minority Liberal government to pass this proposal.
Asked about the prospect of making the vote a confidence matter, NDP MP Charlie Angus told reporters Monday that it would be “completely irresponsible” to call an election right now, not only because of COVID-19, but because as a result Parliament will not be able to reconvene for months.
“I can't see the prime minister being that reckless so our message to the Liberals is just calm down. We have work to do, work with us,” Angus said.
Also speaking with reporters on Monday, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said that the Conservatives “will not relent,” and questioned why the Liberals appear willing to make this vote a confidence matter.
“Setting up a committee is not a matter of confidence, no government in Canadian history has been brought down because an opposition motion passed to set up a committee,” he said.
“The Conservatives will take any steps necessary within our parliamentary system to get at the truth,” he said, adding that the government needs to “get out of the way” and let committees do their work.
On this point, the government agrees.
A COVID-19 COMPROMISE?
Rodriguez is doubling down on his proposal that there be a new special committee focused solely on COVID-19 spending, where it’s possible tangents of these Conservative-alleged scandals could be evaluated, but other committees could be freed up to do other studies.
He has shared with the opposition House leaders a proposal for this new committee, which could dig deeper into “all aspects” of the billions of dollars the Liberals have spent over the last seven months in an effort to keep Canadians, businesses and the health care system afloat amid the ongoing global health crisis.
The Conservative anti-corruption proposal would see the committee be chaired by the Conservatives, whereas the Liberals are proposing one of their MPs would have the top seat at the suggested committee.
Deltell called the counterproposal to establish this Liberal-chaired COVID-19 spending committee “simply not acceptable,” stating that its mandate is overly broad and would overlap with work underway at existing committees. His letter also went on to take issue with the way the Liberals are characterizing the opposition’s handling of the entire affair, and accused the government of “gaslighting” Parliament.
Further, the Liberals have also disclosed a pre-existing list of 125 paid speaking engagements Trudeau had conducted between 2006 and 2013, before he became Liberal leader, that were organized through Speaker Spotlight, the organization that also co-ordinated Trudeau family speaking engagements with WE.
According to the documents, Trudeau made more than $1.3 million for speaking at these events, which range from appearances at association and corporate events, to speeches at universities.
“Speaker Spotlight has confirmed the accuracy of the events and fees listed,” Rodriguez said in his letter. While this list was presented as a proactive disclosure, the information has been available for years after the Liberals released it years ago. Alongside the speaking information, the government has issued new letters relating to the complaints of inappropriate redactions and information from who at the Privy Council Office knew what and when, in relation to the WE deal.
Since House of Commons committees got back up and running following August’s prorogation, the opposition parties have put forward motions summoning troves of new documents related to the WE Charity controversy, and have balked at redactions made by government departments to the thousands of pages of documents already disclosed.
Among the additional information the opposition is asking for: more details on the speaking fee arrangements Trudeau, his wife, brother and mother had with WE Charity; and a series of emails, documents, notes and other records from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office regarding prorogation.
The Liberals have offered up the public servants to explain the redactions they’ve made, but have stated that the House ethics committee asking private citizens—the family members of the prime minister— to provide personal financial information would “be severely abusing its authority by doing so.”
Rodriguez said that in normal times it’s a heavy lift for governments to produce the amount of documents the opposition have requested, but now with so many public servants working from home due to the pandemic, “such sweeping document production motions with extremely tight timelines” would be impossible to complete.
In an effort to compromise, Angus said he’d be willing to remove some of the document requests that would double up or re-confirm aspects of the story related to Trudeau’s family.
“We have to finish this study,” said Angus.
WE DUMPS MORE DOCUMENTS
On Monday morning, WE Charity also released a new series of documents and information that was requested by MPs during testimony given by the organization at the House Finance Committee during its hearings on the controversy prior to prorogation.
Reacting to the new disclosure, prior to having studied its contents, Poilievre said he won’t be thrown off his pursuit for transparency and answers from the government and the embattled charity.
“Make no mistake, this old tactic of releasing a bunch of irrelevant documents that don't answer the questions while covering up the documents that matter will not suffice,” he said. “They can release five million irrelevant documents that will not distract us.”
The documents detail more information about Sophie Gregoire Trudeau’s eight speaking engagements at WE Day events between February 2012 and March 2020. She was paid a one-time speaking fee of $1,500 in 2012, which was disclosed by the organization back in July. At the time, WE said she was paid $1,400 but the Prime Minister’s Office later clarified the exact amount.
Total expenses reimbursed for these events, including hotel stays, car services, and flights, add up to $23,940.76. Gregoire Trudeau also received $240 in gifts from the organization during this time. The prime minister’s Chief of Staff Katie Telford, during her testimony to the finance committee in July, stated that the ethics commissioner approved Gregoire Trudeau’s work with the organization, including the wellness podcast she hosts under its banner, and the reimbursement of expenses.
The documents also highlight that former finance minister Bill Morneau was not given a physical invoice for the $41,000 paid back to WE Charity for travel expenses incurred by him and his family in 2017. The documents also indicate that the $41,000 figure would be on the high end of the estimated costs incurred. Morneau resigned from cabinet after revealing this payment during testimony at the House finance committee this summer.
As well, the new documents show that WE Charity co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger had conversations with several cabinet ministers over the last two years on a range of topics, but in terms of the student grant program between April 17 and July 7, one or both of the brothers engaged in 65 conference calls with top public servants related to the contract.
“After having been fed one story, then another when caught out, and now yet another one in WE’s latest disclosure, parliamentarians need to ensure that the truth does not, actually, constitute a fourth version of events,” Deltell said in his letter.
Over the course of the controversy the Liberals and WE Charity have argued that the suggestion to outsource the $912-million student grant program came from the non-partisan public service, though Trudeau has conceded that he should have recused himself from the decision-making table given he and his family’s past ties to the charity.
The federal conflict of interest and ethics commissioner is still investigating Trudeau’s involvement in the affair.
With files from CTV News’ Sarah Turnbull