PM Trudeau prorogues Parliament until Sept. 23
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has prorogued Parliament until Sept. 23, putting a more than month-long pause on parliamentary business as his government focuses on plotting its roadmap out of the ongoing pandemic.
Trudeau said the late-September throne speech will mark the beginning of a new legislative session that will have a renewed focus on the next phase of Canada’s response to COVID-19.
“We need a mandate from this Parliament to move forward on implementing these ambitious ideals and it's important that we have an opportunity to debate it,” Trudeau said, in explaining why he asked Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to grant the prorogation.
While Trudeau vowed the prorogation will not impede the government’s COVID-19 response in the interim, suspending all House of Commons business means several ongoing committee probes into his government and the WE Charity student grant controversy have been least temporarily halted, the final special summer sitting has been tossed off the agenda, and any plans to table further emergency legislation are on pause.
The new session is set to begin two days later than the original fall sitting had been scheduled, and Trudeau defended the move as one that will allow for a confidence vote on the Liberals' plans to navigate the country out of the current crisis.
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“I'm looking forward to the throne speech and the debate that will follow, and the vote, where Canadians through their parliamentarians will be facing the choice on the kind of response that we need to take to this coronavirus crisis.”
“Canada is at a crossroads,” Trudeau said, citing the ongoing struggle with COVID-19, the calls for action on systemic racism, and the health-care, social and economic disparities the pandemic has exposed. He said the federal government’s focus is on plotting the long-term recovery plan.
“As much as this pandemic is an unexpected challenge, it is also an unprecedented opportunity. And this is our chance to build a more resilient Canada, a Canada that is healthier and safer greener and more competitive, a Canada that is more welcoming and more fair. This is our moment to change the future for the better,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau began this major summer reset of his government by adding new responsibilities onto two of his most trusted ministers in a mini-shuffle on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after Bill Morneau's sudden departure from the federal political stage.
The mid-August cabinet rejigging was the first move in what will be a cascading series of events effectively allowing the Liberal minority to hit the reset button, at a time when the government’s agenda has been drastically altered and calls from the opposition for Trudeau to resign or face a snap election continue in the wake of the ongoing WE affair.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is keeping her second-in-command role while taking on the finance minister portfolio, while her intergovernmental affairs responsibilities are being reassigned to Dominic LeBlanc, who also continues as President of the Queen’s Privy Council.
Freeland makes history in becoming Canada’s first female finance minister, and LeBlanc takes back a file he previously held: stickhandling relations with the provinces and territories. That had been taken off his plate as he focused on recovering from cancer.
Tuesday’s physically-distanced Rideau Hall swearing-in saw Freeland move into the role held by Morneau for five years, until he announced late Monday that he was resigning from his key cabinet post and as an MP.
During his Tuesday address, Trudeau thanked Morneau once again for his time in cabinet and “tireless” work. But he announced that while the two men were aligned on many things, there is one big place where they differ: Trudeau plans to be on the ballot the next time an election is called.
“We have lots of work ahead of us,” Trudeau said, shooting down the idea that his move is essentially daring the opposition to vote the Liberal minority down with the post-throne speech confidence vote, saying he does not want to thrust the country into a general election at this time.
“We do not want an election,” Trudeau said.
PM'S FIRST PROROGATION
This is the first time Trudeau has taken that massive procedural step of prorogation, after vowing when first elected to not use “prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances,” as the Liberals accused former prime minister Stephen Harper of doing.
News of Trudeau’s prorogation comes almost seven years to the day of Harper’s 2013 prorogation amid the Senate expense scandal.
A prorogation ends the current Parliamentary session, killing all legislative business that has not passed. In this case means halting all ongoing WE Charity committee probes, and wiping away the remaining pre-pandemic pieces of legislation.
Defending the move, Trudeau sought to frame the prorogation as one that forces a confidence vote, rather than avoid one as Harper’s government did.
While the first legislative session of the 43rd Parliament has now ended, the speaker, prime minister, cabinet ministers, and parliamentary secretaries remain in their roles, and all members of the House retain their full rights and privileges, though they won’t have the usual parliamentary roles to play.
No further documents can be tabled in either the House or Senate until the new session begins.
There were seven government bills on the order paper that have now died with prorogation, including legislation to amend the Criminal Code to amend the physician-assisted dying law and to effectively ban conversion therapy. There was also legislation proposing to set up new RCMP and CBSA oversight, as well as amending the oath of citizenship to recognize Indigenous rights that have now been wiped off the slate.
It’s possible for bills and committee work to be reinstated with a motion during a new session, though there will also likely be pressing items to table early in the fall, such as the expected Employment Insurance revamp.
As well, questions are outstanding about the degree of COVID-19 precautions that will be in place and whether a continuation of the hybrid virtual and in-person sittings will resume.
A new throne speech and expected economic update to follow will both be key moments for the federal government to set out its reworked priorities, after the pandemic paused or forced a reassessment of many of the initiatives promised by the Liberals during the 2019 federal election.
Trudeau said the latest throne speech, while delivered just eight months ago, was a plan for a Canada before COVID-19 hit, and now there are new needs facing the country.
“We need to reset the approach of this government for our recovery to build back better, and those are big, important decisions, and we need to present that to Parliament,” Trudeau said. “There are many things we committed to Canadians in that throne speech that we will be continuing to work on but many others that aren't the priority that they once were.”
SHUFFLE LIKE NO OTHER
In her historic new post, Freeland will lead the safe restart and recovery of our economy and LeBlanc will work with provinces and territories “to ensure the well-being, health, and safety of Canadians from coast to coast to coast,” according to Trudeau’s office.
“As economies relaunch we’re seeing COVID-19 reappear in places like Australia and New Zealand. It’s winter there now. Ours is still on its way and so we have to remain vigilant,” Trudeau said after a Rideau Hall ceremony like no other.
At the swearing in, attendees donned face masks, used separate pens to sign the official documents during the ceremony, and gave congratulatory elbow bumps rather than handshakes or hugs, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Morneau’s sudden resignation led to concerns about how the economy would react given the ongoing economic crisis, though by tapping Freeland to take on that challenge and handing back some additional responsibility to LeBlanc, Trudeau is putting more responsibility on two of his most trusted ministers.
Largely seen as a steady hand that Trudeau has more than once put into a tough role, Freeland will take on steering Canada through what’s ballooned to be a $343-billion deficit, expanded in large part to pay for a suite of emergency benefits, and to stave off further staggering job losses.
There has also been considerable discussion about the particular impact the pandemic is having on women’s economic standing—a “she-cession” as some have called it—and having a female at the helm of the finance department could be the Liberals' way of signalling that they’re aware of the challenges facing Canadians in rebuilding.
Trudeau also said Tuesday that despite the size of the deficit, the Liberals don’t plan to raise taxes as a way out of the current economic situation.
Freeland has represented the Toronto riding of University-Rosedale since 2013. She’s a former journalist who since the Liberals came to power in 2015, has also been the minister of international trade and foreign affairs minister. She was integral in Canada’s renegotiation of NAFTA and recently fronted Canada’s latest retaliatory plans to U.S. President Donald Trump’s aluminum tariffs.
“I am conscious of the fact that I'm Canada's first woman finance minister. It's about time that we broke that glass ceiling, and I’d like to say to all the Canadian women across our amazing country who are out there breaking glass ceilings, keep going,” Freeland said.
LeBlanc and Trudeau have been close friends for many years. He represents the New Brunswick riding of Beausejour, and was first elected to Parliament in 2004. He has also held a variety of cabinet posts, including government House leader and fisheries minister.
With Payette currently under fire and facing a government investigation into allegations of harassment and aggressive behaviour within her office, there was some question of the role she would play in the Rideau Hall shuffle, though she presided over Tuesday’s ceremony in what was one of the first public appearances she’s had since the pandemic was declared.
OPPOSITION BALK AT MOVE
In a press conference prior to the shuffle and Trudeau’s address, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said he looks forward to the Liberals meeting them in Parliament post-prorogation, where a throne speech provides a straightforward opportunity for that confidence vote.
Also reacting to the news, soon-to-be-replaced Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau of “walking out on Canadians in the middle of a major health and economic crisis, in a disgusting attempt to make Canadians forget about his corruption.”
“Earlier this year, Justin Trudeau shamefully shut down Parliament to try and avoid accountability. Now he has locked out Opposition MPs who were working hard to fix his government’s pandemic programs, help Canadians and get to the bottom of his corruption scandal,” Scheer said.
“At a time when Canadians are looking for stability and leadership, Justin Trudeau has given them corruption, chaos, and cover-ups.”
Reacting to the prorogation news, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Trudeau’s move is wrong, because people need help now, and can’t afford to wait until September.
Singh said he is concerned the Liberals have become a party “more interested in holding on to power” than focusing on supporting Canadians through what continue to be tough times.
It remains to be seen how the various major opposition parties will vote when it comes to the throne speech, though the Green Party has previously said they have no interest in pushing Canadians to the polls during a pandemic.
WE CHARITY DOCUMENTS COMING
Despite early on outrage and speculation about what the prorogation would mean for the handful of committee probes underway into the WE Charity controversy, Trudeau confirmed he had released a trove of 5,000 pages of much-anticipated internal documents to the House Finance Committee that will soon be made public.
“We have released all those documents to the members of the committee, so that they can spend their time going through those mountains of documents over the coming weeks so that they can continue to ask any questions they like on this issue,” Trudeau said.
However, because the committees now can’t resume for more than a month, the prime minister has paused what had become a series of appearances from cabinet ministers and senior public officials.
Opposition MPs were quick to chalk this up to a cover-up and are vowing the scandal is far from settled, saying that Morneau’s departure in the midst of it is only the start -- suggesting Trudeau should also still go, given his involvement in the affair.
“We’re just getting started,” vowed Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre on CTV’s Power Play.
Defending the move in a later interview with host Evan Solomon, LeBlanc said that if Poilievre and others want to “stand up on September 25 or 24 and ask the same questions that he was a few weeks ago, he can continue to do so.”
In the last month both Trudeau and Morneau had revealed they did not recuse themselves from the cabinet table when WE was awarded a deal to run a now-halted $912-million summer program, despite having close family ties to the organization.
Morneau later revealed he had recently cut a cheque for $41,000 to cover expenses WE Charity paid for his family during 2017 trips to Kenya and Ecuador.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is currently investigating both Morneau and Trudeau, and both of those probes are set to continue and culminate in reports on whether federal ethics law was violated, even if Morneau is likely to be long out of office by the time it’s completed.
While he insisted leaving was his decision, and not the result of Trudeau pushing him on account for the rumoured policy tensions between the two, Morneau said his relationship with Trudeau was built on “vigorous discussion and debate,” but that always led to better policy.
Morneau said he had come to the conclusion he was no longer the “most appropriate person” for the job of finance minister because he wasn’t going to be there for the long haul, and is now eyeing the international role of secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, with the prime minister’s backing.
While Morneau has said his departure is not due to controversy, when Trudeau was asked whether he asked Morneau to stay on during their meeting on Monday, he did not directly answer.
While Trudeau will have Freeland at the cabinet table to take on financial matters, he is also receiving external informal advice from former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, who some had thought was lining up to take Morneau’s job.
Morneau’s resignation also means there is another Ontario riding that will soon be up for grabs—one Liberal MP previously announced his seat will be vacant come Sept. 1—at a time when Trudeau’s minority needs to hold on to as many votes as possible.