Tories say they want full truth of WE Charity scandal out before next election
Published Wednesday, August 19, 2020 12:05PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, August 19, 2020 5:09PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Conservative MPs say they want all the facts to come out about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's handling of the WE Charity student grant contract before deciding whether to trigger a federal election.
Michael Barrett, the Conservative ethics critic, accused Trudeau of proroguing Parliament this week to hide his involvement in the decision to award a multimillion-dollar contract to WE, an organization with which he has close family ties.
Trudeau said Tuesday he had asked to have Parliament prorogued until Sept. 23 so the Liberal government can return that day with a speech from the throne that will outline its plans for the COVID-19 pandemic recovery. He said the government needs a reset because the pandemic wasn't ever part of its original plan laid out in a throne speech after last fall's federal election.
The move also, however, ended the current work - at least temporarily - of several House of Commons committees investigating how the Liberal government decided to have the WE organization administer the Canada Student Service Grant.
“If this was about introducing a speech from the throne, the reset he was looking for, he could have prorogued on Sept. 22 and delivered that speech on the 23rd,” Barrett said Wednesday in Ottawa.
“This is about one thing and one thing only. It's about hiding from the truth, avoiding accountability. And it's his architecture of a coverup.”
The speech from the throne will involve a confidence test in the minority Liberal government, and if opposition parties all vote against it the government would fall, likely triggering an election. The prospect of a federal campaign in the midst of a pandemic is prompting MPs to think hard about what to do with that vote. The Conservatives are not committing to bringing the government down next month.
The results of the Conservative leadership race will be revealed on Sunday and Barrett said the winner will lead the party's decision-making on the throne speech.
“Unlike the Liberals, we are not solely focused on the scandals that have the curtains burning in the Prime Minister's Office,” he said. “There are a number of issues affecting Canadians. We're in a global pandemic. We're in recessionary times.”
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said he thinks Trudeau would love to have an election before opposition MPs can force the government to cough up all the details about what happened with the WE contract.
Trudeau said Tuesday he does not want an election this fall.
The contract in question would have paid the WE organization $43.5 million to administer the grant program, which was intended provide funds to students who volunteered this summer. The agreement stipulated the organization could not make money on the deal.
Both Trudeau and Bill Morneau, who resigned as finance minister earlier this week, are being investigated by the federal ethics watchdog over whether they violated the Conflict of Interest Act over the WE Charity deal.
Morneau's daughter works for the organization and Trudeau and his family have participated in multiple WE events. Trudeau was not paid for his appearances or speeches but his mother and brother were. His wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, was paid for one appearance before Trudeau was prime minister.
Both Trudeau and Morneau have apologized for not recusing themselves from the decision to award the contract to WE.
Trudeau has maintained that it was the federal public service that recommended WE administer the program.
But the Conservatives say thousands of pages of documents released by the government Tuesday show civil servants were pressured to do so by their “political masters” and were aware of the relationships between Trudeau, Morneau and WE.
Morneau resigned as finance minister Monday, saying he didn't plan to run in the next election and Trudeau needed a finance minister who could lead the party through the whole pandemic recovery.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has threatened to bring down the government as soon as he can, but left the door open to supporting the throne speech if the Liberals include his demands for more support for Quebec seniors, health care and agricultural producers in supply-managed sectors.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he is focused on making government work so Canadians can get the help they need to get through this pandemic and its economic recession, but he said it is up to the Liberals to show they want to help average Canadians and not just their own well-connected friends.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2020.