The federal Conservatives are calling for the creation of a special “anti-corruption” committee to probe the government’s decision to award a now-cancelled contract to WE Charity.
Committee studies on the controversy ended in August after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to prorogue Parliament. Opposition parties have been weighing how best to bring the issue back to the fore and to further investigate the $543.5-million Canada Student Service Grant program. WE was awarded the contract in June, before it was axed because of conflict-of-interest allegations.
Conservative MP and ethics critic Michael Barrett said that when committees resumed with the return of Parliament, they were met with filibustering tactics by Liberal MPs to avoid accountability.
“Canadians deserve answers, we deserve accountability, we deserve a government that, when it makes a mistake, is willing and will demonstrate contrition,” Mr. Barrett said at a news conference in Ottawa on Monday. He was joined by Conservative MP and finance critic Pierre Poilievre.
The Conservatives want to create a special anti-corruption committee to combine the efforts of other parliamentary committees studying the issue.
Mr. Barrett said this week that the Conservatives will call for the ethics committee and the finance committee to resume their hearings on WE. However, as soon as the new anti-corruption committee is established, any committee investigating the matter can fold into the new body, so committees can return to their regular work, he said.
Over the past few months, five House of Commons committees had the issue on their agenda. NDP MP and ethics critic Charlie Angus told The Globe and Mail recently that he would support limiting the number of studies, saying, “We don’t need five committees studying one scandal.”
In the minority Parliament, if the Liberals don’t support a committee study, the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois would all have to agree.
Craig Hilimoniuk, a spokesperson for Mr. Poilievre, said the Conservatives can’t speak for other parties, but are confident they can secure enough support to establish the new committee.
Before Parliament was prorogued, three committees – finance, ethics and government operations – had all started reviews and the official-languages committee was beginning its own. The Conservatives also raised the issue at a fifth committee, procedure and House affairs, in connection to whether the government prorogued Parliament to avoid further questions about WE.
The Liberals supported some studies in the summer. However, since the House has returned, they have avoided questions about the release of more documents, delayed a decision on the study at procedure and House affairs, and stayed quiet on studies at other committees.
“In the midst of a second wave of the pandemic, Conservatives are focused on an issue for which the Prime Minister, his chief of staff, the Clerk of the Privy Council, and relevant public servants already appeared at committee months ago, and for which thousands of pages were made public," said Simon Ross, a spokesperson for Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez.
Mr. Poilievre said the Liberals have asserted that the WE scandal could distract Parliament from its work responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Creating a special committee is the “perfect solution” to that, he said.
WE Charity did not respond to a request for comment.
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