The Liberals have agreed to strike a special committee to study COVID-19 spending, including the contract with WE Charity, a proposal that appears similar to a pitch from the NDP but dilutes a Conservative bid for a separate study focused on the government’s ethical controversies.
On Friday, House Leader Pablo Rodriguez announced that the minority Liberals would support hiving off the WE discussion into a separate committee after government MPs filibustered opposition efforts to restart studies at the House of Commons standing committees. Those studies were shut down when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament in August.
Mr. Rodriguez provided few details on what his party was proposing, but said it would have a broader mandate than the special committee proposed by the opposition and that he was open to negotiating with the other parties.
A contract for WE Charity to administer the Canada Student Service Grant was cancelled in July amid conflict-of-interest accusations levelled at Mr. Trudeau. The controversy sparked four committee investigations, and two Ethics Commissioner probes – one into Mr. Trudeau and one into former finance minister Bill Morneau.
The government has declined to say what happened to the $912-million allotted for the student grant program, which was also cancelled. WE had signed a contribution agreement with the government to administer $543.5-million of that total.
In the wake of the controversy, WE Charity announced in September that it would close its Canadian operations and co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger would leave the organization, at the request of its board. On Friday a Kenyan government agency announced that it is looking into “assets and officials” at WE Charity’s affiliate there.
The Conservatives and NDP have each proposed that the House create a special committee to study the issue. Both parties want the new committee to be chaired by a Conservative MP – giving the opposition more control over proceedings.
However, the two proposals differ on the scope the committee would have.
The Conservatives are proposing an “anti-corruption" committee to study the student grant, the emergency commercial rent program and reports that Robert Silver (husband to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff) lobbied the government over the wage subsidy. In addition, the Tories want the committee to look into the connections that a company, led by a former Liberal MP, has to a $237-million ventilator order. The Conservative motion would also allow for other items to be added to the committee’s agenda by other standing committees.
The NDP have proposed a special committee “with the mandate to conduct hearings to examine and review all aspects of the government’s spending in response to the pandemic," including, but not limited to, the student grant, the rent program and the procurement of personal protective equipment.
At a press conference on Friday, Mr. Rodriguez declined to say whether the Liberals would be in favour of an opposition MP chairing the committee and he called the Conservative proposal “pure partisan politics” and “totally unacceptable.”
“Lets create this special committee where we can look at all the pandemic spending in a responsible way," Mr. Rodriguez said. “If they want to chat about it, I’m free all day.”
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre dismissed the Liberal idea, calling it a “committee to study everything under the sun." He said the special committee should solely “focus on the Liberal government’s corruption."
NDP MP Charlie Angus said the separate committee needs to be credible and the Liberals “haven’t given us much reason to trust. They’ve been acting in bad faith. It has to be a committee that has the power to get the job done.”
“We don’t want the Liberals to filibuster the new committee," Mr. Angus said.
At the ethics committee, on Thursday, the Liberals ran the clock on an attempt to get documents about payments to Trudeau family members, including the Prime Minister, for their speaking engagements dating back to 2008. Those documents were due to be submitted to the committee the day after the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament.
“We have to get a commitment: They’re going to end the filibustering, they’re going to turn over the documents,” Mr. Angus said Friday.
The Liberal bid for a special committee came on the same day finance committee chair, and Liberal MP, Wayne Easter cancelled a meeting to continue debate on another motion related to the WE controversy. The meeting had been scheduled just the day before – at the end of a marathon finance-committee meeting, in which the Liberals filibustered attempts to get unredacted documents.
“For team Trudeau to go to these lengths to cover up these documents suggest there are some real bombshells left to go off in this scandal,” Mr. Poilievre said.
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