The decision by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to shut down Parliament for six weeks could disrupt opposition efforts to probe the WE Charity controversy and mean the end of a special committee investigating the crisis in Canada-China relations, which the Liberals initially voted against creating.
Opposition MPs outnumber the members of the minority Liberal government on committees and can therefore override the governing party to call hearings, but Mr. Trudeau’s move to prorogue Parliament shuts down all committee activity until the new session begins Sept. 23. Even after that, there will likely be weeks of delay before committees resume operating.
Three different Commons committees were investigating the WE Charity controversy, including the finance committee, the ethics committee and the government operations committee. As standing committees, they will be reconstituted when Parliament comes back.
“This makes the investigation go dark for six weeks,” Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said.
The Conservative Party and New Democrats also registered serious concern Tuesday about the future of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. As a special committee created by a vote in the House of Commons, it would need to be voted back into existence when Parliament returns.
The committee was in the midst of preparing a report on the crisis in Hong Kong and was expecting to hear from former ambassador John McCallum in September. Any planned reports cannot be issued now.
For its part, the finance committee had planned to hold more meetings on the WE controversy in August and early September, according to Mr. Poilievre.
He accused Mr. Trudeau of proroguing to tamp down a controversy that has hurt his government. The Prime Minister could have held off on prorogation until the night before a planned Throne Speech this fall and let the committees keep operating, Mr. Poilievre said.
“Justin Trudeau is desperate to hide the truth,” Mr. Poilievre said.
Before taking power, Mr. Trudeau campaigned against using prorogation to avoid tough questions. “Stephen Harper has used prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances. We will not,” the Liberal Party’s 2015 list of campaign promises said.
Still, an estimated 5,000 page of documents related to the WE Charity contract have been released. Mr. Poilievre said the clerk of the Common’s finance committee has made this commitment. The documents are being saved on USB sticks for committee members.
WE Charity is affiliated with several related charities and the for-profit ME to WE company. It has been embroiled in controversy since striking a deal with the federal government for a contract to run a $543.5-million program to pay students for volunteer work. The agreement was cancelled on July 3 amid conflict-of interest allegations against Mr. Trudeau.
The minority Liberal government opposed the formation of the China committee and voted against its creation in December, 2019, but it was outnumbered by opposition votes as the Bloc Québécois and NDP backed the Conservative motion. Relations between the two countries have deteriorated significantly since China locked up two Canadians in apparent retaliation for Ottawa’s arrest of a Huawei executive on a U.S. extradition request.
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who was a member of the Canada-China committee, said its dissolution interferes with an urgent need to issue recommendations on what Canada can do to help Hong Kong as the Chinese Communist Party cracks down on democratic freedoms in the former British colony.
NDP MP Jack Harris, another member of the China committee, said he’s angry about what has happened and will seek to resurrect it.
Peter Fragiskatos, a Liberal member of the committee, said he would like to see the China committee resume after prorogation. “I think the committee has done very good work and we’ve heard from some extremely strong witnesses who have given us a really good idea about the nature of the Canada-China relationship.”
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