The Conservatives set the stage Thursday to bring the WE Charity controversy back to the floor of the House of Commons as the Liberals delayed attempts to have the issue studied at the standing committees.
The Official Opposition put its proposal to create a special committee to study the WE controversy and several other ethical issues facing the minority Liberals on the notice paper Thursday evening. It’s one of three issues the Conservatives could put forward for debate during opposition day in the House, scheduled for Tuesday.
Motions proposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong and banning Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from Canada’s 5G network were also put forward by the Conservatives.
The party hasn’t yet said which issue it will prioritize, but spent the week pushing for members of Parliament to resume studies of the controversy over the government’s decision to award WE Charity a now-cancelled contract to administer the Canada Student Service Grant. Committee probes on the matter were shut down when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament in August.
If it’s passed by the House, the new motion would form a special committee to shift ethics-related concerns the Opposition has over Liberal government spending to what the Conservatives are calling an anti-corruption committee. Among other things, this would compel the release of unredacted documents related to the WE Charity controversy. They were first released in August, but were heavily blacked out.
In the minority Parliament, the Liberals can be outvoted if the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois vote as one.
The opposition parties are also trying to revive investigations at the House standing committees. On Thursday, Liberal MPs filibustered those attempts at the ethics and finance committee. The finance committee, which was scheduled to meet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., was still debating the matter after 7 p.m. and the session was expected to continue into the night. PEI Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who said he was chairing the meeting from isolation, had to remind MPs at times what they were still talking about.
“We are debating the subamendment, which is the amendment to the amendment. That’s where we’re at, at the moment," he said as he refereed points of order on the relevance of comments from Liberal MPs who spoke at length.
“I’ll admit I was exhaustive," Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos said to the committee about his comments. Frustrated by interjections from other Liberal MPs, Conservative MP Tamara Jansen urged the committee to “move on.”
Ahead of the committee meetings, MPs told The Canadian Press they were bracing for marathon sessions. The Conservative motion put on the House of Commons notice paper late Thursday ensures that no matter what happens at the committees, the Opposition will have the opportunity for another vote on the issue.
Doing so means the Conservatives could force debate on the floor of the House of Commons as early as Tuesday, leading to a vote on their motion Wednesday. The rules of the House prevent the use of delay tactics that MPs can use at committees. They would likely have the co-operation of the NDP, who last week tabled a similar motion for a special committee.
Unlike the summer, when Liberal MPs supported some committee studies on the controversy, the minority government has strongly resisted their revival.
“In the midst of a pandemic, the Conservatives' priority is to play politics at committee,” House Leader Pablo Rodriguez tweeted during the committees. “The PM and all relevant people on this issue appeared months ago. Thousands of pages were released publicly. Our government is focused on supporting the health and jobs of Canadians.”
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.