Politics

Parliament prorogued until Sept. 23 as Trudeau government reels from WE Charity controversy

Parliament is prorogued until Sept. 23, giving the the Liberal government an opportunity to relaunch its agenda and refocus as it reels from an ethics controversy.

Parliamentary business, including committees probing WE Charity matter, is suspended

Storm clouds pass by the Peace Tower and Parliament Hill on Tuesday in Ottawa. The government has prorogued Parliament and will return Sept. 23 with a speech from the throne. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Parliament is prorogued until Sept. 23, giving the Liberal government an opportunity to relaunch its agenda and refocus as it reels from an ethics controversy.

Parliamentary business, including committees probing WE Charity student volunteer grant controversy, is suspended.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had sought approval to suspend Parliament from Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, who will deliver a speech from the throne on Sept. 23, the same week the House of Commons was previously scheduled to return.

The speech will lay out the government's long-term plan to recover from the global pandemic, Trudeau said. He also said it will also provide an opportunity for a vote on whether the House has confidence in the government.

"We are taking a moment to recognize that the throne speech we delivered eight months ago made no mention of COVID-19, had no conception of the reality we find ourselves in right now," Trudeau said in a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday.

"We need to reset the approach of this government for a recovery to build back better. And those are big, important decisions and we need to present that to Parliament and to gain the confidence of Parliament to move forward on this ambitious plan."

A speech from the throne would give Parliament a chance to give the government a mandate, and to debate the government's spending plan, ahead of an economic statement or even a full budget in October.

In a statement, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called Trudeau "spineless" and accused him of "hiding out" amid a political controversy.

"Justin Trudeau is walking out on Canadians in the middle of a major health and economic crisis, in a disgusting attempt to make Canadians forget about his corruption," he said.
 
"At a time when Canadians are looking for stability and leadership, Justin Trudeau has given them corruption, chaos and coverups."

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre tweeted that opposition MPs on the finance committee studying the WE Charity matter have written a letter demanding access to thousands of pages of government documents before Parliament is "shuttered."

"We commit to respecting cabinet confidences and personal information," read the letter signed by Conservative, Bloc Québécois and NDP MPs.

Trudeau said the reams of documents have been turned over by the government, and committee members can use time in the coming weeks to review them.

Prorogations in past

Many past governments have used prorogation to start a new session of Parliament and launch a fresh agenda, sometimes midway through a four-year mandate. The Liberals went all of their first four years without starting a new session.

But there have been instances where prorogation has been controversial.

In December 2008, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper used it to avoid an impending vote of non-confidence by the opposition parties. A year later, protests erupted when Harper had Parliament prorogued for two months, a suspension that had the effect of killing a committee inquiry into the treatment of Afghan detainees.

Jean Chrétien was also criticized for his use of prorogation in 2002 and 2003.

Watch | Trudeau says his prorogation is nothing like Harper's:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau justifies his decision to prorogue Parliament by comparing it to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to do the same thing in 2008. 1:03

Trudeau's Liberals denounced the abuse of prorogation in their 2015 campaign platform.

"We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny. Stephen Harper has used prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances. We will not," it read.

Prorogation would suspend current committee studies that are underway, including those related to the WE Charity student volunteer grant program. After the throne speech, committees could be reconstituted and resume their studies.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said prorogation will mean Trudeau is exposing himself to a confidence vote in the House of Commons when MPs vote on the throne speech.

"If it does not contain what it must contain, he will simply not survive a vote on his speech from the throne," he said.

In a written statement, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said shutting down Parliament during an economic crisis and pandemic was wrong.

"Canadians shouldn't be forced to pay the price for Mr. Trudeau's scandals," he said.

Singh also listed four issues facing Canadians: the future of CERB, employment insurance, universal child care and a safe back-to-school plan — a clue perhaps to what his party would want to see addressed by a throne speech.

Chrystia Freeland will take on the role of finance minister after Bill Morneau's resignation Monday. Dominic LeBlanc will take on the intergovernmental affairs post.

Both Morneau and Trudeau are being investigated by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion after the Liberal government gave WE Charity a $43.53-million contract to administer a $900-million student grant program despite both their families having close ties to the charity. 

Watch | Trudeau is asked whether he plans to run in the next election:

A reporter asks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau if there is another election campaign in his future. 0:48

With files from Chris Hall

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