Politics

Liberals will tell staffers to disobey House of Commons summons, House leader says

Federal Liberal cabinet ministers will instruct their staff not to appear if called to any parliamentary committees — an attempt to curb what they claim is an "abuse of power" by opposition parties.

Motion says if PM were to show up for at least 3 hours, the staffers wouldn't have to

Leader of the Opposition Erin O'Toole speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, February 26, 2021. The Conservatives are introducing a motion aimed at getting three members of the prime minister's staff before the ethics committee to provide more information on the WE Charity affair. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Federal Liberal cabinet ministers will instruct their staff not to appear if called to any parliamentary committees — an attempt to curb what they claim is an "abuse of power" by opposition parties.

The Conservatives are seeking to summon political staff and civil servants to testify about the WE Charity affair and how the government handled a sexual misconduct allegation against the country's former top soldier.

Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez said it has long been a practice of Parliament for the buck to stop with cabinet ministers when it comes to holding individuals responsible for government actions in committee.

The Conservatives' motion Thursday is nothing but a "heavy handed" form of partisan intimidation, Rodriguez said.

"Members of this House are protected from intimidation through our parliamentary privilege. It is irresponsible for members to turn this protection into weapons against those who are not covered by these protections," Rodriguez said in the House of Commons Thursday morning.

"Not only is it irresponsible, it is a clear abuse of power."

The Conservatives' motion is aimed at getting three members of the prime minister's staff before the ethics committee to provide more information on the WE Charity affair.

They also want the former chief of staff to the defence minister, who now works for another minister, to appear at the defence committee to shed more light on sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Liberals trying to hide the truth: Conservative MP

Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett accused the Liberals of trying to hide the truth.

"All of these individuals have direct knowledge of the issues the committees have been studying and they must testify so that Canadians can have the truth," Barrett said.

He dismissed any notion that Canadians are not as engaged on these issues as they are on the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We think it's very important to Canadians that when the government is spending hundreds of millions and billions of dollars, that it's done in an effective way."

The motion says that if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were to show up instead for at least three hours, the staffers wouldn't have to.

The Conservatives have been trying to get those witnesses to committees but have been thwarted by the Liberals either talking out the clock or using procedural moves to avert votes.

So the Tories now want to end-run that by putting the issue to a vote on the floor of the House of Commons itself, where the opposition can more easily outmanoeuvre the minority Liberals.

Liberal MPs debating the motion brought up occasions when staffers have been called before committees, such as the appearance last summer by Trudeau's chief of staff, Katie Telford, during hearings on the WE Charity controversy.

These witnesses were repeatedly interrupted, badgered and accused of trying to withhold the truth from Canadians by Opposition MPs, Rodriguez said.

That's why Liberal ministers will be telling their staffers to ignore any future summons to committee and instead will only send cabinet ministers to testify, he said.

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