As confidence vote looms, do Liberals want an election, or a distraction?
Liberals turn Conservative motion for committee to scrutinize government spending into confidence vote
Update, Oct. 21, 4:35pm ET: On Wednesday afternoon MPs voted 180-146 to defeat the Conservatives' motion for a special committee to probe Liberal pandemic spending, averting a snap election.
The federal Liberal government is raising the question of whether they want to trigger an election by turning a motion to create a parliamentary committee into a confidence vote, says one reporter.
"They claim they don't, but they're the ones who put us in this situation, so it's a legitimate question," said Mia Rabson, a national affairs reporter for the Canadian Press.
"Do they think this is their chance to win a majority or at least increase their minority, and sort of say to the opposition: 'Look, Canadians have given us the power and the authority to govern through the pandemic now,'" she told The Current's Matt Galloway.
"Or is there also something that they're trying to hide?"
The Conservatives have called for a special committee to scrutinize government spending in aid programs to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The committee would have a mandate to examine the Liberal government's choice of the WE Charity to administer the multimillion-dollar Canada Student Service Grant program — including the ties between the charity and members of the Liberal government and their family members.
In response, the Liberal government argued that the committee will detract from the government's efforts to help Canadians through the pandemic, and said the Conservatives' motion will be considered a confidence vote on Wednesday afternoon — meaning that if it passes, Canadians will go to the polls in a snap federal election.
Do they think this is their chance to win a majority ... or is there also something that they're trying to hide?- Mia Rabson
Rabson said the Liberals' motivation could lie in trying to shift the focus away from the WE Charity controversy, "and keep the focus on things they'd rather look at."
"But when you're threatening to have an election because you don't want to go to a committee, it does sort of raise the spectre that maybe there is something that they're hiding," she said.
On Tuesday, Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez said the committee will detract from the government's efforts to help Canadians through the health and financial crises.
But Marieke Walsh, a political reporter for the Globe and Mail, said that assertion had left some Parliament Hill watchers "incredulous," because "the government has shown it's been able to do both" throughout COVID-19.
The make-up and membership of such a committee is also being contested, she explained.
There are Liberal objections to the number of Conservative members on the committee, which would leave "more of control with the Conservatives and the other opposition parties," she said.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has said his party will support the Conservative motion. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the Liberals' decision to make it a confidence vote "absurd."
Singh said he continues to engage with other parties to find a solution, but did not say how his party's MPs might vote.
Election timing not right for NDP, Conservatives: Sinclair
Niigaan Sinclair, a columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press, said now is not the ideal time for an election for the NDP or Conservatives, especially when it comes to financing a campaign.
But while the Liberals might see an opportunity to win a majority, he thinks "this is more a diversion issue," to get the focus off the WE Charity controversy and back to their record on the pandemic.
The WE scandal "is turning into a Liberal sponsorship scandal, Part 2," he said, referencing the controversy that brought down the Liberal government in the mid 2000s.
Ultimately, Canadians will go to the polls "if enough people in the House of Commons want to go to an election," Walsh said, adding that every party's caucus meetings will be discussing their options before making their decisions public.
"[It] might not all be decided today," but could come down to "who calls who's bluff and how they respond," she said.
Written by Padraig Moran, with files from Kathleen Harris and CBC News. Produced by Idella Sturino and Jennifer Chen.