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Trudeau prorogues Parliament, says new recovery plan needed

Wednesday, August 19, 2020 @ 9:47 AM | By Terry Davidson

With a conflict of interest scandal continuing to swirl around him, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has prorogued Parliament until the fall in what he claims is a bid to put forth a new recovery plan in Canada’s struggle with the COVID-19 health crisis.

Trudeau made the announcement late on Aug. 18, not long after his Liberal government did a small-yet-significant cabinet shuffle that moved deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to the role of finance minister and filling a job left vacant when Bill Morneau abruptly resigned amidst the WE Charity conflict of interest controversy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Prorogation until Sept. 23 brings to an end parliamentary proceedings until then, thus stopping committee investigations into why Morneau and Trudeau did not recuse themselves from a cabinet decision to pick WE Charity to run a $900-million student grant program, even though both men had family members who benefited financially from the organization.

Trudeau said a new throne speech is needed upon Parliament’s return to “embrace bold new solutions” to challenges thrown up by the pandemic. A new recovery plan, he said, is needed to address “fundamental gaps this pandemic has unmasked.”

“In the coming weeks, we will present our plan to rebuild a stronger, more resilient Canada,” Trudeau said. “This will be our roadmap out of the pandemic towards a society that is fairer and more welcoming, towards communities that are better prepared for future crises and towards a country where everyone is safer and healthier. As our first step to make this plan a reality, we will present a speech from the throne on … September 23. This is the same week that the House of Commons was already scheduled to return. The throne speech will give us the opportunity to lay out in detail our approach going forward. It will also allow Parliament to hold a confidence vote on this new plan.”

As part of their 2015 election platform, the Liberals promised not to use prorogation as a political tactic and criticized the former Stephen Harper Conservatives of using during their time in power to avoid a daunting confidence vote.

During a round of questions from reporters, Trudeau was asked how he could now prorogue Parliament after making that pledge.  

“We are taking a moment to recognize that the throne speech we delivered eight months ago had no mention of COVID-19, had no conception of the reality we find ourselves in right now,” he said. “We need to reset the approach of this government for a recovery — to build back better. Those are big important decisions and we need to present that to Parliament and gain the confidence of Parliament to move forward on this ambitious plan. The prorogation we are doing right now is about gaining or testing the confidence of the House, which is the opposite of what the Conservatives did that we rightly railed against back in 2015.”

According to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice guide, 2017, “[p]rorogation of a session brings to an end all proceedings before Parliament. With certain exceptions, unfinished business ‘dies’ on the Order Paper and must be started anew in a subsequent session.”

Trudeau was asked if he would allow committees to continue their investigations into the WE controversy. To this, Trudeau said documents have been released to the committees and questions can be asked when Parliament resumes.

“I can say we have released all those documents to the members of the committee so they can spend their time going through those mountains of documents over the coming weeks so that they can continue to ask any questions they like on this issue. … When Parliament resumes in the fall there will be ample opportunities to continue to ask whatever questions committees or members want to continue to do.”

Trudeau was asked if he wants a federal election, given that the loss of a confidence vote could trigger one.  

“No, we do not want an election, but it is obvious that the throne speech we gave eight months ago is no longer relevant for the reality that Canadians are living and that our government is facing. There are many things we committed to Canadians in that throne speech that we will be continuing to work on but many others that aren’t the priority that they once were. I think it is important that Canadians have a clear idea of the plan that we have for building a stronger economy that is more inclusive, that is greener, that is fairer for all Canadians.”

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh strongly criticized the move, accusing Trudeau of bailing on Canadians during the health crisis.

“Shutting down Parliament in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis, with a planned sitting next week and committees working hard to get answers and solutions for Canadians, is wrong,” said Singh in a statement. “Canadians shouldn't be forced to pay the price for Mr. Trudeau’s scandals. People are struggling and need answers.”

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