PM prorogues parliament as controversy swirls

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House to reconvene Sept. 23

On August 18, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Governor General Julie Payette to prorogue parliament until September 23, something that hasn’t been done since Stephen Harper requested prorogation for the fourth time in 2013. 

Proroguing parliament refers to discontinuing a session of parliament without dissolving it. It formally terminates a parliamentary session and, in this instance, sets up a confidence vote for the fall that, if it fails, could trigger a 2020 election. Until that point, MPs retain their positions, and the Liberal government remains in power, despite the temporary shutdown. It’s a reset tool for the government, which stops all legislative work on Parliament Hill. It kills outstanding bills that have not received royal assent, and they must receive unanimous support from the House to be revived at a later date.

Committees also stop, including those that are currently investigating Trudeau’s handling of the WE charity contract that has brought accusations of ethics violations and corruption against the PMO, and contributed to the downfall of Finance Minister Bill Morneau in August. 

Justin Trudeau defended his decision to prorogue parliament by saying that “we are proroguing parliament to bring it back on exactly the same week it was supposed to come back anyway, and force a confidence vote. 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. 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 gain the confidence of parliament to move forward on this ambitious plan.”

However, Conservatives are still arguing that this comes at a convenient time for the Liberal government, and believe the Liberals are using this prorogation in order to remove the pressure on the Trudeau government that has come as a result of the WE charity scandal.

Trudeau defends this by saying he has released various documents for MPs to look over and bring up once parliament is back in session. Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative Finance Critic addressed this notion in a speech on August 19, 2020. In particular, Poilievre took issue to this claim due to the fact that the documents that Trudeau released had all the relevant information to the WE scandal blacked out.

“Why don’t we ask what’s in those pages in a parliamentary committee? Well I’ll tell you why. Justin Trudeau shut down those parliamentary committees. When did he do it? The same day these documents became public! What a coincidence.”

Poilievre continued to argue this was a cover-up. The WE charity scandal centres around the Liberal government giving a contract to WE Charity to administer the proposed Canada Student Service Grant program, after it was found WE Charity had previously paid Trudeau’s mother and brother over $300,000 for speaking engagements, as well as employing Morneau’s daughters Clare and Grace. Trudeau denies allegations of corruption.

Prorogation of parliament is not uncommon and is often routine, but its timing – for example when a Prime Minister uses it to strategically postpone impending business – can make it a contentious issue. Stephen Harper prorogued parliament four times during his time in power.The first and fourth prorogations, in 2007 and 2013, were routine, allowing the government to present a new throne speech, but the second and third, in 2008 and 2009 were far more controversial.The 2008 prorogation allowed Harper to avoid a non-confidence vote after the Liberal, New Democratic, and Bloc Québécois parties formed a coalition and threatened to vote non-confidence on the minority Conservative government. He then prorogued parliament again in 2009, to avoid ongoing investigations into the Afghan detainees affair. It is no surprise that in light of the circumstances of these prorogations, proroguing parliament is often viewed as a sign of corruption, or controversy in the government.

Parliament will resume on September 23 and we will see if the vote of non-confidence goes through. With the Liberals holding a minority government it is a possibility that the non-confidence vote would pass, however that would require cooperation between all three opposing parties in the House, which may not be likely

Until then, government has been put on pause. Canadians can hope that their representatives are using this time to develop a solid plan for dealing with the fallout of COVID-19.

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