Column: From the Hill -- Behind the scenes on that 'confidence motion'
I don’t usually go into the “inside baseball” minutiae of backroom politics on Parliament Hill—the battles over make-up of committees, opposition motions with poison pills, and filibusters—because, frankly, most Canadians aren’t concerned about these details. They just want parliament to work for them, especially when so many individuals and businesses are struggling through an unprecedented health and economic crisis.
But the games played by the Conservatives and Liberals that brought us very close to triggering a federal election in the past few days bear some discussion. A quick background: there are four House of Commons committees studying the details around the WE Charity scandal. In one of those committees, Liberal MPs filibustered for hours last week before adjourning the meeting to avoid answering important questions.
Most MPs realize that having four committees looking in to this important but contentious subject is tying up parliamentary time and resources, and the NDP suggested creating a single special committee to study it. The Liberals accepted that suggestion but insisted that they chair the committee, which goes against the normal structure of this sort of committee. The Conservatives upped the ante with an Opposition Day motion to create an “anti-corruption committee” (there’s the poison pill). Prime Minister Trudeau then went all in by declaring the vote on that motion would be a confidence vote, thereby triggering an election if the vote passed.
When all we needed was a moment of cooperation to make sure that this minority parliament could function smoothly, the over-the-top brinkmanship of the Conservatives and Liberals brought us to the edge of ending the 43rd Parliament.
I now have to point out that recent polls show the Liberals well out in front of the Conservatives and an election would likely return a Liberal majority government. So, we had a crazy situation where the Conservatives were praying that their motion failed so they didn’t have to go into an election. The Liberals, on the other hand, are itching for an election (they wouldn’t have made this a confidence vote if they weren’t) and were hoping that the motion passed, even though it was highly critical of the government.
As NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said “We don’t want to have anything to do with this farce.” And so it was left to the NDP (and the Greens) to vote with the government to keep this parliament alive. In doing so, we left both the Liberals and Conservatives perhaps a bit sadder but wiser. We were voting against an election.
The focus of the NDP continues to be on helping Canadians. This is how a minority parliament should work. We will continue to work with the other parties to get answers about pandemic spending and will immediately call for witnesses to the Ethics Committee (the standing committee best suited for this work) to continue studying the WE Charity. This will help us find out the truth behind serious questions of the government’s actions. An election would not have revealed that truth.
Editor’s Note: An article in the National Observer by Joan Bryden tells us that the government now faces another potential confidence motion from the Conservative Opposition — “calling for a sweeping probe by the House of Commons health committee into a host of issues relating to the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The article says that “the motion is so broad and the demand for documents so massive that the Liberals are expected to argue that its passage would paralyze the government — the same argument used to declare the first Conservative motion a confidence matter.”