PM's ethical conduct in spotlight as Commons sits, but Trudeau won't be there

'Resign or face election'

The leader of the Bloc Quebecois says if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Katie Telford, the prime minister's chief of staff, don't resign, he will try to trigger an election in October.

Yves-Francois Blanchet told reporters today revelations in the WE controversy — as well as new details about a contract for small-business rent relief that went to a company employing Telford's husband — have demonstrated the Liberal government is no longer trustworthy.

Blanchet says even though the country is still grappling with COVID-19, keeping people in office who are "mismanaging" the government would be more dangerous than sending Canadians to the polls in a pandemic.

He says that's why he is issuing an ultimatum to Trudeau and Morneau — quit or he will move a motion of non-confidence this fall.

The Bloc leader says he has not yet had discussions with other opposition leaders to see if he would have the necessary support from at least one other party to successfully trigger an election.

Trudeau and Morneau are under investigation by the ethics watchdog for possible conflicts of interest arising from the government's decision to hand administration of a student grant program to WE Charity.

Their ethical conduct will also be put under an opposition microscope today during a rare summer sitting of the House of Commons — but the prime minister won't be there.

Trudeau is on vacation with his family and his office says he won't be cutting it short to attend the special parliamentary sitting.

It's not clear that Morneau will be there either.

Both Trudeau and Morneau have close family connections to WE Charity and have apologized for not recusing themselves from the decision to give it the student grant contract.

Trudeau's office points out that the prime minister has already testified at length about the controversy before the Commons finance committee, as have Morneau, other ministers and senior bureaucrats.

But today's sitting of the Commons offers a larger stage and more time for opposition parties to mount their attacks on the government's alleged ethical lapses.

The chamber normally does not sit at all during the summer. Under special procedural rules adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government agreed to have the Commons sit twice in July and twice in August.

Today's sitting is to last almost four hours, with most MPs participating virtually along with a handful physically present in the chamber. The session includes 95 minutes for opposition MPs to grill the government in a sort of extended question period, and more than two hours for a "take-note" debate on the government's response to the pandemic.

There is no opportunity for opposition parties to try to defeat Trudeau's minority government with a motion of non-confidence — which Conservative and Bloc MPs have previously suggested they might otherwise be tempted to do given the ethical cloud hanging over the Liberals.

Opposition MPs may yet have another chance to grill Trudeau directly about the WE Charity affair. In two weeks, the Commons is to hold its second special sitting this month before resuming its normal schedule on Sept. 21.

They may try to call the prime minister as a witness before the multiple committees now probing the controversy.

The ethics committee has already invited Trudeau to appear, though he has not yet responded.

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