Political tricks in House of Commons risk treating Canadians to a snap fall election

Threat of snap election

Political tricks in the House of Commons could lead to Canadians being treated to a snap fall election.

A motion by the Opposition Conservatives to set up a committee to probe allegations of the misuse of public funds on COVID-19 relief programs has been deemed a confidence matter by the minority Liberals.

The Bloc Québécois have said they'll support the Tories, leaving the New Democrats once again in a position to determine whether Canadians go to the polls or not.

All four parties in the Commons insisted Tuesday none of them want to go that route, but the Liberals said the Tories have left them no choice, while the Tories and BQ laid the fault at the government's feet.

There is a third way, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus told the House of Commons Tuesday: find a compromise.

Allow a member of the opposition to helm a committee specifically tasked to probe pandemic spending, which could include matters like the WE Charity affair and be able to get the required documents, Angus said.

The Liberals have proposed their own version of such a committee, but with a Liberal at the head of the table.

"We can't trust a Liberal chair," Angus said.

"Let's vote on someone that all parties can agree would be a good solid opposition chair. That way we know we can get the job done. That's about working together. That's the offer that's on the table."

The Liberals gave no clear sign midday Tuesday that they were open to that, holding tight to their assertion that the more aggressive proposal from the Tories crosses a line.

The proposal is in the form of an Opposition day motion, a day in the parliamentary calendar when an opposition party can put forward an issue and call it for a vote.

What the Conservatives had originally called for was an "anticorruption" committee that would focus nearly exclusively on three different COVID-19 relief programs having links to individuals or organizations with close ties to the Liberals.

Among them, the student grant program the Liberals intended to have managed by WE Charity, an organization with long-standing connections to the Trudeau family.

Several parliamentary committees had been probing that deal before the Liberals prorogued Parliament in August. Efforts to resume their work last month have been stymied by the Liberals' decision to filibuster committees where they have control.

The new committee proposed by the Conservatives would be controlled by the Opposition, have the power to call everyone from the prime minister to civil servants as witnesses, demand the production of documents related to the various programs and have precedence over any other House of Commons committees to carry out that work.

The Liberals argue such a committee would bog down ministers and public servants and keep the government from carrying out any other work, in service of a partisan goal rather than the public interest.

"If you read carefully the motion that has been put forward, it is a motion that frankly drips with a lack of confidence in this government," Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday.

The NDP aren't entirely comfortable with the Tory proposal either, raising concerns about how it directly names people as being complicit in alleged corruption when there's no proof.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said earlier Tuesday the Liberals' confidence-motion gambit underscores the opposition's point that the government is trying to avoid scrutiny of controversial deals.

"In many parts of Canada kids can't go trick-or-treating but the Liberals think Canadians should go to the polls rather than their answering several simple questions," he said.

"They don't want the truth to come out."

Still, O'Toole said the goal of the motion is not to force an election but to get accountability.

He offered to amend it, including changing the name away from "anticorruption" and potentially broadening its mandate upon consultation with the NDP and BQ in order for it to be able to function. The Tories were also willing to include language that would make it explicit forming the committee was not a vote of non-confidence.

None of that changed the government's mind.

"If you write a book about Frankenstein and call it 'Cinderella,' it's still a book about Frankenstein," said Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez. A vote on the motion will take place later this week, potentially on Wednesday's one-year anniversary of the Liberals' being re-elected with a minority government.

They've already survived a confidence vote on their speech from the throne, thanks to support from the New Democrats after they won concessions on pandemic benefit programs.

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