Trudeau Looks to Prorogue Parliament Amid WE Controversy, Cabinet Shuffle

August 18, 2020 Updated: August 18, 2020

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is looking to prorogue Parliament next month in order to come back with a new speech from the throne and an economic update in October.

Trudeau must seek permission from Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to prorogue, but has not announced when he will do so.

A prorogation would end the current Parliamentary session amid the current WE Charity ethics controversy, halting all legislative business that has not passed—including all ongoing WE Charity committee probes and the remaining pre-pandemic pieces of legislation.

Trudeau is planning a cabinet retreat in mid-September with the intention of proroguing Parliament and presenting a pandemic recovery plan in early October.

The news comes less than 24 hours after Bill Morneau announced Monday that he is resigning as finance minister and as an MP.

Morneau and Trudeau are both facing investigations by the federal ethics watchdog for taking part in talks to hand WE Charity a contract to run a pandemic-related student-volunteer program. Both have apologized for not recusing themselves from discussions on the contract despite the charity’s ties to their families.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland will take over as finance minister and will be sworn in later today. In her new role, Freeland will need to steer the government through the biggest economic recovery since the Great Depression. The government has not yet tabled a 2020 budget, because plans to do so in March were upended by the pandemic.

The House of Commons has a sitting day scheduled for later this month, and was scheduled to resume full-time on Sept. 21. At least four Commons committees are probing the WE Charity contract, and the potential that prorogation could end or delay their work did not sit well with the opposition.

“Earlier this year, Justin Trudeau shamefully shut down Parliament to try and avoid accountability.  Now he has locked out Opposition MPs who were working hard to fix his government’s pandemic programs, help Canadians and get to the bottom of his corruption scandal,” said a statement from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

“Hiding out for two months won’t solve the Liberals’ ethical problems. As long as Justin Trudeau is Prime Minister, the corruption will continue.”

At a press conference on Tuesday, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre sidestepped questions about whether the Tories would try to trigger an election this fall, saying they want to uncover the full story of the WE controversy so Canadians know all the details before they go to the polls again.

If there is a vote on the throne speech it would be a confidence vote in the government. So would any vote on a budget or economic statement. Because Trudeau only presides over a minority government, opposition parties could choose to bring the Liberals down in either vote.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet last week said he would bring a non-confidence vote himself if Trudeau, Morneau and Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford do not all resign. He said Tuesday a throne speech could just make doing so easier, though he also left the door open to supporting it.

Speaking to his MPs at a caucus retreat in Bonaventure, Que., Blanchet said the party would vote against a throne speech if it does not contain greater health transfers to the provinces, substantially more help for Quebec seniors, and aid to agricultural producers in supply-managed sectors.

Thus far the NDP have indicated a desire to work with the government on the pandemic recovery, particularly with massive new spending on child care. Leader Jagmeet Singh said Tuesday toppling the government was not his party’s priority at the moment.

Trudeau vowed when he was first elected to not use prorogation “to avoid difficult political circumstances,” as the Liberals accused former prime minister Stephen Harper of doing amid the Senate expense scandal.

On Monday, Morneau insisted his decision to resign was based strictly on the fact that he doesn’t intend to run for re-election and his belief that the finance minister must be someone around for the long, hard road to recovery ahead. He said he intends to run to be the next secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The federal ethics watchdog will continue the investigation of Morneau for possible breaches of conflict of interest despite his decision to quit this week.

With files from The Canadian Press