Liberals Say They Will Back Off Delay Tactics on WE Charity Affair

Liberals Say They Will Back Off Delay Tactics on WE Charity Affair
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill on October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA—The Liberals say they will cede some ground on the WE Charity affair, which has been mired in filibusters and duelling committee motions for nearly two months.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez says his party has agreed to send unredacted documents linked to the controversy to the parliamentary law clerk, who will then decide what information needs to be blacked out to protect personal privacy.

The concession comes in response to a Conservative motion that calls on the Speaker of the Commons to rule that redactions made to more than 5,000 pages of government documents on the WE affair amount to a breach of the committee’s privileges.

“We have now agreed to send unredacted documents to the Law Clerk, except those that were redacted to protect cabinet confidences and unrelated material as already allowed by the committee motion,” Rodriguez said Monday in a Twitter post.

That proposal differs somewhat from the Conservative motion, which would leave it in the law clerk’s hands to black out confidential cabinet communications and irrelevant content.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre says his party is willing to meet the Liberals halfway.

“If the government insists that it needs to put aside what it claims are cabinet confidences, fine, we'll do that for now,” he said Monday at a news conference.

The issue of unrelated documents arriving in the law clerk’s hands already redacted remains a “sticking point,” he added, leaving it up in the air whether the Tories will accept Rodriguez’s compromise.

“If they’re totally unrelated to the WE controversy, why did the government put them in the bundle of WE documents and then cover them in black ink?” Poilievre asked.

“We just want the parliamentary law clerk to look at them and confirm whether or not they are irrelevant to our study.”

Rodriguez, whose tweets pre-empted Poilievre’s press conference by one hour, accused the other parties of refusing to hear from public servants in committee and scolded the opposition for not setting “partisanship aside.”

The broader controversy revolves around the government’s decision to pay WE Charity $43.5 million to manage a grant program for student volunteers, despite the organization’s close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family.

WE backed out of the arrangement in early July, within days of the decision being made public. The program was later cancelled.

Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau, who also has close ties to WE, have apologized for not recusing themselves from the decision to involve the charity. Both are under investigation by the federal ethics commissioner.