Why is the Trudeau government threatening to provoke an election over WE?

Canadian flag flies in front of the peace tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2015.

GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

We’ve said it before: If you want to be an expert in damage control, watch the Trudeau Liberals going about it and then do the opposite.

Whatever Bizarro World philosophy guides the Prime Minister’s Office this week led to the Liberals threatening to bring down their own government if they can’t control Parliamentary examinations of the WE Charity scandal.

It’s a nuclear option whose threat inevitably provokes one question: What are the Liberals so desperate to hide?

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This brinksmanship is surely encouraged by the fact the Liberals feel confident, based on current polling, that a snap election would likely return them to power.

And it’s not hard to see why the Liberals would want to derail a Conservative motion, debated on Tuesday, to create an “anti-corruption” committee, the name of which indicates a forgone conclusion about the WE Charity affair.

The Conservatives have offered to rename the proposed entity the “special committee on allegations of misuse of public funds by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada,” but it’s hard to spot the difference.

None of this, however, resolves the implication at the heart of the Liberals’ all-or-nothing tactics: What has them so spooked that they would rather call an election than allow a committee that they don’t control to dig into their handling of the WE Charity fiasco?

It’s a fair question, given the troubling lengths the Trudeau government has gone to bury the scandal without a coroner’s inquest.

There were the thousands of pages of heavily redacted documents that the government was obliged to turn over to the standing finance committee in August – documents related to the decision to give WE Charity the contract to administer the defunct Canada Student Service Grant.

The PMO claimed the redactions were carried out by the non-partisan Parliamentary law clerk. But the law clerk, Philippe Dufresne, said in a letter to the clerk of the finance committee that the documents were in fact largely censored by other government departments, that he had never seen the unredacted documents and that he couldn’t be certain the blackouts were justified.

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It was barely a week later the Trudeau government prorogued Parliament, shutting down the committees examining its decision to entrust management of nearly $1-billion in public money to a charity that had frequently paid members of Prime Minister ’s family to speak at its events. For example, on Monday, WE confirmed, since 2016, it has paid $180,000 to Margaret Trudeau to appear at 27 events, plus more than $160,000 in travel expenses.

Since the return of Parliament last month, the Liberals have stalled further inquiry by filibustering two standing House of Commons committees looking into the affair.

As well, the Liberals and the Opposition have been jockeying over the creation of a committee dedicated to WE Charity.

The Liberals’ proposed one that would examine all of the government’s COVID-19 relief spending, but which would be presided over by a Liberal chair and have a disproportionate number of Liberal MPs on it.

When the Conservatives proposed a motion to create an “anti-corruption” committee, the Liberals went full Doomsday machine, saying they would consider a vote on it to be a confidence matter, meaning its passage would cause the government to fall.

What’s clear in all this is that the Liberal government cannot cope with the idea of a committee investigation into the WE Charity mess – unless it’s a committee it can control.

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As a minority government, it can’t make that happen. It has instead only been able to redact, prorogue and threaten.

In doing so, it continues to cast doubt on its claim, made to Parliamentary committees over the summer, that the idea to give WE Charity a lucrative contract came from the civil service, not from anyone in the Trudeau government.

The Liberals now argue this issue should be dropped, given the country’s continuing public-health crisis. But the question of whether the government misled Parliament is not a frivolous one.

There are plenty of standing Commons committees that can answer that question in a credible fashion. The Opposition should drop the name games, hunker down and get to work. The Liberals should stop the filibustering and roadblocking, and let them.

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