Conservative member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner, left to right, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen arrive to hold a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner, left to right, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen arrive to hold a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

No-confidence showdown over sweeping Tory motion on government handling of pandemic

The Conservative motion is to be put to a vote Monday and has the support of both the Bloc Québécois and NDP

The Liberals will not turn a Conservative motion into a test of confidence in their minority government — despite arguing the motion is so broad and its demand for documents so massive that it could get in the way of running the country.

However, they are warning there is no way they can produce all the documents demanded by the deadline stipulated in the motion, which calls for a sweeping probe by the House of Commons health committee into a host of issues relating to the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kevin Lamoureux, parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, told the Commons the government will do everything it can to respond if the motion passes.

“However, I would like to point out that the 15-day timeline outlined in the motion will be physically impossible for the government to meet,” he said Thursday at the start of the debate.

The Conservative motion is to be put to a vote Monday and has the support of both the Bloc Québécois and NDP.

A spokesman for government House leader Pablo Rodriguez said later Thursday that the government will not consider the vote to be a confidence matter.

The government did declare another Conservative motion earlier this week to be a confidence matter, in part because Liberals argued it would paralyze the government.

The government survived a confidence vote Wednesday on that motion, which would have created a special committee to investigate the WE Charity affair and other alleged examples of corruption. NDP, Green and Independent MPs grudgingly joining with the Liberals to defeat the motion.

But all opposition parties blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for turning the issue into a confidence matter that threatened to plunge the country into an election.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole insisted Thursday that the point of the health committee motion is to get the answers that will improve upon Canada’s response to the pandemic, not force an election.

Still, during question period in the Commons, O’Toole made it clear the motion is intended to bolster the Conservative contention that the government has mishandled the pandemic by, among other things, its failure to quickly approve rapid tests, closure of the early pandemic warning system and funnelling contracts to Liberal friends.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland objected to his “insinuation.”

“The suggestion that our government, in those dark days in the spring, when we came together as a country to fight this novel global pandemic, was focused on anything other than protecting the health and safety of Canadians working closely with the provinces, territories and municipalities is simply untrue,” she said.

“I am inclined to believe the deputy prime minister,” O’Toole shot back. “But when the Liberals do things like continuously cover up, prorogue Parliament, when her colleague, (former finance minister) Mr. Morneau, resigned, when they delay committees, and when they threaten elections, pardon me if I do not believe her sincerity.”

The new motion was introduced by Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner at the health committee several weeks ago. But it was stalled by Liberal members who objected to the massive scope of the motion and the effort it would take to amass all the documents demanded.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu took up that argument Thursday, contending the motion is overly broad and would bog down public servants when they should be focused on helping Canadians through the second wave of COVID-19.

The move is “intentionally meant to overwhelm the department,” Hajdu told the House of Commons.

“You don’t do the post-battle review in the middle of the fight,” she added.

Rempel Garner repeatedly pressed Hajdu to explain how long the government needs to produce all the documents but got no direct answer. Hajdu said that’s something that should be negotiated among committee members, a response Rempel Garner said was typical of Hajdu and the government’s “overall response to COVID, which has been slow, incompetent and costly to Canadian lives.”

Hajdu took “umbrage” with Rempel Garner’s characterization of political staff and public servants, “who have been working day and night around the clock, as slow and incompetent.”

“I think we all can rise above that kind of language, and appreciate just how hard everyone in government and opposition are working to make sure that Canadians have a response that protects them.”

Among other things, the motion would direct the health committee to scrutinize the government’s slow progress in approving rapid COVID-19 testing, the impact of the government’s reliance on World Health Organization recommendations that delayed travel restrictions and wearing of face masks, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s communications strategy, the partial shutdown of the Global Public Health Intelligence Network early warning system and the adequacy of federal health transfer payments to the provinces.

And it would order the government to turn over all memorandums, emails, notes and other records from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, various ministers’ offices and departments, and the Public Health Agency of Canada on a raft of issues, including the government’s preparations for the pandemic and the purchase of personal protective equipment and testing products.

The demand for documents concerning the purchase of PPE is particularly sensitive for the government. It has used a national security exemption to keep some procurement contracts secret, arguing the intense global competition for PPE makes it prudent to protect the names of suppliers.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand told CBC’s Power and Politics later Thursday she is “very concerned” that releasing details of the contracts “will undermine our supplier relationships” just as global demand for PPE is once again peaking.

Anand said she’s not reassured by a provision in the motion, which stipulates that any redactions to the demanded documents be made only by the parliamentary law clerk and only for national security or personal privacy reasons.

Joan Bryden and Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

federal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A rendering of Victoria Wonderland, a drive-thru immersive holiday experience that has been cancelled due to COVID-19. (Courtesy of Transcend Victoria)
Victoria Wonderland drive-thru show cancelled due to COVID-19

Organizers hope to host a similar event, if restrictions allow, in the new year

Oak Bay High students Mimi Hill and Aine O’Donnell run along the Jack Wallace Memorial Track. The old track is due to be resurfaced. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Oak Bay track resurfacing delayed

Oak Bay commits $50,000 towards renewed Jack Wallace track

Swiftsure International Yacht Race 2018. (Black Press Media file photo)
Popular Swiftsure yacht race cancelled for second consecutive year

International sailing race hopes to run its 77th event in 2022

Saanich golfer and top B.C. junior and juvenile player Willy Bishop was named to the 2021 Canadian National Junior Golf Squad on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy Jenny Bishop)
Saanich student to tee-off with national golf team

Willy Bishop, 16, named to Canadian National Junior Golf Squad in 2021

The Oak Bay Police Department has announced plans to purchase the municipality’s first electric marked police vehicle. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Electric police vehicle could soon be patroling Oak Bay streets

Oak Bay police plan to purchase first marked electric police vehicle in 2021

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

(AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)
POLL: Has COVID-19 changed your plans for the holidays?

The lights are going up, the stacks of presents under the tree… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 1

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Watch Messiah at home with the Sooke Philharmonic

Concert available to stream Dec. 12

Emergency crews used a backhoe loader to clear fire debris from the scene of a fire on Wesley Street Thursday as police and firefighters gathered up propane tanks, stoves and fireplaces used by camp residents to heat tents. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
City of Nanaimo dismantles downtown homeless encampment after fire

Four to six tents burned up in Wesley Street fire Thursday, Dec. 3

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

BC Ambulance Services reassures people that the service is well staffed and ready to respond. Photo by Don Bodger
BC Ambulance assures the Island community they’re ‘fully staffed’

‘Paramedics are not limited to a geographical area.’ — BCEHS

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

Most Read