Conservatives gear up to grill government in modified return of House of Commons

Conservatives gear up to grill government in modified return of House of Commons

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer laid out Monday the numerous lines of inquiry his party intends to follow this week as a modified version of a House of Commons sitting gets underway.

They include the state of the nation’s emergency supply stockpile, the mishmash of federal economic benefit programs that allow some to fall through the cracks and to what extent the minority Liberals are backstopping provincial efforts to reopen their economies, Scheer said.

“It is incumbent on the prime minister to immediately present Canadians with a plan outlining how his government will support provinces and territories as they revise health restrictions over and above the national guidelines that are currently being developed,” Scheer said.

Though described by the prime minister Monday as the first virtual sitting of Parliament, what’s actually happening Tuesday is the first meeting of a special committee struck to somewhat mirror the routine of the House of Commons.

Parliament itself is adjourned until late May, following its first postponement in mid-March due to the near-countrywide shutdown in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

All-party consensus had been required to keep it closed past April 20. The Opposition Conservatives wanted a return to four days of sittings, albeit with a much smaller group than the 338 MPs who make up the House of Commons.

But the NDP and Bloc Quebecois agreed to support the Liberals’ proposal of the committee, with its two virtual and one in-person sittings each week.

All 338 MPs are on the committee, but only seven are required for quorum, as opposed to the 20 for a normal sitting of the Commons. The meetings will focus largely, if not exclusively, on the COVID-19 response for between two and five hours a day.

As Scheer calls for a Liberal plan, behind closed doors his caucus is also drawing up what a conservative approach to getting the economy back on track would look like.

The Conservative caucus coronavirus response and recovery committee is led by deputy party leader Leona Alleslev, who said the intent is to help provide more structure to the Opposition as it takes on the Liberals in the coming months.

Alleslev said the Conservatives are helping to govern the country in these uncertain times, even if they are one of the opposition parties.

“Our role is to do that thinking, as much as to respond what the government presents, to understand how we would do it differently and that’s whether you’re in a minority or a majority.”

One Conservative’s approach to the government’s COVID-19 response drew heated criticism late last week.

Derek Sloan, an MP also running for leadership of the Conservatives, asked whether chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam was working “for China or Canada,” a question that drew accusations of racism given she was born in Hong Kong.

Scheer had initially refused to address Sloan’s remarks, saying he would not discuss ideas put forward by leadership candidates. The backlash they prompted, including by Conservatives, saw him clarify Monday that he does not agree with Sloan’s characterization, nor does the Conservative caucus.

“It is not appropriate to question someone’s loyalty to their country. I believe that is a very serious accusation that you have to have some very substantial evidence to make,” Scheer said.

Scheer said the Conservatives’ position is Tam can’t be the scapegoat for the government’s approach to COVID-19, and it is the government only that can be held accountable on that score.

Scheer suggested Sloan will face no repercussions for his comments within caucus. Party members who will cast a ballot in the leadership race are the ones who will ultimately decide on Sloan’s political fate, he said.

That race is currently on pause as the vote organizers decide how and when it can proceed. A meeting to do so is scheduled for Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

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