Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre and Michael Barrett hold a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 29, 2020. Opposition MPs braced for another marathon meeting of the House of Commons ethics committee as they ramp up efforts to revive their investigation into the WE Charity affair. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre and Michael Barrett hold a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 29, 2020. Opposition MPs braced for another marathon meeting of the House of Commons ethics committee as they ramp up efforts to revive their investigation into the WE Charity affair. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Marathon committee meetings as Liberals continue filibusters over WE documents

Finance committee spent 11 hours debating

OTTAWA — Two House of Commons committee meetings dragged on for hours Thursday as Liberal MPs continued to filibuster opposition efforts to reopen their investigations into the WE Charity affair.

The finance committee spent 11 hours debating amendments to a Conservative motion denouncing redactions to roughly 5,000 pages of documents released by the government in August — just as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament, shutting down four separate committee investigations into the affair.

The ethics committee met for 10 hours, discussing a Conservative motion calling on Speakers’ Spotlight, the agency that arranged speaking engagements for Trudeau’s wife, mother and brother at WE events, to hand over 12 years of receipts for the trio’s paid appearances.

Both finished talking for the day without resolution, when Bloc Québécois MPs joined Liberals in voting to pause.

WE Charity, which was to have been paid $43.5 million to manage a now-defunct federal student volunteering program, has already disclosed that it paid Margaret and Alexandre Trudeau more than $350,000 over the years.

Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, was paid a one-time fee of $1,400 for an event in 2012, before her husband became prime minister.

Liberal members of the ethics committee complained that the motion is too broad, a “fishing expedition” aimed at delving into the financial affairs of the prime minister’s relatives beyond their involvement with WE.

They also argued that it is wrong for MPs to investigate members of another MP’s family and that the matter should be left with the federal ethics commissioner, who is already investigating Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau, who also had close family ties to WE.

In the process, they read portions of the Conflict of Interest Act into the record, recounted the history of the ethics committee and embarked on lengthy digressions on entirely unrelated matters.

Liberal MP Han Dong went on at length about the government’s anti-racism strategy, recounting anecdotes of Asian-Canadians who’ve been subjected to racism during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He argued the committee — which also deals with access to information and privacy issues — should be dealing with the impact of facial-recognition technology on people of colour rather than pursuing the WE affair, on which Trudeau, his chief of staff, Morneau, the clerk of the Privy Council and multiple other public servants have already testified.

After several opposition MPs interrupted to question the relevance of Dong’s digression to the motion before the committee, Liberal MP Greg Fergus, chair of the parliamentary Black caucus, intervened to suggest that the interruptions themselves were evidence of unconscious bias.

“The constant interruption … I know it’s not the intent of my honourable colleagues, but it just reminds me of the micro-aggressions that a lot of Canadians of colour face. I don’t hear other members being interrupted,” he said, urging them to allow Dong to continue speaking.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus countered that if Liberals want to get on with a study of facial-recognition technology or anything else, they need only let the WE documents motion come to a vote and the committee could move on.

“I’m asking him not to play games, not to throw these heavily loaded insinuations down at my colleagues,” Angus said. “If he wants to talk about something, just bring this to a vote so we can get this thing done.”

But neither the opposition members nor the Liberals showed any signs of backing down.

Indeed, Liberal MP Francesco Sorbara, who went on at length about how wrong he believes it is to violate the privacy of another MP’s mother and brother, said at one point: “I’ll go back to that a thousand times over the next 24 hours if I need to.”

Angus similarly declared: “If it takes all night, if it takes all week, we will be here until the Liberals stop obstructing, stop interfering with the work of Parliament, allow us to do our jobs as parliamentarians.”

Conservative MPs accused Liberal backbenchers of embarrassing themselves by participating in a coverup for Trudeau.

“The action of a multi-day filibuster by members of the government is a government-led coverup,” Michael Barrett said.

Thursday’s meeting was a continuation of a standoff that stalled the ethics committee for hours last week.

Similarly, the finance committee meeting was a continuation of a meeting from last week.

Because the clock officially continues to run when a meeting is suspended, in mid-afternoon Thursday the committee reached its 180th hour of considering an opposition effort to pry WE-related documents out of the government beyond those released in redacted form in August.

Much of that time was taken up with competing points of order raised mainly by Liberal members, but also questions by Conservatives about whether the Liberals’ points of order were really points of order and an attempt to challenge a ruling by Liberal committee chair Wayne Easter that the Prince Edward Island MP said couldn’t be challenged because it wasn’t a ruling.

Liberals Peter Fragiskatos and Julie Dzerowicz delved deeply into the redacted documents, pointing out numerous instances where the blacked-out material was civil servants’ phone numbers or codes for government conference-call lines.

Trudeau’s family ties to WE Charity plunged the student grant program into controversy the moment it was announced last June. WE pulled out within days and has since repaid all money advanced by the federal government to run the program.

Four committees, including the ethics and finance committees, had launched or were preparing to launch investigations into the affair when Trudeau prorogued Parliament, bringing all committee work to a halt.

Opposition parties are now trying to reopen their investigations at the finance and ethics committees, demanding documents that each committee had already asked for before prorogation. But the Conservatives, Bloc and NDP are all also proposing, in separate motions, to create a special committee that could take over the investigation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2020.

charityfederal government

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

Just Posted

Red Deer Remand Centre
Red Deer Remand Centre up to 22 COVID cases

Eighteen inmates and four remand centre staff areactive COVID cases

Christine Cornelius, department manager at Parkland Nurseries and Garden Centre, prepares seed racks at the Red Deer County shop. (By SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Central Alberta gardeners already buying seeds to prepare for spring

Potatoes and carrots popular choices for backyard gardens

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Red Deer’s newest Waskasoo Park trail offers some bird’s-eye views of the city. It runs along the Highland Green escarpment, between Howarth Street Close and 60th Street. More information is available on reddeer.ca. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
PHOTO: New Red Deer trail offers hikers a bird’s-eye view

It links Howarth Street Close with 60th Street

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Sept. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns

OTTAWA — Gov. Gen. Julie Payette is resigning. The news comes as… Continue reading

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

Rode
University of Saskatchewan Huskies recognize DeMale’s talent

Joel DeMale has the resume to be one of the top linebackers… Continue reading

Lucas Berg, left, with the backpacks filled with essential items he donated to the Red Deer Mustard Seed Jan. 19, 2021. (Photo submitted)
Central Alberta teenager donates filled 20 backpacks to Red Deer Mustard Seed

Lucas Berg, 14, of Ponoka County says he ‘just wants to help people’

Francesca Paceri, a registered pharmacist technician, carefully fills a needle with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. A director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association believes provinces should set targets for vaccinating inmates in provincial jails — something most jurisdictions have yet to do. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Some provinces yet to say when jail inmates to be vaccinated against COVID-19

A director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association believes provinces should set… Continue reading

A pumpjack works at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta. Central Alberta counties are struggling to cover millions in unpaid taxes from oil and gas companies. (File photo by The Canadian Press)
Premier Scott Moe warns Regina city council about anti-energy company motion

REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is warning Regina city council there… Continue reading

(Black Press media file photo)
Manitoba government not collecting overpayments to doctors, auditor general says

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s auditor general says the provincial government is not retrieving… Continue reading

A Government of Canada sign sits in front of a Library and Archives Canada building next to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday Nov. 25, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal review of Access to Information law to take another year amid impatience

OTTAWA — It will likely be another year before a federal review… Continue reading

A man wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver Wednesday, November 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID cases in Ont., Que. hold steady, while feds warn severe illness is on the rise

Federal officials say COVID-19 case counts in Canada seem to be on… Continue reading

Black bear cubs Athena and Jordan look on from their enclosure at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington, B.C., on July 8, 2015. Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant won the hearts of animal lovers when he opted not to shoot the baby bears in July after their mother was destroyed for repeatedly raiding homes near Port Hardy, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Supreme Court won’t review ruling in favour of officer who refused to euthanize bears

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada will not review a lower-court… Continue reading

Most Read