Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet says he will try to trigger a fall election if the prime minister, his chief of staff and his finance minister don’t resign.
Blanchet said the government is not “worthy” of the public’s trust in the wake of the WE Charity controversy, which was sparked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau failing to recuse themselves from cabinet talks involving the organization despite family ties to it.
While his preference is to see the trio step down, Blanchet said he’s prepared to table a motion of non-confidence in the government if they remain in their jobs.
If that motion passed with the support of other parties, it would lead to an election campaign in the midst of a pandemic.
“Which is more dangerous — the mismanagement of a crisis, or taking the time to change the people who are managing the crisis?” Blanchet said during a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.
The BQ leader said he has not had any formal discussions with the NDP or the Conservatives on his plan. He said Elections Canada is preparing to hold a safe election in the event it is held during the pandemic.
Elections Canada preparing
Elections Canada has created an internal working group to do “readiness planning” in the event of an election during the pandemic. The group is looking at issues such as:
- Possible physical distancing measures for polling stations and Elections Canada offices.
- The capacity of the existing vote-by-mail system.
- How to recruit, train and keep election workers safe.
- Identifying alternative options for polling station locations that may become unavailable due to COVID-19.
“The working group will consider potential legal, administrative and operational changes in order to deliver an accessible and safe election,” according to Elections Canada’s website.
Normally, a fixed election date means an election is held every four years, but with a minority government, an election could occur at any time the House loses confidence in the government.
Put government ‘out of its misery’: O’Toole
Conservative MP and leadership candidate Erin O’Toole on Wednesday called the Liberal government “tired, scandal-plagued and ethically challenged” and said it needs “to be put out of its misery.”
“Once I’m leader I’ll be working with all the parties to see what we can do to get Canada back on track, and to show a lack of confidence. But I’m going to wait until the end of my race and take time to consult with my caucus before I do anything,” he said during media scrums on Parliament Hill.
In an email statement, Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay’s campaign said Canadians are “fed up with the unethical behaviour” of the Liberal government but MacKay’s primary focus right now is on winning the leadership race.
“In a minority Parliament, we must be ready for an election at any time and Mr. MacKay will be ready to lead a united Conservative team on day one,” the statement reads.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the Liberals will always be ready for an election when the time comes, but said health and safety is the top concern for Canadians right now.
“I’m not concerned about threats,” he said.
NDP MP Charlie Angus accused Blanchet of throwing a “hissy fit” and said Canadians want the opposition parties to press the government to do what’s best for Canadians.
“I want to get accountability from these guys. That’s our focus right now,” he said.
Blanchet’s remarks come as the House of Commons holds a rare summer sitting to debate the government’s response to COVID-19.
The finance committee on Wednesday continued its probe into the government’s selection of WE Charity to manage a $900-million student volunteer grant program. Trudeau and others have maintained the public service had deemed the organization the only one qualified to run the large-scale initiative.
Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Small Business Minister Mary Ng both appeared at the committee on Wednesday, and said they were not clear on the details of the parties named in the WE contract.
That agreement was with a separate charitable entity within the WE organization, the WE Charity Foundation, which has no assets. The WE organization said this was done “to protect the pre-existing charitable assets of WE Charity from liabilities.”
Qualtrough and Ng both said they were unaware of this fact when cabinet approved the contract.
“I, for example, know the contribution agreement was signed, I think it was June 23, did not know at that time who the actual legal entity that we were entering into an agreement for,” Qualtrough said. “But I wouldn’t. It wasn’t my file.”
Ng offered a similar answer.
“We had approved the recommendation put forward to cabinet and by my colleague-minister, and understood it would be WE Charity that would deliver this program,” she said.
On Tuesday, Qualtrough testified at the House ethics committee, which is also studying the WE Charity issue, and conceded the government had “dropped the ball.” She said she offered “no excuse or justification” for Trudeau and Morneau’s roles in the resulting controversy.
Trudeau on Tuesday issued a statement saying he has full confidence in Morneau, saying any reports to the contrary are false. The statement was released amid speculation that the finance minister could depart the post.