The leader of the Bloc Quebecois said Wednesday his party will force a confidence vote against the Liberal government this fall unless Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his finance minister and his chief of staff resign.
But the New Democrats don’t seem ready to back the effort and with 24 MPs, they have enough seats in the House of Commons to be the deciding factor in whether Canada moves toward a fall election in the middle of a pandemic.
Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet first made his threat Wednesday morning before a planned sitting of the hybrid House of Commons in Ottawa. He reiterated it later in the Commons, expressing disgust Trudeau hadn’t even bothered to show up.
Trudeau is on a two-week summer vacation with his family. Blanchet said in French that he was also on vacation but chose to end it in time to be able to attend, and that Trudeau’s absence sealed the deal on pushing for a fall election.
“We have to ask, is this government still worthy of our confidence and they just gave us the answer,” Blanchet said in French, before storming out of the chamber in a dramatic huff.
Blanchet earlier told reporters the revelations around the WE Charity controversy – as well as new details about a contract for the commercial rent-relief program that went to a company employing Chief of Staff Katie Telford’s husband – prove the Liberal government is no longer trustworthy.
Blanchet said even though the country is still grappling with COVID-19, keeping people in office who are “mismanaging” the government would be more dangerous than sending Canadians to the polls in a pandemic.
He said that’s why he is issuing an ultimatum to Trudeau, Telford and Morneau – quit or he will move a motion of non-confidence this fall. He said he had not yet consulted the other opposition leaders to see if he has the support he needs to outvote the Liberals and any MPs who decide to keep the minority government alive.
New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a written statement Wednesday that the government can earn confidence by working with the NDP to fix employment insurance and improve child care so people can go back to work.
“Those are the things we will be fighting for and be looking for as we continue to try to make Parliament work,” he said. “Just like we have been throughout the minority Parliament.”
While both the Conservatives and Bloc focused their opening questions of ministers on the WE controversy, the rent-relief issue or other ethical concerns, Singh began with a question about when Canadians will get all the details about what will happen when the emergency relief benefit ends later this month.
The government’s plan is to transfer those on CERB to employment insurance, as well as caregiver and sick leave benefits. Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said the details will be coming very soon.
The meeting opened with expressions of solidarity and a moment of silence for the victims of the Lebanon explosion, but as soon as that was behind them, tensions rose and opposition parties and the government began attacking each other.
Trudeau and Morneau are under investigation by the federal ethics watchdog for possible conflicts of interest arising from the government’s decision to hand administration of a student grant program to WE Charity.
Both Trudeau and Morneau have close family connections to WE Charity and have apologized for not recusing themselves from the decision to give it the student grant contract.
Trudeau’s office points out that the prime minister has already testified at length about the controversy before the Commons finance committee, as have Morneau, other ministers and senior bureaucrats.
Morneau attended the House of Commons sitting virtually and responded to a question from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer about his political future by saying the government will remain focused on the needs of Canadians in the pandemic.
Wednesday marked Scheer’s final day in the House of Commons as his party’s leader. His successor will be named later this month before the next sitting.
The chamber normally does not sit at all during the summer. Under special procedural rules adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government agreed to have the Commons sit twice in July and twice in August. A confidence vote is not possible during the special committee period.
The House of Commons is currently supposed to resume in full on Sept. 21, which would be Blanchet’s first expected opportunity to raise a motion of non-confidence.