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This article was published 27/10/2020 (324 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
During the stressful and uncertain time that has been created by the ongoing global pandemic, there are many once-commonplace activities and expectations that have necessarily been set aside to allow us — the public, health-care professionals and policy-makers alike — to focus on the most urgent matters at hand.
Government accountability, however, is not among the things that should afforded a COVID-19-induced timeout.
Recent behaviour by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, had begun to indicate it was developing an irksome inclination to use the current health emergency, and an associated presumption that action is more important than accountability, as convenient cover for running roughshod over traditional norms of parliamentary procedure and obligations.
That, in addition to last week’s alarming display of political brinksmanship involving a threat to force a snap election by casting a routine procedural matter as a confidence-vote test of the minority government, set the stage for a rare Commons moment this week that saw all four opposition parties throw their support behind a Conservative Party motion forcing the Liberals to turn over documents related to the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
The motion, to which several Liberal cabinet ministers voiced objection on the grounds it could compromise proprietary contractual information and therefore endanger Canada’s ability to acquire a COVID-19 vaccine, calls for the Commons health committee to conduct a wide-ranging study of the Liberal government’s pandemic response, including questions related to the eventual procurement of a vaccine.
Government officials, as well as representatives of some companies involved in development and supply of pandemic-related equipment and pharmaceuticals, said releasing information related to individual contracts could disclose sensitive details that are usually safeguarded as part of the contract-negotiation process.
Liberals face probe into pandemic responseClick to Expand
Posted: 5:06 PM Oct. 26, 2020
OTTAWA - Opposition parties won their bid Monday to launch a probe of the Liberals' handling of the COVID-19 pandemic following a week of parliamentary turbulence over how to review their management of the crisis.
MPs from all four opposition parties voted to pass a motion that orders the Trudeau government to turn over to the House of Commons health committee all records on a raft of issues related to the coronavirus response.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who introduced the motion, dismissed the Liberals’ concerns as hyperbole and "complete garbage."
While there is some merit to the Liberals’ assertion that demanding an in-depth examination of pandemic-related responses while the country is in the grips of a second COVID-19 wave will add a significant burden to a civil service already buckling under an unmanageable workload, one can’t blame the combined-force opposition for having decided enough is enough when it comes to the government using the health emergency as a shield for its continued shirking of public accountability.
With the Conservatives having built into their motion a recognition that proprietary information must be protected and a demand that the House of Commons law clerk redact information that might compromise personal privacy, national security or information that could interfere with negotations between the government and third-party suppliers, there’s little basis left on which the ruling party should object to the probe.
If nothing else, this week’s en-masse opposition vote to force the Liberals’ hand demonstrates that Mr. Trudeau’s path for navigating a minority Parliament has been narrowed. Newly elected Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole has stated in no uncertain terms that he intends his party to be active and confrontational in its role, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made clear last week that his patience for Mr. Trudeau’s snap-election gamesmanship has already worn thin.
What’s left, it seems, is for the Liberals to make a considered shift toward more conventional openness and accountability. That, or continue with tactics that lead to their government’s fall and have pandemic-weary Canadians decide what electoral price they should pay in the aftermath.