Deputy Conservative Leader Candice Bergen accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of “acting in a dictatorial way” Tuesday by moving to fast-track legislation for new COVID-19 aid programs, despite his earlier decision to prorogue Parliament for nearly six weeks.
Trudeau, in turn, accused the Tories of playing “petty politics” during a crisis.
Watch the exchange:
The exchange took place in question period, shortly after Liberals revealed they will treat the vote over Bill C-4 — which seeks to replace the recently expired Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) with three new benefits and a revamped employment insurance system — as a confidence measure. New Democrats have already said they will support the legislation after Liberals boosted proposed benefits to match the $500-per-week CERB and expand access for paid sick leave.
Bergen accused Liberals of “ramming through bills” without proper consultation or debate since the spring. “Today, debate is being shut down again on another piece of legislation that could help Canadians but probably will be very flawed,” she said. “So why won’t the prime minister let us do our job?”
Bergen was referring to the Liberal push to move the legislation through all three stages of debate in the House of Commons in a day. Liberals and NDP MPs voted earlier Tuesday to end debate over a motion from Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez to limit discussion of the bill to less than five hours. The House of Commons is expected to vote on Rodriguez’s motion and the government’s legislation, which includes billions in new spending, late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.
UPDATE - Sept. 30, 2020: Bill C-4 passed the House unanimously in the early hours of Sept. 30, by a vote of 306-0.
Trudeau cast his memory back to the unprecedented challenge the country faced in the spring, when MPs of different partisan stripes came together to pass legislation quickly to help millions of Canadians who had abruptly lost their jobs.
“We’re in a second wave right now, Mr. Speaker, and while the opposition is playing politics, we continue to focus on delivering for Canadians the help they need because we’ll have their back,” he said.
“We could have debated this legislation for six weeks but the back the prime minister had was his own when he shut down Parliament to cover up for the WE scandal,” Bergen said. “So we’ll take no lessons from the prime minister on playing political games.”
Trudeau’s decision to ask for the suspension of Parliament in August — something he said was needed to plan a new throne speech reflecting the COVID-19 crisis — also paused several committees investigating the WE Charity scandal dogging his government.
Bergen accused Trudeau of putting his own interests ahead of Canadians and democracy. “The prime minister is acting in a dictatorial way, and he’s doing this primarily to avoid accountability and to cover up his own scandal,” she said.
“We are facing a second wave of the pandemic right across the country and the Conservatives continue to want to talk about the WE Charity.”
The prime minister fired back with a suggestion that Tories had the wrong priorities.
“We are facing a second wave of the pandemic right across the country and the Conservatives continue to want to talk about the WE Charity,” he said. “We are focused, on this side of the House, on the pandemic. We are focused on delivering for Canadians.”
Tory House Leader Gerard Deltell also made a point of quoting former Liberal government whip Andrew Leslie, a retired general who did not run again in the 2019 election. Leslie tweeted Monday night that he wondered what the great prime ministers of the past — Britain’s Winston Churchill or William Lyon Mackenzie King — might think about the government’s moves to limit debate.
Trudeau reiterated that Liberals have worked across the aisle to get support to Canadians and again accused Conservatives of playing political games. He then pivoted to ask Canadians to download the government’s COVID alert app.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who is nearing the end of his isolation after contracting COVID-19, is expected to return to the House this week for his much anticipated first showdown with Trudeau as party boss.
With a file from The Canadian Press