Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. Opposition parties are poised to approve a parliamentary probe of the Trudeau government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic despite growing objections from industry and experts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. Opposition parties are poised to approve a parliamentary probe of the Trudeau government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic despite growing objections from industry and experts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Liberals face probe into pandemic response after losing House vote

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner accused the Liberals of trying to trigger an election

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.

The move by Conservative, Bloc Québécois, New Democrat and Green MPs, plus one Independent, comes five days after the government survived a confidence vote on a previous Conservative motion that would have created a special committee to investigate the WE Charity affair and other alleged examples of corruption.

The more recent motion zooms out from the WE controversy to focus more broadly on Ottawa’s reaction to COVID-19, but the probe can still examine documents tied to the embattled charity.

Canada’s procurement minister warned that an investigation would jeopardize federal contracts for personal protective equipment, vaccines and rapid test kits, as it could trigger the release of commercially sensitive information, scaring off manufacturers and drug companies that would otherwise do business with Ottawa, Anita Anand said.

“It’s not just a question of violating existing contacts that, for example, may have confidentiality clauses in them; it’s also a question of undermining current negotiations,” she said at a news conference.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called the warning “utterly false” given the carve-outs for matters of national security, personal privacy and commercial sensitivities.

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner accused the Liberals of trying to trigger an election, though the government followed through on its pledge not to treat the motion as a confidence matter.

The stakes were markedly lower than last week, when a somewhat similar Conservative motion to probe alleged Liberal corruption was defeated after political brinkmanship resulted in a confidence vote that corralled the New Democrats into backing the Liberals to avoid sending Canadians to the polls.

READ MORE: Liberals warn PPE contracts would be jeopardized by probe of pandemic response

Pfizer Canada was the latest company to express concerns about the probe, asking how the pharmaceutical giant’s commercial secrets will be protected.

In a letter to a senior Health Canada official obtained by The Canadian Press, Pfizer Canada president Cole Pinnow said his company has questions about a requirement in the motion that the government produce documents related to the production and purchase of a vaccine for COVID-19.

He went on to say that while the company is seeking legal advice, it wants to hear from Health Canada what process will be used to vet sensitive information before it is released to the committee.

Anand cautioned that the House of Commons law clerk “wouldn’t have the necessary expertise in procurement” to properly redact records that would surface through the probe. “And yet the law clerk will be the one making all decisions regarding redaction,” she said in French.

Rempel Garner responded that the government was “proactively calling pharmaceutical companies and fearmongering” over the weekend.

The role of the law clerk, whom she said the Liberals were “attacking,” is precisely to ensure that sensitive information is not released unduly, Rempel Garner said.

The New Democrats and Bloc Québécois have insisted there is sufficient protection for industry while accusing the Liberals of stoking fears.

Separately on Monday, New Democrats and Liberals seemed prepared to compromise on a different path for the government to turn over documents about the WE controversy, before a committee vote unexpectedly killed the move.

The Liberal government has gone through months of political turbulence over an agreement that would have seen WE Charity manage a multimillion-dollar grant program for students who volunteered during the pandemic, which has since been cancelled.

Multiple members of the Trudeau family, particularly the prime minister’s mother and brother, have been paid fees to appear at events for the charity launched by Toronto’s Craig and Marc Kielburger.

NDP and Liberal MPs on the House of Commons ethics committee voted for a compromise amendment from NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus. It narrowed a request for Trudeau family speaking records to only those pertaining to the prime minister and his wife, excluding his mother and brother. But a final vote on the amended motion failed 4-5 after Bloc MP Julie Vignola opposed it.

Bloc Québécois House leader Alain Therrien later said in French that Vignola cast her vote against the motion due to a “translation problem.”

The NDP wasn’t buying it.

Angus said he felt “gobsmacked” and “very frustrated,” calling the Bloc’s translation explanation “ridiculous.”

“They voted to kill this investigation into the prime minister,” Angus said in a phone interview.

“I don’t think we’re going to get those documents now,” he added.

Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett, who put forward the failed motion, said in an email the Liberals “will do everything they can to hide the arrogance and entitlement of this prime minister.”

Christopher Reynolds and Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusLiberals

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

Just Posted

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Suspect tries to thwart police in Abbotsford with false 911 call about men with guns

Man twice sped away from officers and then tried to throw them off his trail

Phyllis Stenson, a mainstay of the local arts scene and the Harrison Festival of the Arts, passed away earlier this month. Stenson was crucial in setting up the foundation for relationships, funding and more that continue even now to echo well past her retirement in 2013. (Contributed Photo/Harrison Festival Society)
Harrison Festival, Fraser Valley arts icon Phyllis Stenson mourned

Stenson passed away in late November, leaving lasting legacy of passion for the arts behind

The Mission Christmas Bureau will run from Dec. 7-18. The bureau’s Wish Campaign has a long way to go to reach the $110,000 fundraising goal. / Submitted Photo
VIDEOS: Mission Christmas Bureau a long way from fundraising goal

This year the needs within the community are greater than ever due to Covid-19

The westbound lanes of Highway 1 between Clearbrook and McCallum roads were closed to traffic Wednesday morning after a fatal collision involving a pedestrian.
Pedestrian dies after being struck by vehicle on Highway 1 in Abbotsford

Collision takes place early Wednesday morning between Clearbrook and McCallum roads

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

Most Read