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

Lake Country looks at big-ticket projects

Bottom Wood Lake Road construction are the biggest investments

Police outside a home on Leathead Road on Monday evening. (Jen Zielinski - Black Press Media)
Police presence at home near Ben Lee Park in Rutland

Several RCMP cruisers are on scene; Leathead closed between Franklyn and Hollywood

Hillview Elementary students Emma Li and Mina Nadeau were awarded by the Premier’s office for winning the annual holiday card contest. (Karen Rogers photo)
Vernon students’ art featured on Premier’s cards

Hillview youth chosen for annual holiday card contest

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
253 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths in Interior Health over the weekend

More than 1,000 cases in the region remain active

Sunnybank
COVID-19 related deaths at Oliver, West Kelowna and Vernon senior care homes

Sunnybank, Heritage Retirement Residence and Noric House recorded deaths over the weekend

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

Interior Health confirms vaccination of priority populations has begun in Salmon Arm. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccinations underway in Salmon Arm

Interior Health confirms vaccination of priority populations has begun

This is the location, 3240 Skaha Lake Road, of where BC Housing plans to build a four storey supportive housing project for the homeless and at risk of being homeless. (Jesse Day Western News)
Penticton mayor and MLA concerned about new BC Housing project

‘Penticton already has its fair share’ of BC Housing projects

Interior Health declared the COVID-19 outbreak at McKinney Place long term care home over Monday, Jan. 18, 2020. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at McKinney Place care home declared over

‘This has been one of our most challenging outbreaks so far,’ says chief medical health officer

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Penticton Bylaw officer Glenn Smith, as well as resident Zak Laycock (not pictured), received the Governor General Award from the Royal Canadian Humane Association to recognize their heroism in a summer 2019 incident. (Contributed)
Bylaw officer and Penticton resident given awards for intervening in sexual assault

Bylaw officer Glenn Smith said he was simply in the right place at the right time

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

Most Read