Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to prorogue Parliament, promising to come back with a new throne speech next month to reset his Liberal government’s agenda in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trudeau announced Parliament will return Sept. 23, which is two days after the House of Commons was initially scheduled to resume sitting after having reduced operations this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move will reset the legislative agenda, shutting down committees — along with their probes of the WE Charity controversy — and clearing away any unfinished work or bills left on the order paper.
Trudeau says the pandemic has created the need for a long-term plan for recovery, and says the throne speech will be a roadmap to rebuilding the economy and address fundamental inequities in society that were laid bare by the pandemic and shutdown.
The move comes less than 24 hours after Bill Morneau announced his resignation as finance minister and as Liberal MP for Toronto Centre. A mini-cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall Tuesday afternoon saw Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland appointed Canada’s finance minister, the first woman named to the high-profile post.
Freeland will continue serving as deputy prime minister in addition to taking on finance, but New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc will take over from her in the intergovernmental affairs portfolio — a job he held during the Liberal government’s previous mandate.
Trudeau says the throne speech delivered eight months ago had no inkling that a pandemic would cause a global economic crisis, and a new speech is needed to offer a long-term plan for rebuilding.
The throne speech will also prompt a confidence vote, which will offer an opportunity for opposition parties to test their plan in the House of Commons, Trudeau said.
Trudeau said he “absolutely” plans to fight the next election as Liberal leader.
The Conservatives are set to reveal the winner of their leadership race this weekend.
Trudeau also says his Liberal government will release thousands of pages of documents related to the WE controversy that had been turned over to the House of Commons finance committee.
That committee demanded the documents as part of its investigation into whether Trudeau’s relationship with WE Charity influenced the government’s ill-fated decision to have the organization run a federal student-volunteer program.
Both Morneau and Trudeau are facing investigations by the federal ethics commissioner for not recusing themselves in the WE Charity deal, given their close family ties to the organization.
As the minister of finance, Freeland will help shepherd the government through the biggest economic recovery since the Great Depression. The government has not yet tabled a 2020 budget, because plans to do so in March were upended by the pandemic.
A fiscal snapshot released in July was a bare-bones look at the pandemic relief programs thus far, but provided few details about how the government intends to move out of the crisis.
That plan will come in the throne speech and either a fall economic statement or a budget, which Trudeau is looking now to bring in this fall. A cabinet retreat is scheduled for Sept. 14.
Earlier Tuesday, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said Morneau was just taking the fall for the government and that Trudeau is the one who should resign.
Poilievre said he did not have hope that Freeland replacing Morneau would mark a change in policy or direction for the Liberals.
“Regardless, though, of how you play musical chairs, we still have the same corrupt and incompetent prime minister ahead of the same corrupt and chaotic government.”
Poilievre sidestepped questions about whether the Tories would try to trigger an election this fall, saying they want to uncover the full story of the WE controversy so Canadians know all the details before they go to the polls again.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet last week said he would bring a non-confidence vote himself if Trudeau, Morneau and Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford do not all resign. He said Tuesday a throne speech could just make doing so easier, though he also left the door open to supporting it.
Speaking to his MPs at a caucus retreat in Bonaventure, Que., Blanchet said the party would vote against a throne speech if it does not contain greater health transfers to the provinces, substantially more help for Quebec seniors, and aid to agricultural producers in supply-managed sectors.
The New Democrats have been using their position in the minority Parliament to help Trudeau’s Liberals pass emergency aid legislation, while negotiating changes. The NDP are now asking for a $12-billion investment in child care, including an immediate $2 billion investment so parents — particularly mothers — can go back to work.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says this will remain the NDP’s focus — for now.
“If the Liberal government continues to focus on helping their close friends instead of helping people … then we’ll have to look at all options,” he said Tuesday in Vancouver.
Morneau insisted his decision to leave was based strictly on the fact that he doesn’t intend to run for re-election and his belief that the finance minister must be someone around for the long, hard road to recovery ahead.
He said he intends to run to be the next secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Both Trudeau and Morneau have close family ties to the WE organization have apologized for not recusing themselves from the decision to select WE Charity to administer the multimillion-dollar program. WE backed out of the deal in early July, citing the controversy.
Morneau compounded the controversy by revealing WE Charity had paid over $41,000 in expenses for family trips to see its humanitarian projects in Ecuador and Kenya. Morneau repaid the charity just hours before disclosing the trips during testimony before the Commons finance committee last month.
The federal ethics watchdog’s investigation into whether Morneau violated the Conflict of Interest Act will continue despite his decision to quit.
The Canadian Press