Photo: The Canadian PressFinance Minister Bill Morneau addresses the media at a press conference in Toronto on Friday, July 17, 2020.
Opposition conservatives accused the Liberal government of corruption or ignorance on Monday as they demanded more responses around a decision to hand control of a major student scholarship program to a long-linked organization. date to the Trudeau family.
The House of Commons was sitting to pass a new bill to expand the wage subsidy program, send a special COVID-19 supplement to people with disabilities, and extend legal deadlines for court cases.
If these measures were to be adopted on Tuesday with the support of all opposition parties, the same collegial spirit did not extend to question period.
The main line of inquiry there was about the Liberal government’s decision to put WE Charity in charge of a $ 900 million student employment program.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mother, in particular, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for attending WE events, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughter works for a branch of the WE organization.
The organization returned the program to the government. Trudeau and Morneau both said they should have recused themselves from the decision.
But the international development and youth empowerment group is now coming under scrutiny for its internal practices, further fueling opposition accusations that the decision to award the contract to WE was suspicious.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on Monday highlighted a report from Canadaland that said red flags were raised in 2018 by auditors examining WE’s financial statements, as well as the fact that their board had undergone a major restructuring earlier in the year.
“Either the Liberals were aware of these issues and approved the decision again, or they were incompetent,” he said.
“It’s either corruption or incompetence, what is it?” ”
It is neither, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has replied repeatedly, reading almost verbatim a sheet of paper with the Liberals’ main argument for the current debate on the issue: that the idea to give WE the Canada Student Services Grant was brought forward by the non-partisan public service.
“The way it turned out was unfortunate and the charity will no longer administer the project,” she said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the government’s approach to WE raises the question of whether the program was ever aimed at students.
“There were many ways to help students. It wasn’t that, ”he says.
“It was a billion dollar bailout of close friends of the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister. ”
The House of Commons had been recalled to adopt the latest round of COVID-19 measures.
The Liberals want to extend the wage subsidy program until December and see its criteria relaxed so more businesses can reopen and employ workers.
The original program covered 75 percent of salaries, up to a weekly maximum of $ 847, for qualifying businesses and nonprofits. Companies must have posted a 30 percent drop in revenue.
The proposed changes will see the program pay on a sliding scale based on revenue declines due to the pandemic, with the hardest hit businesses eligible for a 25% increase from the previous maximum payment.
The disability payment measures in the bill would provide up to $ 600 in a single payment to some Canadians with disabilities to cover the costs of COVID-19.
The Liberals had sought to pass this measure into a bill last month, but failed to obtain unanimous consent due to opposition concerns about other elements of the bill.
Originally, payment was limited to those who received the disability tax credit, but the new bill establishes broader criteria to include, among others, veterans who are currently receiving personal supports. with disabilities.
Singh said getting disability benefits to many more Canadians was a victory for his party and why the NDP would support the new bill.
“It is still not enough and we will continue to fight,” he told reporters afterwards.
The Conservatives have said they also support measures for people with disabilities, but the new wage subsidy plan is too complicated and they want the government to simplify it.
Still, they intend to support the bill, having won their own concessions: getting two days of debate instead of one, and at the same time guaranteeing the possibility for the Commons committee on Canada-China relations to also sit. as a public safety committee.
Tuesday’s session also gives the Conservatives a chance to do something else they hoped to accomplish on Monday but couldn’t do: put pressure on the prime minister himself.
Trudeau took the day off on Monday and the Conservatives hinted that he was skipping questions on WE.
He is expected to attend Tuesday’s sitting, as well as the COVID-19 Special Committee of Deputies, which is due to meet on Wednesday.
One lingering question is whether Trudeau will also appear at the House of Commons Finance Committee, where MPs want to grill him on the United States question.
Scheer said Liberal MPs should also question their boss’s support going forward.
“If they allow him to continue, if they don’t demand his resignation, they tell Canadians they are comfortable with his corruption,” Scheer said.