Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is facing accusations that his decision to prorogue parliament is little more than an attempt to cover up an ethics scandal – and walk away from his duties during a pivotal moment in the pandemic.
On Tuesday afternoon, Trudeau asked Julie Payette, governor general, to prematurely end the current parliamentary session. He vowed to resume on 23 September with a speech from the throne, followed by a confidence vote.
The move to “reset” the government because of Covid comes amid committee investigations into the WE charity affair, in which Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau face accusations of an improper financial relationship with the international development organization. Both men have apologized for not recusing themselves amid apparent conflicts of interest.
Prorogation will suspend all government business, including the investigation.
The Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, called Trudeau “spineless” and said the prime minister is “walking out on Canadians in the middle of a major health and economic crisis, in a disgusting attempt to make Canadians forget about his [alleged] corruption”.
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democrats, also questioned the timing of Trudeau’s decision.
“Shutting down parliament in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis, with a planned sitting next week and committees working hard to get answers and solutions for Canadians is wrong,” he tweeted.
The timing of prorogation is questionable even beyond the WE affair, Singh pointed out.
With Cerb – Canada’s $2,000-a-month emergency citizen relief benefit – ending 26 September, and with schools returning to class in the coming weeks, the country is at a particularly volatile point of its pandemic recovery.
In a news conference Tuesday, Trudeau attempted to put a positive spin on the move, saying his government would use the five weeks between now and the throne speech to reset the Liberal agenda.
“We are taking a moment to recognize that the throne speech we delivered eight months ago made no mention of Covid-19, had no conception of the reality we find ourselves in right now,” he told journalists in Ottawa.
He said his minority government would put together a new ambitious plan that took the pandemic into consideration.
In a question-and-answer period with the media, he hammered home his intentions to deliver a green post-pandemic economic recovery plan. He will also be expected to reveal details of how his government will support Canadians left unemployed and underemployed by Covid.
Prorogation, however, is a politically risky move no matter what he unveils in September.
It has been wielded by previous prime ministers, including Stephen Harper and Jean Chrétien, to avoid scrutiny of various financial and geopolitical scandals.
Ahead of the 2015 federal election, the Liberals promised to never use the measure to “avoid difficult political circumstances”.