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Canadian Parliament To Prorogue, Reset Following Finance Minister Resignation

In a dizzying 24 hours of Canadian political news, Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, has resigned following reports of disunity between himself and the Prime Minister, with sources blaming policy disagreements and backlash from WE Charity revelations.

  • The days most noteworthy news initially seemed to be the appointment of Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister, to the role of Minister of Finance alongside her current position.
  • However, at a press conference this afternoon, Prime Minister Trudeau announced a plan to prorogue Parliament until a throne speech in late September. This will be followed by a confidence motion in the House.
Prorogation: To discontinue a session of (a parliament, for example).

Throne Speech: The speech at the opening of each session of Parliament in which the Government outlines its legislative programme.

The Takeaway: The prorogation of Parliament will pause the legislature, just as Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer is claiming that the second wave of COVID-19 is imminent. Concern has arisen over how this will impact Canada’s ability to handle the pandemic.

  • At his press conference, the Prime Minister indicated that this pause in Parliament was necessary to design a new plan for Canada to tackle its post-pandemic recovery.

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Moving Past WE: A central question arising from the WE Charity revelations was: who will take the blame?

  • Early on, rumours circulated that Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, Bardish Chagger, whose department was in charge of awarding the $912 million WE Charity contract, might be pushed out of cabinet.
  • However, following the bombshell reports that finance minister Bill Morneau and his family had accepted an undeclared $40,000 trip to Kenya paid by WE Charity for he and his family, as well his daughter’s close ties to the organization, it became clear that Morneau would be the focus.
  • The SNC-Lavelin scandal led to resignations by 3 key Liberal figures: Cabinet Ministers Jody Wilson Raybould & Jane Philpott were removed from Cabinet and the Liberal caucus, while Principle Secretary Gerald Butts resigned from the Prime Minister’s staff.

The Resignation: At 7pm on Monday, 17th of August, Morneau stood in front of the press at a hurriedly organized press conference following a meeting with the Prime Minister and stated that it was the “appropriate” and “right” time to take a leave from politics.

  • Bill Morneau, the sole Finance Minister of Justin Trudeau’s two-terms, claimed he felt he was no longer the “appropriate person in the role” of Finance Minister.
  • He also resigned as the Member of Parliament for Toronto Center in order to put his name forward as a candidate to replace Angel Gurria as the next Secretary General of the OECD.
  • As Morneau spoke, Trudeau released a statement stating Canada would “vigorously support” Morneau’s effort to take on the role.

The Prelude: While the resignation was undoubtedly a big deal for this Liberal government, it was not unexpected, as rumors had been circulating over the last week that Trudeau had lost faith in his finance minister.

  • Following multiple reports of clashes and disunity, Trudeau took the odd step of releasing a statement expressing his full confidence in Morneau.
  • However, this past Sunday, Reuters reported that the disagreements between Trudeau and Morneau went beyond the WE Charity scandal and was being fueled by disagreements over the soaring deficit and clashes over the scope and scale of proposed green initiatives.

The Replacement: Early this morning, it was announced that Morneau would be replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland who had also previously served as foreign minister. She was sworn in this afternoon.

The Prorogation: However, the big news of the day came when it was announced that Parliament would prorogue until the end of September. This power allows the Prime Minister to bring to an end a parliamentary session without adjourning or dissolving.

  • Trudeau stated the prorogation was necessary to facilitate a new throne speech to lay out an agenda which could take into account the new reality of the pandemic.
  • In response to a journalist asking how this was different to prorogations which had taken place under Prime Minister Harper, Trudeau stated that his party’s 2019 agenda had “no conception of the reality we face right now”.

The question of whether Canada is ready for its Parliament to take a break right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic remains to be seen. Without parliament in session, policies with a sunset clause, such as the Canada Emergency Student Benefit will expire leaving hundreds of thousands of students without any pandemic relief. This also comes at a time when there are active investigations ongoing regarding ethics violations in the WE Charity sole-sourced contracts.

  • In the past, the power of prorogation was used in times of controversy, including the sponsorship scandal under Chretien in 2002 and by Stephen Harper in 2008 as a tool to avoid facing a vote of no-confidence. Only time will tell how this decision will be perceived by the public.

The Bottom Line: The resignation of Bill Morneau may serve to bring the WE Scandal back into public discourse or it may be the final act. What Canada’s plan for pandemic recovery will look like remains to be seen.

Prime Minister Trudeau has stated that he will present a new vision for building back Canada through a throne speech delivered at the end of September. This will be followed a confidence motion which will require at least one of either the Bloc Quebecois, NDP or Conservative party’s support.

  • What role this will play to distract from existing controversy remain uncertain.

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