Trudeau Dares Opposition to Fight Election Amid Pandemic

Justin Trudeau warned opposition lawmakers they will trigger an election in Canada if they approve the creation of an “anti-corruption” committee.

The prime minister’s tough talk Tuesday comes as his Liberal government, which lacks a majority in parliament, pushes back against an effort by the main rival Conservative Party to launch an investigation into an ethics scandal.

Trudeau Dares Opposition to Fight Election Amid Pandemic

“The Conservatives put forward a motion that clearly outlines their lack of confidence in the government,” Trudeau told reporters. “The opposition is going to have to decide if they want to make this minority parliament work or whether they have lost confidence in the government.”

The opposition accuses the Liberals of misusing public funds in awarding a C$900 million ($686 million) contract to administer a coronavirus grant program for students to a charity with ties to Trudeau’s family and that of his former finance minister.

Earlier Tuesday, the Conservatives amended their proposal, adding language that attempts to specify there would be no need to call an election if it is passed. The party’s aim is merely to examine “ethical problems the Liberal government has had handing out Covid-19 contracts to its friends,” Leader Erin O’Toole said in an emailed statement.

Changes to the committee name failed to sway the Liberals, who declared the issue a matter of confidence. A vote is scheduled for Wednesday. If the Conservative motion passes, Canada would head to the polls this fall as a second wave of Covid-19 hits its major cities.

Trudeau Dares Opposition to Fight Election Amid Pandemic

The separatist Bloc Quebecois said Tuesday afternoon it would back the push for a committee investigation. That leaves it up to the left-leaning New Democratic Party to determine the government’s fate.

Leader Jagmeet Singh didn’t indicate which way he would vote, adding that all parties are in talks over the shape of a committee probe into the government’s Covid-19 spending measures. “It has never been my goal to force an election,” he told reporters outside the legislature.

The NDP propped up the Liberals this month in a confidence vote on Trudeau’s broad legislative agenda, but only after persuading the government to sweeten support programs for struggling workers.

Majority in Play

The prime minister has effectively painted the opposition into a corner. Seat projections maintained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s polling analyst show the Liberals would potentially win back the majority they lost last year were an election held today.

Trudeau nonetheless said his government has no desire to send Canadians to the ballot box again.

“Nobody wants elections,” the prime minister said. “People want to continue to have their government focused on helping them in their jobs, helping them in this health crisis and that’s what we will continue to concentrate on.”

Singh wasn’t buying that.

“It looks like the prime minister is trying to find a way to force an election, but he wants to blame the opposition,” the NDP leader said. “He should have the courage to explain to Canadians why he wants an election.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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