Globe editorial: Justin Trudeau put Parliament into lockdown. The BQ is reminding us that it still matters

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Globe editorial: Justin Trudeau put Parliament into lockdown. The BQ is reminding us that it still matters

Calling on a prime minister to resign is always a dicey proposition for the leader of an opposition party.

Do it, and you’re on the hook when the prime minister inevitably ignores your request that he ruin his political career “for the sake of the country.”

It looks weak when it fails, which is every time, and it can also look ill-judged. A measure as drastic as resignation should reflect the severity of the justification for calling for it. It can’t be trotted out every time a scandal breaks without becoming meaningless.

The truth is, if a prime minister actually committed a misdeed heinous enough to merit his or her resignation, no one on the opposition benches would need to demand that it happen. There would be enough torsion energy coming from the public, and from within the PM’s own party, to load and fire the catapult.

The resignation issue came up last week when Yves-François Blanchet, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, called for the heads of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, based on their poor (but not resignation-worthy, in our opinion) judgment in the WE Charity scandal. For good measure, he also demanded the resignation of Katie Telford, Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff. (Mr. Morneau announced his resignation late Monday over an unrelated issue.)

Had Mr. Blanchet left it at that, no one would be talking about it this week. But he went a step further and vowed that he will attempt to trigger a general election this fall if his daring triple-resignation manoeuvre is rebuffed.

Given the historically low success rate of opposition leaders’ calls for resignations, Mr. Blanchet has now committed himself to tabling a no-confidence motion when the House resumes.

There’s no other way around it. The chances of Mr. Trudeau, his Finance Minister and his chief of staff resigning en masse over the WE Charity scandal were zero, and Mr. Blanchet knew it. If he wasn’t grandstanding, he should begin drafting his no-confidence motion immediately. Why procrastinate?

The reason Mr. Blanchet has decided to go this route isn’t exactly self-evident. For starters, it seems unlikely that another party would team up with the BQ this fall in order to give them the required votes to pass the motion.

The motion is a non-starter without the Conservatives, but the Official Opposition will still be breaking in a new party leader and probably won’t be eager to test the electoral waters so quickly. The NDP is low on funds and not in a solid position to campaign.

The most recent polling isn’t favourable, either. The Liberals are still leading all parties. If an election were called, Mr. Blanchet could see his attempt to dethrone the Prime Minister result in Mr. Trudeau winning a new mandate.

In spite of the weirdness of it, there is an upside to Mr. Blanchet’s gambit. In a likely unintended way, the leader of a party dedicated to Quebec independence has done a favour to Canadian democracy, by reminding voters that Mr. Trudeau leads a minority government, and that Parliament isn’t some vestigial memory of the Before Times.

Parliament, you say? What’s that?

It’s that institution in Ottawa that the Liberals have sidelined during the COVID-19 crisis.

Thanks to a Liberal motion supported by the NDP and the BQ, the House of Commons has been adjourned since March, except for emergency sessions to pass pandemic-related spending bills. Mr. Trudeau spent most of the crisis running the country by press conference outside his residence, free from the scrutiny of the House of Commons.

The only sop to accountability was a short-lived special COVID-19 committee that sat mostly by remote video technology. Opposition members were only allowed to ask questions about the pandemic; all other subjects were banned.

In short, the Liberals reduced Canada’s chief democratic institution to bystander status during the greatest public-health and economic emergency of modern times. And they did it with a minority government.

That’s just wrong. The Trudeau government has taken advantage of this crisis to rule as if it held a majority in Parliament. Mr. Blanchet’s threat of a no-confidence motion serves as an unexpected antidote to that, by reminding Canadian voters that this Prime Minister still has to answer to Parliament, and that the interests of our democracy come ahead of those of the Liberal Party.

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Globe editorial: Justin Trudeau put Parliament into lockdown. The BQ is reminding us that it still matters