Liberals Win Two Crucial By-Elections, Prepare to Face Probe Into Government’s Pandemic Response
Former broadcaster Marci Ien, pictured above, secured a crucial by-election win for the Liberals in the Toronto Centre riding. Photo: The Canadian Press/Chris Young
The Liberal government scored crucial by-election wins in two Toronto ridings last night, shoring up their minority government that has come under heated attack by the opposition.
In Toronto Centre, the Liberal candidate, former broadcaster Marci Ien, held off a spirited challenge from Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, before winning by over 2,000 votes. The seat, which was formerly held by ex-Finance Minister Bill Morneau – who resigned in the wake of the WE Charity scandal – was considered one of the safest Liberal seats in the country.
And in York Centre, a back-and-forth race ended with Liberal candidate Ya’ara Saks coming out on top fending off a stiff challenge from Conservative Julius Tiangson.
Deciphering the Results
The results of last night propel two more women into the House of Commons, bringing the total of female MPs to an even 100 – the highest number in Canadian federal history. And Ien, who is Black, adds another diverse voice to the political landscape.
Beyond that notable achievement, a by-election is often portrayed as a bell-weather on how well the governing party is doing in the minds of voters.
The Liberals will promote these two victories as clear signs that voters are endorsing the government’s handling of COVID-19 health and economic crisis.
But because the margin of victory was much narrower than the last election, Conservative leader Erin O’Tool is touting the closeness of both races as a sign that support for the government is waning.
Government to Face Pandemic Probe
Either way, the Liberals will need all hands on deck in the upcoming weeks as the party faces a Parliamentary investigation into the billions it has spent fighting COVID-19 since last spring.
On Monday, the opposition parties showed a rare display of anti-government unity by joining forces to pass a motion (by a vote of 176 to 152) that will force a probe that will look into the way the Liberals have handled all aspects of the pandemic response.
The motion, which is being dubbed the Pandemic Probe, was led by Conservative Health Critic Michelle Rempel Garner. It will call on the Liberals to hand over key documents, emails and memoranda from various government ministries and agencies by Nov. 30.
A committee will study these documents to “evaluate, review and examine” a lengthy and far-reaching list of of issues all related to the Liberal government’s response to COVID-19, including: rapid at-home testing, vaccine development, long-term care health protocols as well as the Public Health Agency of Canada’s communication strategy.
Like the by-election, the motion can be interpreted two ways. Either it’s an important opportunity for the opposition to delve into the Liberal handling of the pandemic and hold them to public account. Or it’s a bald attempt to embarrass the government for the often hasty, difficult and unintentionally misguided decisions that were made in the heat of the crisis.
The Liberals are suggesting that the Conservatives are playing partisan games at a time when the government should be focussed on getting the country through this health and economic crisis.
“I think we can all rise above the partisan attacks and understand that all of us are working really hard to ensure that we get Canadians through the worst pandemic in a century,” said Health Minister Patty Hajdu during the House of Commons debate on the motion.
However, Rempel Garner (who is in the midst of a lively Twitter feud with Hajdu after the Health Minister was photographed not wearing a mask at an airport lounge) told reporters that the Liberal opposition to the pandemic probe suggests the government has something to hide.
“Liberal MPs will have a choice to make, between covering up the truth, or being transparent with Canadians,” said Rempel Garner. “I sincerely hope that all parties can agree that Canadians deserve to know how their government is managing a health crisis.”
The return of this political bickering is a clear sign that the spirit of unity and collaboration that defined Parliament in the early days of the battle against the pandemic is well and truly over.
The renewed rancour will undoubtedly distract Parliament from addressing the burgeoning health and economic crises that this country is facing.
And, if the probe unearths information that raises serious questions about the government’s handling of the pandemic, it could ultimately trigger another election, an outcome borne of petty squabbling that will surely test the patience of the Canadian public.