OTTAWA — After repeatedly voting non-confidence in the minority Liberal government, the Bloc Quebecois is now calling on the government to do everything possible to avoid an election during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet will use an opposition day Thursday to debate a motion calling on the House of Commons to declare that it would be irresponsible to hold an election during the ongoing health crisis.
The motion further declares that it is the government's responsibility to do everything possible to prevent voters from being called to the polls as long as the pandemic persists.
Yet, less than three weeks ago, Bloc MPs, along with the Conservatives, voted against the Liberals' budget.
Had the NDP also voted against the budget, that would have constituted a vote of non-confidence in the government, triggering an election.
The Bloc also moved an amendment to the budget which would similarly have constituted a non-confidence vote had it passed.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has vowed that his party will not vote to trigger an election during the pandemic. Blanchet and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole have not made the same commitment and have at times mocked the NDP for propping up the government.
Blanchet's new motion is in stark contrast to the position he took last August amid controversy over the WE Charity affair. He declared then that the Bloc would move a confidence motion in the fall if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his chief of staff and his finance minister at the time, Bill Morneau, did not resign.
At the time, Blanchet argued that keeping people in office who are “mismanaging” the government would be more dangerous than sending Canadians to the polls during a pandemic.
The Bloc's new motion comes just three days after all parties gave approval in principle to a bill aimed at ensuring an election could be safely conducted, if need be, during the pandemic.
The Bloc supported moving Bill C-19 on to a committee for further scrutiny and possible amendments, but only after strenuously objecting to initial debate being cut short, with the NDP joining the Liberals to impose time allocation.
During question period Wednesday, Blanchet urged Trudeau to call an all-party meeting to study the content of the bill and find consensus on the measures needed to ensure the safety of poll workers and voters amid the pandemic. He argued that all-party consensus is preferable to "the odiousness of a gag order" to limit debate.
In response, Trudeau noted that the Bloc "voted twice in favour of an election" a few weeks ago, a reference to the budget votes. And he said opposition parties have voted 14 times to bring down the government in the past few months.
"It is he who is interested in an election. We are not interested in that," Trudeau said in French.
"No one wants an election during the pandemic but if the House ever calls an election because opposition parties vote against the government, those elections should be held safely."
Bill C-19 would apply only to an election held while the pandemic continues to rage.
Among other things, it would allow for a three-day voting period, rather than the usual one day, make it easier for voters to obtain and cast mail-in ballots and give Elections Canada more flexibility to conduct mobile polls in long-term care facilities.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2021.
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press