OTTAWA — The federal government is asking senators to conduct a "dispassionate" review of its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — as partisan combat over the issue continues among elected members of the House of Commons.
The government's representative in the Senate, Marc Gold, wrote the leaders of various Senate groups Tuesday proposing that the upper house create a special committee to review every aspect of the government's pandemic response.
In an apparent reference to the elected chamber, Gold wrote: "The past few weeks have shown that there is a need within Parliament for a less partisan and more dispassionate forum to conduct oversight of the government's policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The Senate is uniquely positioned in Parliament to conduct this type of work in a balanced, thorough and deliberative fashion, consistent with our role as a chamber of sober second thought."
Gold's letter follows a partisan fight in the House of Commons over a Conservative motion authorizing the Commons health committee to launch a sweeping probe of the government's COVID-19 response.
That motion, passed by opposition parties over the objections of the Liberals, orders the government to turn over massive amounts of documents on a raft of issues related to the pandemic, including the procurement of personal protective equipment and potential vaccine candidates.
While Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, the author of the motion, has insisted it is not partisan, opposition MPs have made it clear they see the motion as a way to investigate alleged misuse of pandemic-related spending to funnel money to Liberal friends.
The government has argued that the motion will tie up public servants when they should be focused on the second wave of the pandemic. And it has warned it will potentially scare off suppliers of desperately needed equipment and vaccines who fear the public disclosure of sensitive, proprietary information.
A host of companies and experts, including pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and David Naylor, head of the Immunity Task Force, have echoed those warnings. But Conservatives have dismissed the concerns as Liberal "spin" and "fearmongering."
Gold's proposed Senate committee would be mandated to explore the social and economic consequences of the pandemic, review all government pandemic-related spending and conduct a post-pandemic "deep think" to identify lessons learned that could be applied in any future pandemic.
Until now, the Senate had been adjourned since the start of the pandemic in mid-March, other than brief sittings with a small number of senators in the chamber to pass emergency relief legislation.
However, senators agreed Tuesday to resume their normal operations next week, using a hybrid format similar to that used by the Commons since late September — with a small number in the chamber and the rest participating virtually.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2020.