Conservative Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday March 10, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Parliament to debate emergency spending and government powers in COVID-19 fight

Opposition parties said they would back the $82 billion aid package Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised

Conservative Finance critic Pierre Poilievre says there’s no deal yet between the Liberal government and Opposition over a proposed emergency aid bill to spend billions of dollars to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and cushion some of its damage to the economy.

The opposition parties had said they would back the $82 billion in direct spending and deferred taxes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to put up to prepare the country for mass illness and help Canadians cope with lost jobs and wages.

Yet a draft of the bill circulated Monday suggested it was going to give cabinet, not MPs, extraordinary power over taxes and spending, so ministers could act without Parliament’s approval for months.

That prompted immediate and sustained criticism from the Opposition, who said they’d never give the government such a carte blanche.

While Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez subsequently said the government would make changes, Poilievre said the Conservatives have not been told what those changes are.

“They’ve said they’re going to back down but we want to know what that means,” Poilievre said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Trudeau promises $82B in economic supports in COVID-19 fight

Poilievre said the Parliamentary Budget Officer has the bill and should be given the freedom by the government to immediately release an analysis, given the importance of the contents. There may not be much time between the bill’s publication and the vote to pass it, he added.

“The public is not going to know who to believe so let’s free the parliamentary budget officer to tell everyone what’s inside it, publicly before it gets passed.”

The Conservatives will support every one of the aid measures contained in bill with no debate, Poilievre said. The only issue is whether the government needs to be given never before seen powers to tax and spend.

In a separate appearance, Tory Leader Andrew Scheer said the Conservatives won’t back the bill if it includes extraordinary new powers for the government.

The Liberals only need one party’s support to pass a bill under normal circumstances, but to pass a bill in just a day, as they intend, they need unanimous consent from all the MPs present in the Commons.

When there’s a minority government like the one Trudeau leads, the chance to bring the government down on a spending bill is what gives the opposition its power.

Meanwhile, the premiers of Ontario’s and Quebec’s premiers are ordering non-essential businesses to close their workplaces by midnight tonight, provinces are contemplating closing their borders to each other, and Trudeau has hinted that harsh measures might be used to keep people from gathering in groups.

The death toll in Canada reached 24 yesterday as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 passed 2,000.

The Canadian Press


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