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Liberals back down on proposed bill to broadly tax and spend without parliamentary approval

Liberals back down on proposed bill to broadly tax and spend without parliamentary approval

Mar 24, 2020

Ottawa (Canada) March 24: A small number of MPs will resume sitting in the House of Commons on Tuesday to consider the federal government's $82 billion pandemic aid package, though Conservatives are already pushing back on the deal over what they say is a power-grab by the Liberal government.
The bill - An Act Respecting Certain Measures in Response to COVID-19 - will be introduced to the House on Tuesday by Finance Minister Bill Morneau. The bill would give the Liberal government the the ability to tax, spend and borrow without seeking the approval of MPs until December 2021.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said in a statement Monday evening that while his party stands ready to go as far as supporting the enactment of the Emergencies Act - legislation giving Ottawa powers to do just about anything deemed necessary to cope with the pandemic - the Conservatives will not allow the Liberals unfettered control of the public purse.
"Over the last week, we have negotiated for the return of Parliament expecting to enact the emergency measures the prime minister announced last week," Sheer said. "We remain willing to enact those measures if the government proposes them tomorrow."
"But we will not give the government unlimited power to raise taxes without a parliamentary vote," he added. "We will authorize whatever spending measures are justified to respond to the situation, but we will not sign a blank cheque."
However, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez announced later in the evening the Liberals are prepared to make changes to the proposed legislation.
"We consulted with the opposition and will bring changes to the draft legislation," he wrote on Twitter. "We will always work collaboratively and respect the fundamental role of Parliament."
The House of Commons is set to reconvene Tuesday with just over 30 MPs from all parties attending. The number of MPs from each party was agreed by House leaders beforehand as a way to keep people safe while maintaining party ratios in the Commons.
But as the details of the bill began to emerge, at least two Conservative caucus members, Sen. Linda Frum and MP Cathy McLeod, pledged to flout the risk of travelling and come to Ottawa to vote it down.
"I will hop on a plane immediately to vote against if this is true," said McLeod. "Completely unacceptable and not my understanding of agreement."
According to Conservative sources, the party supports the coronavirus bill generally but is concerned about a lack of oversight on spending regardless how long the lack of oversight persists.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he wants to keep the return of Parliament focused on helping Canadians in need.
"We need to drop what we don't agree on and focus on what we were sent here to do - deliver for Canadians," he said in a statement.
Tuesday's events will be presided over by Deputy Speaker of the House Bruce Stanton, who will lay out how the day will work in a short speech just after noon.
The day will begin with the Speakers Parade, the parliamentary tradition that kicks off each sitting of the Senate. This time, however, all those in the procession led by the Usher of the Black Rod will stay at least two metres away from one another.
Keeping a healthy distance in the parade is just one way the House of Commons will change its traditions to help stop the spread of COVID-19 between people.
Hand sanitizer stations will be placed strategically throughout the House and the public gallery will remain closed.
The number of MPs attending the session has been cut back from the full 338 to just over 30. Normally, MPs have to be in their seats to vote, but this rule is being relaxed to allow MPs to maintain a distance from one another of at least the width of two desks.
There also will be no parliamentary pages in the House today - so MPs will have to get their own water.
An unusual session of Parliament
Once Morneau has given his speech and tabled his bill, opposition MPs will be given the opportunity to question the government's proposals.
That question and answer session will take place in a more relaxed setting called the Committee of the Whole - a rare occasion when the entire membership of the House of Commons sits as a parliamentary committee, with the deputy Speaker chairing the session.
Morneau will take questions and is allowed to have three departmental officials help him flesh out the answers.
Rodriguez has said parties have agreed to devote four to four-and-a-half hours to debate, after which a vote will be held. If the bill passes the House, it will be sent to the Senate on Wednesday; assuming it's passed there, it will quickly receive royal assent.
The proposed aid package includes:
A temporary boost to Canada Child Benefit payments, delivering about $2 billion in extra support.
A new Emergency Care Benefit of up to $900 biweekly, up to 15 weeks, to provide income support to workers, including the self-employed, who have to stay home and don't qualify for paid sick leave or employment insurance. The measure could disburse up to $10 billion.
A new Emergency Support Benefit to provide up to $5 billion in support to workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment.
A six-month, interest-free reprieve on student loan payments.
A doubling of the homeless care program.
An extension of the tax filing deadline to June 1.
A policy change allowing taxpayers to defer until after Aug. 31 tax payments that are due after today and before September.
$305 million for a new Indigenous Community Support Fund to address immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit and Metis Nation communities.
Conservative support
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis told CBC that the pace at which the legislation needs to be passed will make it difficult to pass amendments, and that Conservative supporters want his party to be constructive and point out gaps in the bill.
Scheer said he wants additional supports for retail and restaurant workers who have lost their jobs.
"We are, of course, recognizing this is an unprecedented situation for this government but at the same time it's our job to point out some of the things that haven't always been clear and consistent to Canadians," Scheer told CBC News Sunday.
"We are still advocating for a better response to this pandemic but we're doing so in a way that I hope instills some confidence in Canadians that our institutions will work, our Parliament will work and that we will all get through this together."
Scheer also said that he wants any assistance provided to Canadians now to be tied to the COVID-19 outbreak and to be scaled back once the threat diminishes.
Singh said Monday that he wants the Liberal government to give $2,000 and $250 per child to all Canadians and Indigenous peoples immediately. Singh also said he wants the federal government to supplement at least 75 per cent of people's lost wages, as countries such as the U.K., Denmark and France have pledged to do.
"To save these jobs and to make sure workers continue to get paid, the government needs to step up and offer a bigger wage subsidy like other countries have done," Singh said. "We shouldn't wait for more people to lose their jobs before taking the next steps. Let's do what needs to be done and implement a firing freeze right now."
Singh will be one of three representatives of his parliamentary caucus to attend the House of Commons Tuesday; the two others are NDP Whip Rachel Blaney and NDP Deputy Whip Lindsay Mathyssen.
Singh was in Toronto and drove up to Ottawa for the session. Both Blaney and Mathyssen have remained in Ottawa.
A government plane will bring both Scheer and Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen to Ottawa. NDP House Leader Peter Julian was also offered a flight but turned it down, saying the cost was too high and accepting the flight would go against widespread advice not to travel.
Accompanying Scheer and Bergen will be fellow Tory MPs Tim Uppal, Dan Albas, Luc Berthold, Pierre Paul-Hus, John Williamson, Garnett Genuis, Pierre Poilievre, Leona Alleslev and Michael Chong.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remains in isolation and will not attend the session, but the following ministers and Liberal MPs will attend today:
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland
Finance Minister Bill Morneau
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair
Transport Minister Marc Garneau
Minister of Employment Carla Qualtrough
President of the Treasury Board, Jean-Yves Duclos
Foreign Affairs Minister Fran├žois-Philippe Champagne
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller
Minister of Families Ahmed Hussen
Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez
MP Mark Gerretsen
MP William Amos
MP Greg Fergus
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Fran├žois Blanchet will also attend and will bring with him two members of his caucus: MPs Alain Therrien and Gabriel Ste-Marie.
Green Party MP Jenica Atwin is driving in from her New Brunswick riding of Fredericton to attend the session.
Source: CBC News