After sitting overnight, Canadian government adopts coronavirus emergency aid package
All parties were ready to support the aid plan, but opposition parties challenged provisions that would have given the Liberal government unilateral power to spend, borrow and change tax levels until December 2021. Late Monday night, the Liberals agreed to drop a clause on taxation powers, but that was not enough to satisfy the Conservatives.
The deal reached Wednesday morning sets a deadline of September 2020 for the government’s power to spend on emergency health measures without parliamentary approval. The government has also agreed to report regularly on spending decisions to parliamentary committees. “The Liberals have shamefully tried to use a public health crisis to give themselves the power to raise taxes, debt and spending without parliamentary approval until January 1, 2022,” Tory Leader Andrew Scheer said in a communicated. “But after hours of negotiation, the government backed down.
After days of rapid decision-making, Tuesday’s roadblock caused a strange, unexpected lull. The House is officially adjourned until April 20 due to the spread of the coronavirus, and just over 30 MPs have been recalled to reconvene the House for this emergency sitting – mostly MPs who live within driving distance and ministers who stayed in Ottawa to deal with the crisis.
For hours, they sat scattered around the room which normally holds 10 times their number. Several came and went over the hours, while others chatted in small groups, keeping a good distance from each other while awaiting the outcome of the negotiations taking place outside the House. “What’s going on, Pablo, are we doing this today or not?” Health Minister Patty Hajdu asked Rodriguez at one point when he made a brief reappearance.
The unexpected delay was, perhaps, a respite for ministers who had little time to stop. The ever-animated Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne has told other MPs about war stories about telephone negotiations with foreign governments to bring home Canadians stranded abroad as more and more of countries are closing their airspace. In Peru, which recently entered martial law, Champagne said, planes sent to retrieve Canadians must now land at a military base. “Everything is a problem. There is nothing that works normally, ”he said.
Hajdu spoke candidly with caucus colleagues about the difficulty of scaling up coronavirus testing and getting people to take social distancing seriously. She couldn’t believe people were still getting on cruise ships as the virus was spreading around the world, she said, “For the love of shit people, don’t get on those boxes of Petri! “
But as the day wore on, patience dwindled. Shortly after 5 p.m., Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet called a press conference in a room two floors below the House of Commons to express his frustration. He said the parties had agreed on changes on Monday evening that should have been sufficient. “I don’t see a reason why he can’t go ahead now,” he said.
NDP MP Lindsay Mathyssen, who represented her party alongside Leader Jagmeet Singh and another MP, addressed her grievances to the Liberals. “Unfortunately, the government took other things by surprise that we didn’t expect to be negotiated now, so it took longer than we would have liked,” she said in an interview.
However, on Wednesday morning, things were back on track. After swift Senate approval, the bill received Royal Assent on Wednesday afternoon. Trudeau spoke to Canadians in the morning, while Freeland and other ministers held their daily briefing at noon, as usual.
But as the government’s crisis routine settles back into place, it was the hours before the parties reached a deal that were most telling, when ministers had a moment to stop and think.
After the pandemic, Hajdu said, everything else is going to seem easy. “I want to isolate myself socially at home on a lake, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to do it,” she told her colleagues at one point. “The world has gone mad. “
Andy Blatchford and Lauren Gardner contributed to this report.