What law­mak­ers re­belled against

LIB­ER­ALS PARE BACK LENGTH OF MEA­SURES

Edmonton Journal - - PANDEMIC - JESSE SNY­DER

OT­TAWA • The Lib­eral govern­ment was forced into a sig­nif­i­cant climb­down on Wed­nes­day morn­ing over its COVID-19 emer­gency leg­is­la­tion, af­ter be­ing ac­cused of a “power grab” that would equip the fi­nance min­is­ter with ex­cep­tional au­thor­i­ties to tax, spend and loan money without limit.

Par­lia­ment passed an up­dated ver­sion of Bill C-13 in the early morn­ing fol­low­ing a full day of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween par­ties. The NDP and Con­ser­va­tives had been highly op­posed to cer­tain sec­tions of the ini­tial leg­is­la­tion, which would have given Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau at least 19 months of ex­tra­or­di­nary leg­isla­tive pow­ers rarely seen in Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

Much of the ini­tial pro­pos­als re­main in place. But op­po­si­tion par­ties man­aged to dra­mat­i­cally pare back some of the more sweep­ing as­pects of the bill, trim­ming the win­dow of time in which Morneau can ex­er­cise his new pow­ers, and sharp­en­ing the de­tails around the type of spend­ing Ot­tawa can bring for­ward over the next six months.

Op­po­si­tion mem­bers were caught off-guard by a num­ber of mea­sures in­tro­duced in the leg­is­la­tion, par­tic­u­larly a sur­prise clause that gave Morneau the abil­ity to raise or lower taxes without the ap­proval of Par­lia­ment. That clause was out­right scrapped be­fore Wed­nes­day’s vote.

Con­ser­va­tive MP Scott Reid, who was the first to raise op­po­si­tion to the bill, said he had be­come “in­creas­ingly alarmed” by the haste with which the emer­gency leg­is­la­tion had been tabled, say­ing the Lib­eral mea­sures would ef­fec­tively strip away par­lia­men­tary over­sight for the next two years.

The ini­tial draft of the bill, which first leaked to me­dia Mon­day night, would have given Morneau un­til the end of De­cem­ber 2021 to use his ex­panded pow­ers, a to­tal of 21 months. The more re­cent ver­sion trims that win­dow down to six months, un­til the end of Septem­ber 2020.

Morneau on Wed­nes­day did not re­spond di­rectly to re­porters’ ques­tions about why the 21-month time­line was nec­es­sary.

The bill also pro­posed to give Ot­tawa far-reach­ing au­thor­ity to “make pay­ments to any en­tity” dur­ing any times of “sig­nif­i­cant and sys­temic eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial dis­tress.” Op­po­si­tion mem­bers and many ob­servers said the text was ex­ces­sively broad, break­ing with past par­lia­men­tary con­ven­tions and al­low­ing Ot­tawa to buy eq­uity, of­fer lines of credit, or bail out com­pa­nies at any time for any pur­pose.

“This would give the min­is­ter of fi­nance the power to do any­thing, lit­er­ally,” Scott told the Na­tional Post.

The up­dated leg­is­la­tion changed the text from “any en­tity” to “pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial gov­ern­ments,” vastly re­strict­ing what bod­ies those fed­eral funds can flow into. The new text al­lows pay­ments to en­ti­ties only af­ter the govern­ment has con­sulted with prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries. Ot­tawa has al­ready pledged $500 mil­lion to lower or­ders of govern­ment in ad­di­tional health care fund­ing.

Op­po­si­tion mem­bers also de­nounced the fact that sec­tion four of the ini­tial draft gave the min­is­ter of health the abil­ity to spend “all money re­quired to do any­thing” if the min­is­ter “de­ter­mines that there is a pub­lic health event of na­tional con­cern.”

Crit­ics again balked at the sweep­ing lan­guage of the pro­posed text. An up­dated ver­sion pro­vides the same pow­ers to the min­is­ter, but more specif­i­cally stip­u­lates that the spend­ing would need to come amid “the spread of an infectious dis­ease, such as the coro­n­avirus dis­ease 2019 (COVID-19).”

Also on Wed­nes­day, pol­icy-makers passed a mo­tion that will com­pel Morneau to ap­pear be­fore the House fi­nance com­mit­tee ev­ery two weeks to up­date the pub­lic on where and how much money has been spent.

The leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced in or­der to trig­ger $27 bil­lion in aid spend­ing first an­nounced by Morneau last week, as part of an ef­fort to help families and busi­nesses cover their cost of liv­ing through the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. That fig­ure could soar much higher with the pas­sage of Bill C-13, which sets no up­per limit on how much Ot­tawa can spend to com­bat the eco­nomic fall­out from the virus.

Morneau on Wed­nes­day had al­ready upped his ini­tial cost es­ti­mate for the mea­sures to $52 bil­lion, as em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance claims soar.

THIS WOULD GIVE THE MIN­IS­TER OF FI­NANCE THE POWER TO DO ANY­THING ...

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

With a lim­ited num­ber of MPS on hand and spread out, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau re­sponds to a ques­tion af­ter tabling the govern­ment’s COVID-19 fi­nan­cial mea­sures bill in the House of Com­mons on Wed­nes­day.

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