Ottawa dou­bles re­lief fund to $52 bil­lion

Trav­ellers re­turn­ing to Canada must self-iso­late or face $1M fine, jail time

Toronto Star - - NEWS - ALEX BALLINGALL

OTTAWA—

More money. More power. And the gov­ern­ment is al­ready us­ing both.

On the day Par­lia­ment granted the Lib­eral mi­nor­ity the power to spend “any amount” it deems nec­es­sary to con­front the COVID-19 pandemic, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment said it would al­most dou­ble the di­rect aid in its res­cue pack­age to a whop­ping $52 bil­lion.

At the same time, Ottawa made good on its warn­ing to force Cana­di­ans to obey ap­peals to self-iso­late. All trav­ellers re­turn­ing from abroad now face a “manda­tory” or­der to stay at home for two weeks. Those caught risk­ing oth­ers lives by go­ing out could be fined up to $1 mil­lion and face up to three years in jail, Health Min­is­ter Patty Ha­jdu’s of­fice said.

“You should be do­ing it al­ready,” Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Chrysti a Free­lan d said Wed­nes­day dur­ing the gov­ern­ment’s daily pandemic brief­ing on Par­lia­ment Hill.

“This is a step we can all take to pro­tect the health and safety of Cana­di­ans and ul­ti­mately to en­sure that our eco­nomic re­bound comes quickly.”

With Par­lia­ment sus­pended un­til at least April 20, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and his mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment now have the ex­tra­or­di­nary power to uni­lat­er­ally bor­row “any amount” and spend “all money” needed dur­ing the COVID-19 cri­sis with­out the ap­proval of the House of Com­mons or the Se­nate.

The new pow­ers will re­main in place un­til Sept. 30 un­der a new law — Bill C-13 — that was rushed through the Se­nate to re­ceive royal assent on Wed­nes­day, af­ter a marathon ses­sion in the House of Com­mons that lasted through the pre­vi­ous night.

All par­ties in the House had agreed to re­call Par­lia­ment to pass the leg­is­la­tion on Tues­day, af­ter the gov­ern­ment promised bil­lions of dol­lars in aid for work­ers and businesses hit by the eco­nomic down­turn that is ac­com­pa­ny­ing the deadly coro­n­avirus pandemic. But progress fal­tered af­ter the Op­po­si­tion

Con­ser­va­tives ob­jected to pro­vi­sions in a draft ver­sion of the bill that pro­posed giv­ing the gov­ern­ment the power to tax and spend with­out par­lia­men­tary over­sight un­til the end of 2021.

In­stead, af­ter hours of closed­door ne­go­ti­a­tions with Con­ser­va­tive, Bloc Québé­cois and New Demo­crat MPs, the gov­ern­ment agreed to more lim­ited new pow­ers to uni­lat­er­ally bor­row and spend, but not to raise taxes.

It also agreed to a sun­set clause that will see these new pow­ers ex­pire on Sept. 30.

Speak­ing to se­na­tors be­fore they de­bated the law Wed­nes­day morn­ing, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau jus­ti­fied the ex­cep­tional mea­sures by claim­ing the gov­ern­ment needs the abil­ity to en­act poli­cies quickly in the face of the pandemic, which con­tin­ues to in­fect and kill more Cana­di­ans ev­ery day.

“We’re seek­ing pow­ers that are more ex­ten­sive than we ever would have thought,” Morneau said.

The new leg­is­la­tion also sets up an ar­ray of sup­port pro­grams de­signed to get cash to Cana­di­ans who have lost in­comes and businesses that have seen revenues plum­met, Morneau said.

These in­clude the new “Canada Emer­gency Re­sponse Ben­e­fit” that will pro­vide $2,000 per month — over four months — to work­ers who have stopped get­ting paid be­cause of COVID-19. The gov­ern­ment is also in­creas­ing monthly pay­outs to par­ents and tax cred­its for low-in­come earn­ers, paus­ing col­lec­tion of stu­dent loans and tem­po­rar­ily de­fer­ring $55 bil­lion in taxes for in­di­vid­u­als and businesses.

Com­bined with the $52 bil­lion now be­ing bud­geted for di­rect aid, Morneau said the res­cue fund is now worth a stag­ger­ing $107 bil­lion — with more money to help strug­gling in­dus­tries like airlines, hos­pi­tal­ity and oil and gas in the works “in the very near term.” Morneau warned many Cana­di­ans won’t have money for gro­ceries, medicine and other es­sen­tials in a mat­ter of weeks, and that small- and medi­um­sized businesses will need help cov­er­ing rent in April.

Al­most one mil­lion peo­ple filed claims for em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­tween March 16 and 22, the gov­ern­ment has con­firmed, a huge surge that is al­most 20 times higher than claims re­ceived in a typ­i­cal week. Out­side Ridea u Cot­tage, where he has worked un­der quarantine since March 12, Trudeau told re­porters hun­dreds of civil ser­vants are be­ing shifted from reg­u­lar tasks to re­spond to the flood of claims.

The gov­ern­ment aims to open ap­pli­ca­tions for the new emer­gency sup­port ben­e­fits by April 6, and peo­ple will re­ceive money within 10 days of ap­ply­ing, Trudeau said.

“Pub­lic ser­vants are work­ing around the clock while deal­ing with un­prece­dented de­mand, and all of the same per­sonal stress that ev­ery­one else is fac­ing,” Trudeau said.

“They will get to your ap­pli­ca­tion,” he vowed. “Help is on the way.”

Along­side that prom­ise to help, the gov­ern­ment is also crack­ing down. Last week­end, the fed­eral health min­is­ter bluntly warned that if Cana­di­ans didn’t fol­low the weeks-old ap­peals to stay home and avoid oth­ers, the gov­ern­ment would force them to.

On Wed­nes­day, Ottawa took a step in that di­rec­tion with a new manda­tory or­der for re­turn­ing trav­ellers to quarantine at home for two weeks. Thierry Be­lai r, a spokesper­son for Health Min­is­ter Patty Ha­jdu, told the Star that bor­der agents are now ran­domly col­lect­ing con­tact in­for­ma­tion from re­turn­ing trav­ellers. He said of­fi­cials will then ran­domly con­tact peo­ple to con­firm they are stay­ing home. Those who fail to do so could be fined up to $1 mil­lion or even jailed for up to three years un­der the fed­eral Quarantine Act, Belair said. With files from Alex Boutilier

JUSTIN TANG THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Self-isolation “is a step we can all take to pro­tect … Cana­di­ans and ul­ti­mately to en­sure that our eco­nomic re­bound comes quickly,” Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land said Wed­nes­day.

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