COVID-19’s second emergency pandemic legislation passed in the Senate on Saturday night after a small list of parliamentarians spent the day debating the $ 73 billion wage subsidy program to be adopted .
After days of discussions between the government and the opposition parties on the content of the bill and more generally on the functioning of the House of Commons during a crisis, an agreement was reached late Friday evening to give minority Liberals the support needed to expedite Bill C -14 through the House of Commons. From start to finish, MPs spent five hours debating the legislation.
The House of Commons began its emergency session at 12:15 pm EST, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered his daily speech, which has taken place until Saturday since his entry.
In his speech, Trudeau called COVID-19 a major challenge for a generation and drew parallels to the efforts of parliamentarians in wartime, including his grandfather.
“But, Mr. President, this is not a war. This does not make this fight less destructive, less dangerous. But there is no front line marked with barbed wire, no soldiers to deploy across the ocean, no enemy fighters to defeat. Instead, the front line is everywhere: in our homes, in our hospitals and care centers, in our grocery stores and pharmacies, at our truck stops and gas stations. And the people who work in these places are our modern heroes, ”said Trudeau.
“As Canada faces this crisis, we are all called to serve. To fight for and alongside each of our fellow citizens, to fight for someone’s mother, someone’s grandfather, someone’s neighbor … Without reserve, without pause, we must fight for every square centimeter of ground against this disease. We have to be there for each other because we are making every effort to protect our collective future, “said the Prime Minister.
The leaders of the other parties then responded to Trudeau’s speech, and the House then entered a so-called “committee of the whole”, where the bill was debated and accelerated at all stages of the law. The Prime Minister and members of his cabinet also questions from opposition members on their response to the pandemic.
The Senate meets at 4 p.m. EST and before voting to pass the bill, asked Finance Minister Bill Morneau about the latest aid measures. The bill – entitled “A Second Act Respecting Certain Measures in Response to COVID-19” – was passed in the Upper House three hours after it was returned by the House. The bill then received Royal Assent from Governor General Julie Payette late Saturday evening.
In response to Trudeau’s speech, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said that the spending measures currently in place – which will be subject to further review by the Auditor General of Canada – should lead to an additional deficit $ 184 billion in 2020-2021. and therefore years of budget cuts will be necessary in the future.
He said he was happy to meet again and to have the opportunity to question the way the government has handled the pandemic.
“Why has the government waited so long to impose travel restrictions? Why weren’t the travelers originally selected? Why do we have a critical shortage of medical supplies? … Why are the other countries ahead of us in terms of testing and tracing? These are some of the questions Canadians are asking and they deserve answers, “said Scheer.
New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh took advantage of his speech to draw attention to segments of the population that have been hit by the economic downturn caused by existing public health measures but have fallen through the cracks of the net.
“In the past month, our world has changed dramatically,” he said, citing more than a million jobs lost in March, and pledging to continue pressing for further aid.
Singh said the decisions that parliamentarians will make in the weeks and months to come will be the most important in their lives and among the most important that a government has faced.
In French, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, said that he was thinking of all those in his province who mourn the loss of a loved one and of the essential workers who work long hours in uncertain conditions.
He said that the bill introduced on Saturday indicates that sometimes more government intervention in the lives of Canadians can be good.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May spoke positively of the government’s openness to accept suggestions from opposition MPs to improve their ambitious plans to date and, moreover, of the “social solidarity” it sees in the face of this crisis.
“I hope this can be a lasting lesson,” she said.
THE GAPS OF THE BILL ARE ANSWERED
Before the meeting, the leaders of the NDP, the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives spoke of the negotiations underway and indicated their intention to support the bill tabled by Morneau after the identified shortcomings had been corrected.
Scheer has provided several examples of where the Conservatives have called for billions of dollars in adjustments to financial assistance measures that were released last month to ensure that no one falls through the cracks.
Among what all parties agreed to, both in the 15-page bill and in the unanimous consent motion to expedite it:
By proposing that once an employer is eligible on the basis of a month’s income, he will automatically qualify for the following period and those to come;
Implement unspecified measures “without delay to fill the gaps in the Canada Allowance in case of emergency or other programs, existing or proposed”, such as students, part-time workers and essential workers; and
Introduce new short-term support measures for Canadian small and medium-sized businesses, which will be partially non-reimbursable, with the aim of retaining jobs and reducing debt related to fixed costs.
“Not only will this give businesses more certainty, but it is also better policy,” said Scheer, adding that this proves why parliamentary scrutiny is necessary at the moment.
The Conservatives called the second bill “the solution” to the first, while the Liberals say the bill would adopt “the greatest economic measures of our lives”.
An initial 10% grant was included in the $ 107 billion aid package adopted during the House’s first emergency sitting on the night of last month, but the government has deployed a massive expansion in the following days which must be legislated in order to come into force.
The grant would cover 75% of employee salaries, up to $ 847 per week per employee for 12 weeks, retroactive to March 15, for small and large businesses as well as for charities. An additional tinkering of eligibility was announced on Wednesday, with the intention of keeping as many Canadians employed despite the pandemic that has destroyed many aspects of society and the economy.
All parties have agreed that there will be a limited number of members in the House to meet the physical distance guidelines, with 14 Liberals, 11 Conservatives, three Bloc members, three New Democrats and one Green. A similar limited list will be present in the Senate.
During the session, there were no parliamentary pages, no food and no drinks to further limit the potential spread of the respiratory virus between lawmakers.
VIRTUAL PARLIAMENT TO STUDY
Talks on a virtual parliament will continue after Saturday’s session – as the government wants to find a way for the Commons to meet digitally while the opposition is planning other in-person sessions – but in the meantime an agreement has been reached concluded to see the Additional Chamber The Commons committee holds virtual meetings, as the health and finance committees have already done.
Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said industry, human resources, government operations and House procedure committees will all begin to hold meetings by videoconference “for the sole purpose of receiving evidence linked to the COVID-19 pandemic ”.
He signaled the government’s health and safety concerns with a typical reminder from the House, even with a limited number of members, such as the need to bring back administrative staff, interpreters and security.
The Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was recalled with a specific task: to study the path to follow for virtual meetings, or other possible temporary places or other technological solutions to allow deputies to fulfill their functions parliamentarians while the House of Commons is suspended due to the pandemic. He has until May 15 to report his findings.
Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota said earlier that a team is also exploring the possibility of the House holding virtual meetings over the next four weeks.
Scheer said his party sees virtual sessions as something that could increase face-to-face sessions, Singh said he was willing to consider them, although Blanchet does not think MPs should take place in the House for debate and adopt a policy.
Rodriguez said that Parliament must be able to continue its activities, but will have to be done in a different way during this national public health crisis. The Prime Minister also stressed the importance of allowing MPs from across the country to participate in the parliamentary process, not just those who are close by, especially at a time like this.
“On the one hand, we can’t tell Canadians to stay home because that’s the way to fight it,” and then come here every day and meet, “said Rodriguez. “We have to be creative, we ask Canadians to be creative.”
Some senators are also pushing for further study of how the work of the Senate can be done in emergencies like this pandemic in the future.
Alberta Senator Scott Tannas introduced a motion calling for a review of technology options such as videoconferencing and electronic voting.
“The current pandemic has revealed a weakness in the Senate in that it has not kept pace with the technological advances of the 21st century. More and more Canadians continue to work from home. Meanwhile, the Senate has been forced to shorten its sessions and the committees are not meeting at all at this time. It’s totally unacceptable, ”Tannas said in a statement.
The motion will not be debated until the regular sitting of the Senate is resumed, which will be on April 21 at the earliest – unless there is a quick recall for more emergency legislation or a motion to extend the suspension.