Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday he wanted flexibility to enact future spending measures as the House of Commons convened to pass a C$27-billion ($18.6 billion) emergency cash injection to soften the financial blow of the coronavirus outbreak.
To maintain social distancing, only about three dozen of the 338 members of the House met to debate and then vote on the legislation just hours before Ontario, the most populous of Canada’s 10 provinces, shuts all non-essential businesses.
The number of people in Canada diagnosed with the novel coronavirus is almost 2,200, and the death toll on Tuesday was 25, one more than the day before.
The official opposition Conservative Party threatened to block the legislation after it said Trudeau’s Liberal government wanted to give itself the power to spend without parliamentary approval until the end of 2021.
“The government should not attempt to eliminate parliamentary oversight during a crisis,” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said on Tuesday.
Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez said debate had been delayed as he scrambled to come up with a new draft bill. Trudeau’s minority government requires opposition support to pass legislation.
The gravity of the coronavirus crisis “requires extreme flexibility and rapidity of response by governments,” Trudeau told reporters outside his home, where he has been in quarantine since his wife tested positive for the disease almost two weeks ago.
“We’ve been in close discussion with the opposition parties to find a way to both get that flexibility to be able to get measures out the door, and keep in place our democratic institutions and the values that are important to us all,” Trudeau said. The prime minister gave no further details.
The package of measures will only become law once the Senate, or upper chamber, adopts it on Wednesday.
Trudeau last week pledged C$27 billion ($18.6 billion) in direct support to families and businesses struggling because of the coronavirus outbreak, and said he was ready to do more. The government will provide C$55 billion ($38 billion) in additional aid to businesses and households through tax deferrals.
Together with maturing bonds and refinancing of T-bills, emergency measures could lift Canadian dollar borrowing to about C$375 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, up nearly 40% from an estimated C$270 billion for 2019-20, according to Reuters calculations. Canada’s fiscal year ends March 31.
($1 = 1.4491 Canadian dollars)