(The Canadian Press)

Vote on new COVID-19 relief bill awaits deal on how to question ministers

Trudeau says he welcomes the idea of Parliament, in some fashion, resuming its fundamental role during the crisis

Legislation to enact a massive wage subsidy program is being held up as political parties debate how Parliament should work in the midst of a deadly global pandemic.

The Liberal government is trying to separate the longer-term issue of how to set up a virtual Parliament to operate for the duration of the crisis from the more immediate need to recall Parliament as quickly as possible to approve a massive, $73-billion wage subsidy program.

The Conservatives want to tie the two together, demanding, among other things, that Parliament sit four days a week, with daily question periods to grill Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers.

However, House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota indicated Wednesday that setting up some sort of virtual Parliament will take time — up to four weeks.

And Finance Minister Bill Morneau argued that small businesses and workers can’t wait for the wage subsidy.

“It’s critically important for thousands of people and it’s in that context that I want to say we really need the other parties in Parliament to move forward and support this,” he told a news conference Wednesday.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre confirmed that his party is “proposing that there be some form of question period so that we can hold the government accountable throughout this time.”

He denied that the Conservatives are holding up the legislation. Rather, he argued that it’s the Liberals who “goofed up” the wage subsidy, recalling Parliament two weeks ago to pass an emergency aid bill that included a 10 per cent wage subsidy that opposition parties argued at the time was far too limited.

The government has since beefed up the subsidy to 75 per cent and announced relaxed eligibility rules Wednesday to make it easier for more companies to qualify — all of which needs new legislation to enact.

“We think that the government would be better served by a Team Canada approach where we can help them come to the right conclusions in the first place rather than continually having to flip-flop and delay,” Poilievre said.

NDP House Leader Peter Julian agreed the government needs to be held accountable and can benefit from opposition proposals. But he said the NDP’s priority is pushing the government to introduce a universal benefit that all Canadians can use to weather the storm.

The Bloc Quebecois is supporting the government’s bid to quickly pass the wage subsidy bill but unanimous consent of all parties is required to approve the bill in one day, as the government is hoping to do.

Opposition parties were given a draft of the bill Monday evening and discussions have been going on since in a bid to reach that unanimous agreement. Government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, remained hopeful Wednesday that a skeleton Parliament — involving 32 MPs living within driving distance of the capital — could be recalled as early as Friday or Saturday.

However, no letter requesting the recall of the House of Commons had yet been sent to Speaker Rota. The government is holding off on that until agreement to pass the bill is reached, rather than repeat what happened last time, when what was supposed to be a brief sitting turned into a marathon, day-long negotiating session behind the scenes. MPs finally approved the emergency aid bill in the wee hours of the morning.

Except for that brief sitting, Parliament has been adjourned since March 13 as part of a countrywide effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. It is scheduled to resume on April 20 but all parties acknowledge the adjournment is likely to continue long past that date.

Trudeau stressed Wednesday that he welcomes the idea of Parliament, in some fashion, resuming its fundamental role during the crisis.

“I believe deeply in our democratic institutions, particularly in a time of crisis, and I look forward to continuing to work with all opposition parties to make sure that we have working systems in place,” he said at his daily briefing.

However, Trudeau added it’s ”important that parliamentarians from every corner of the country, not just those within driving distance of Ottawa, should be able to weigh in on the working of our democracy.”

Julian, who noted that his British Columbia riding is more than 4,000 kilometres from Ottawa, agreed a mechanism must be found to involve MPs from all corners of the country at a time when everyone is being advised not to travel.

Last weekend, government House leader Pablo Rodriguez wrote Rota to ask for his advice on how to assemble a virtual Parliament.

In response, Rota wrote Rodriguez on Wednesday to say he’s asked the House of Commons administration to work with public and private-sector partners on the technology and logistics required, with the aim of holding a virtual Parliament “within four weeks.”

Rota noted that the United Kingdom is taking a similar amount of time to work out a way for the mother of all parliaments to conduct its business virtually.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19 highlights lack of connectivity in First Nations communities

Many don’t have access required to utilize online platforms, says First Nations Technology Council

Salmon closures announced for Skeena and Nass watersheds

DFO notice expands on May 21 chinook ban throughout Skeena watershed

New traffic lanes for Six Mile west of Burns Lake coming soon

Construction to begin on lane extension and traffic improvement

Chamber names new board for 2020

And emphasizes that Houston is open for business

Houston to host high speed electric vehicle charging station

It will be installed and paid for by BC Hydro

Minimum wage goes up June 1 in B.C. as businesses face COVID-19 challenges

The minimum wage jumps by 75 cents to $14.60 an hour on Monday

‘I’m afraid’: Witnesses of wolf attack on senior near Prince Rupert worried about safety

Frank Russ shows where the unprovoked wolf attacked his father

Protesters prepare to rally against racism in front of Vancouver Art Gallery

Rally is in response to the deaths of black Americans and a Toronto woman

Protesters rally against anti-black, Indigenous racism in Toronto

Police estimated the crowd to be between 3,500 and 4,000 and said there was no violence

Feds earmark $1.5M to support recovery of B.C., Indigenous tourism

B.C. money will be split between Vancouver Island and Indigenous tourism

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.

Tens of thousands marched to protest the death of George Floyd

Surrey mayor’s party under fire for ‘sickening’ tweet accusing northern B.C. RCMP of murder

Mayor Doug McCallum says tweet, Facebook post ‘sent out by unauthorized person’

Father’s Day Walk Run for prostate cancer will be virtual event this year throughout B.C.

The annual fundraiser for Prostate Cancer Foundation BC has brought in $2.5 million since 1999

Most Read