OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says his party will support emergency efforts to get money to Canadians struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, but will oppose any “power grab” by the Liberal government.
The comments come ahead of an emergency session of the House of Commons on Tuesday in which a small group of parliamentarians is expected to vote on an $82-billion aid package proposed by the Liberal government to deal with COVID-19 and its ensuing economic damage.
But the fate of the aid package has been thrown into some question after a draft of the proposed legislation released on Monday night included a measure giving the federal cabinet extraordinary power over taxes and spending.
The Liberals have said they will change the legislation before it is tabled in the House of Commons for a vote, but Scheer indicated during a news conference that the Conservatives have not seen the final draft.
“Today, Conservatives would like to focus on Canadians and passing the measures the prime minister announced last week,” he added. “Any conversation about new government powers should not get in the way of passing this much-needed assistance. Canadians are counting on us.”
Even as Scheer was speaking, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that the legislation would be tabled “without clause 2,” suggesting the bill would not contain the offending elements.
At the same time, Scheer sidestepped questions about whether the Tories would vote against the emergency-aid bill, the defeat of which would be a vote of no-confidence for the minority Liberal government and possibly trigger an election.
“Justin Trudeau announced a number of measures last week and we’re here to support them,” he said.
“Our hope is that (the government) will stay focused on providing to Canadians, not focused on a power grab. Not focused on giving themselves unprecedented new powers. We can be here on 48 hours’ notice to do exactly what we’re doing today: to pass measures to provide that assistance to Canadians.”
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said the parliamentary budget officer has the bill and should be given the freedom by the government to immediately release an analysis, given the importance of the contents.
There may not be much time between the bill’s publication and the vote to pass it, he added.
“The public is not going to know who to believe so let’s free the parliamentary budget officer to tell everyone what’s inside it, publicly before it gets passed.”
Meanwhile, the premiers of Ontario’s and Quebec’s premiers are ordering non-essential businesses to close their workplaces by midnight tonight, provinces are contemplating closing their borders to each other, and Trudeau has hinted that harsh measures might be used to keep people from gathering in groups.
The death toll in Canada reached 24 yesterday as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 passed 2,000.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2020.