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Canada lawmakers pass coronavirus aid package after all-night session

Parliament of Canada, pictureduring morning d rush hour March 23, 2020 in Ottawa - Dave Chan / ©AFP
Parliament of Canada, pictureduring morning d rush hour March 23, 2020 in Ottawa - Dave Chan / ©AFP

(AFP)

Canadian lawmakers Wednesday morning approved an Can$82 billion (US$57 billion) aid package to help individuals and businesses through the pandemic, after all-night negotiations on what emergency powers to grant the minority government.

Thirty-two members of Parliament, proportionally representing each party instead of the full 338, had gathered in Ottawa for a vote on the emergency measures on Tuesday.

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But opposition parties balked at additional provisions giving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals unlimited borrowing and spending powers for 21 months without oversight.

Parliament had been suspended from March 13 through April 20, but reconvened only to approve the cash injection to help individuals and businesses.

South of the border, a similar drama played out in Washington, where US Senate leaders and the White House finally agreed on a $2 trillion aid package late Tuesday.

In Ottawa, the opposition Conservatives offered their support for the aid, but pushed back against a government demand for unlimited spending powers through 2021.

Meanwhile, the New Democrats lamented that not enough money had been spent yet to help the nearly one million Canadians who joined unemployment lines this month after businesses were ordered temporarily closed.

“We will authorize whatever spending measures are justified to respond to the situation but we will not sign a blank cheque,” Tory leader Andrew Scheer said, adding the unprecedented powers sought by the Liberals amounted to a “power grab.”

Trudeau justified the need for the measures, saying: “This pandemic is moving extremely quickly and it is an exceptional situation that requires extreme flexibility and rapidity of response by governments.”

The government bill had received backing from the Bloc Quebecois, assuring its passage, but without all-party support the cash would not get to Canadians in early April in time to soften the pandemic’s economic toll.

In the end, the House of Commons unanimously passed an amended bill limiting the government’s unchecked borrowing and spending to the end of September.

“It’s done,” government House leader Pablo Rodriguez tweeted. “The House has adopted the emergency support announced to face #COVID19.”

The Senate was expected to adopt it mid-morning. 

The measures include Can$27 billion in direct support for families and businesses and Can$55 billion in tax deferrals.

According to public health authorities, Canada has 2,792 cases of COVID-19 illness and 27 deaths.

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