Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland urged the opposition parties to wrap up debate on legislation to approve emergency support measures announced in the fall economic update, but faced pushback from the Conservatives over plans to raise the debt ceiling to $1.8-trilllion.
Ms. Freeland appeared Thursday before the House of Commons finance committee to discuss Bill C-14, which was introduced in December to implement measures announced in the government’s Nov. 30 fall economic statement.
The bill received nine days of debate at second reading in the House of Commons before it was sent to committee on Monday.
“Let’s set aside the partisan sparring,” Ms. Freeland said. “It is now time to move forward.”
Conservative MP and finance critic Ed Fast responded by taking issue with the minister’s “political attack.” He said it is the Liberals who are playing politics with federal finances and urged the government to table a federal budget.
“This committee work is not about delay. And it is not about politics,” he said. “It’s about accountability and oversight.”
Mr. Fast said his party supports the government’s emergency programs for workers and businesses, but has concerns with a section of the bill that amends the Borrowing Authority Act to raise the federal debt limit to $1.8-trillion.
“What we don’t support is increasing the debt ceiling by $663-billion without knowing exactly what that borrowing will be used for,” he said. “You say, ‘I want a line of credit, a $663-billion additional line of credit, but I’m not going to tell you exactly where I’m going to spend it.’”
Ms. Freeland rejected the suggestion that the legislative change is like a line of credit.
“What the borrowing authority limit does is set a limit on the maximum amount a government may borrow,” she responded. “There is a quite separate process, which this committee is intimately involved in, in debating and authorizing the specific spending that the government undertakes.”
The fall update showed the federal debt rising to $1.1-trillion in the current fiscal year from $721.4-billion prior to the pandemic, before increasing to $1.38-trillion in 2025-26. Those figures do not include a pledge in the update to spend up to $100-billion on stimulus measures over three years.
NDP finance critic Peter Julian questioned the minister as to why the federal government isn’t proposing substantial tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations as a way to offset the cost of pandemic spending.
“Other countries have looked to address the issue of pandemic spending by putting in place wealth taxes, by increasing the corporate tax. We’ve seen those announcements. And yet in the fall economic statement there was no measure that puts in place a wealth tax, [that] addresses the endemic pandemic profiteering that we are seeing,” Mr. Julian said. “I’m perplexed by this approach.”
“When it comes to taxation, I would disagree with you in characterizing the measures announced in the fall economic statement as being not weighty,” Ms. Freeland replied. She said Canada is working with the new Biden administration in the United States and other countries on an international plan to tax digital giants.
“That is huge. That is transformative for the international tax framework. And that is something our government is very, very involved in,” she said.
The Finance Minister made her call for the opposition to pass the bill quickly a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he can’t rule out an election if the minority Parliament won’t approve his government’s legislation.
In a radio interview Wednesday with a Montreal morning radio program, Mr. Trudeau suggested that disputes in the House of Commons over the progress of government bills could trigger an election.
Speaking in French, Mr. Trudeau said his priority is to help Canadians get through the pandemic, “but to do that, I need a Parliament that functions.”
The Prime Minister was asked whether a federal election campaign could happen between now and June. “I don’t rule out anything,” he said.
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