Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected Conservative calls for a return to normal House of Commons sittings Thursday and blamed a Parliamentary defeat this week on “political games” by opposition parties.
Speaking to reporters for nearly an hour Thursday morning after touring a printing shop in Ottawa, Mr. Trudeau singled out the Official Opposition Conservatives in particular for the fact that a wide-ranging government bill did not move forward Wednesday when the House was recalled.
Bill C-17 proposes new fines and jail time for fraudulent Canada Emergency Response Benefit claims. It also includes changes to the federal wage subsidy, a suspension of various court deadlines and a section authorizing one-time payments of $600 to Canadians who are eligible for the existing disability tax credit.
In a sitting that lasted just 12 minutes Wednesday, the government failed to secure unanimous consent for a motion aimed at passing the bill in a single day. It then proposed splitting the bill so that only the provisions related to disabilities would be passed in one day.
The Conservative Party opposed that motion and instead proposed that the House return to normal rules later that day to debate the government bill. There was no unanimous consent for that motion and the session quickly ended.
Based on that series of events, the morning after focused on finger-pointing.
Mr. Trudeau noted that the House of Commons agreed on May 26 – over the objections of the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois, but with the support of the NDP and Green Party MPs – to suspend regular sittings until September because of the pandemic.
“The Conservatives didn’t like that. They wanted something else,” he said. “So because they didn’t get their way two weeks ago, they continue to complain and play politics and they blocked help to Canadians with disabilities because they’re still trying to argue something they lost the debate on two weeks ago.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer responded on the floor of the House of Commons Thursday during a meeting of the temporary COVID-19 committee, which Mr. Trudeau did not attend.
“The mistake yesterday was Liberals shamefully saying no to allowing Parliament to deal with that legislation and then disgustingly today trying to play petty politics on the backs of people with disabilities," Mr. Scheer said.
Conservative MP Dan Albas said in an interview that it is frustrating to see the Prime Minister use his daily news conferences to insult Parliamentarians while regular sittings are suspended.
“I’m angry that this Prime Minister continues to treat Parliament as not something he reports to, but something that he dictates to. That is wrong. In a democracy, it’s the government that is tethered to the Parliament, not the other way around. If he wants to pass good legislation, then let him bring the House to debate," he said.
“Choosing to throw attacks at other Parliamentarians without the opportunity to be responded to seems to be how this Prime Minister wants to conduct his government.”
Mr. Albas said C-17 includes complex changes that deserve thorough review. He said that can’t be accomplished with government proposals to pass bills in a single day.
The Conservatives and Bloc Québécois have both called on the government to release a fiscal update this month. The government has not released a budget or fiscal update this year.
Mr. Trudeau was asked Thursday whether he is prepared to agree to a fiscal update in light of Wednesday’s events. The Prime Minister said his government is already being transparent by releasing a report every two weeks to the House of Commons finance committee on the status of pandemic-related spending.
“We are demonstrating transparency every step of the way,” Mr. Trudeau said. “We’ll continue to be transparent.”
The latest government report to the finance committee, released Thursday, shows the government has made $153.7-billion in direct federal spending promises this year on pandemic-related measures. That total is up from $152.8-billion outlined in the previous bi-weekly report.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement Thursday that the Liberals should have negotiated with his party before introducing the bill.
“They had ample time to work with us around these concerns, and instead refused to do so and come Wednesday seemed to expect that without doing any work to negotiate to make this better for so many Canadians … that we would simply agree with their legislation.”
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