Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it would be “irresponsible” to proceed with the government’s COVID-19 recovery plan without a green light from the House of Commons but would not explain why a $37-billion aid package was presented two days after he shut down Parliament.
During a joint event with Ontario Premier Doug Ford in Brockville, Ont., Friday, Trudeau said the agenda his government had put forward eight months ago is no longer “aligned” with the plan now being crafted to cope with the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
“What this pandemic has revealed is challenges and weaknesses that Canadians are facing that need to be addressed,” he said.
“However, it would be irresponsible for us as a government to take a new tack, to put forward an ambitious plan for the future of this country and to support Canadians, without presenting it to Parliament … That’s why prorogation is a logical and a reasonable step as we concentrate on next steps in keeping Canadians safe.”
New $37B COVID-19 package
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough presented a $37-billion aid package Thursday that extends the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) by a month, expands employment insurance (EI) and creates new “recovery” benefits, including a 10-day paid sick leave benefit.
The announcement came just two days after Trudeau’s request to prorogue Parliament until Sept. 23 was granted by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.
WATCH | Trudeau explains why he prorogued Parliament:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explains the reasons behind his decision to end this session of Parliament. 1:15
Challenged by a parliamentary reporter on why he did not table legislation to enable those benefits to flow before proroguing Parliament instead of playing “political football,” Trudeau sidestepped the question.
“We are moving forward on implementing this program because, as we’ve always said, we are going to be there for Canadians,” he said. “We can do this with regulation and with the tools at our disposal, and that has always been our focus.”
Trudeau has maintained that the move to suspend Parliament is to give the government time to focus on the economic recovery plan and to give the House of Commons the opportunity to have a confidence vote on it by way of the throne speech.
Opposition not buying it
Opposition Conservatives have accused the Liberals of proroguing in order to halt the work of parliamentary committees probing the ethics controversy related to the WE Charity student volunteer grant program.
Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau both failed to recuse themselves from cabinet discussions on the contract to manage the $900-million program, even though both had close family ties to the WE organization.
Conservative employment critic Dan Albas accused Trudeau of playing “political games” with income support benefits for Canadians.
“Instead of getting to work and debating the legislation needed for these benefits, Justin Trudeau is punting the decision until after the throne speech,” he said in a statement to CBC.
“Justin Trudeau is intentionally making life more uncertain for Canadians. It is unacceptable and irresponsible that the Liberal government would announce these benefits days after shuttering Parliament for over a month. If Justin Trudeau’s goal is to help Canadians get through this pandemic and provide certainty to those who need it, he is doing the exact opposite.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused Trudeau of delaying help for Canadians struggling to make ends meet by proroguing Parliament.
“Justin Trudeau said people on CERB or EI would not be affected by his political games, but it turns out, that’s not true. Because of his actions, people will have to wait to get this help,” he said in a statement.
Singh said the NDP will push for permanent reforms to EI and funding for child care to help ensure safe back-to-school plans.
Morneau resigned as finance minister late Monday, stating that he did not plan to seek a third term in office and that it was time for a new minister to carry the government through the pandemic recovery process. Trudeau appointed Freeland to the post Tuesday.
Watch: Trudeau on the national debt:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau forcefully justifies his decision to dramatically increase the debt during the COVID-19 crisis. 1:47