In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the federal Liberals are poised to table a bill granting them sweeping new powers to spend money and raise taxes without having to get the approval of Parliament.
Global News has seen a copy of the legislation set to be tabled Tuesday when a small number of MPs from all parties return to Ottawa to pass a multibillion-dollar coronavirus support package.
The legislation grants Finance Minister Bill Morneau extraordinary new powers to spend, borrow and tax without having to get the approval of opposition MPs until December 2021.
The Canadian Constitution enshrines taxation as a power of the parliamentary branch.
Because of that, granting those powers to the federal cabinet alone is highly unusual – even the Emergency Powers Act does not do so.
All opposition parties were surprised at the content of the bill and all singled out the extensive section which gives Morneau new powers.
It is unclear though if one or any party will vote against the package or will lead an attempt to amend the legislation. The opposition will have the votes to amend but only if all of them unite to overwhelm the government side.
A spokesperson for Morneau would not comment on why those provisions were in the copy of the legislation seen by Global News because the bill hasn’t yet been tabled, adding that all of the federal parties will want to make sure Canadians have the resources they need.
In an effort to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spread, federal political parties agreed to suspend Parliament on March 13 for five weeks but there’s no guarantee it will actually return to regular sittings at that time.
In the current minority Parliament, the government will need the support of at least one opposition party in order to pass the bill, which also includes promised measures like extending eligibility for Employment Insurance and providing wage subsidies and loans to businesses.
The legislation includes 20 sections, one of which will create a new Public Health Events of National Concern Payments Act that would allow any cabinet minister with the approval of the finance minister to dispense “all money required to do anything” in the event of a public health emergency.
The bill will also let the federal government ignore patent restrictions when the patent applies to a device deemed necessary to respond to a public health emergency.
That would be defined as the spread of an infectious disease posing a public health risk to Canadians and requiring a coordinated response.
The House of Commons is set to resume at noon on Tuesday.
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