Limited session in Parliament deals with funds for COVID-19

A limited session was held in the House of Commons on Tuesday, where a spending bill of $82 billion was to be passed to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was held up as the opposition didn’t want to give the Liberal government a blank cheque.

Dr. Robert Kitchen, MP for Souris-Moose Mountain, was not among the 32 members who attended the session, but he was kept informed of what happened in the Commons.

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the parties agreed to the limited session with 14 Liberal members, 11 Conservatives, three from the Bloc, three from the NDP and one Green member.

“The understanding was to call the House back to pass the recommendation the government proposed last Wednesday,” said Kitchen, referring to the $82 billion expenditure to address the needs which arose as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Unfortunately, at the last minute (Monday) night, the government snuck in three points, including an unfettered scrutiny on the funds they were spending,” said the MP, noting all of the opposition members objected as this would give the Finance minister carte blanche to spend money any way he wants.

After negotiating between the parties, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said a number of concessions were agreed to, including removal of a section that would have allowed the government to raise taxes without approval. Special spending warrants will now expire on June 23, 2020, and the government agreed to include references to putting taxpayers rights first.

The government also agreed that they will be accountable to Parliament with regular reports to the House’s Health and Finance committees, and Parliament can be recalled if the committee identifies any abuses of power by the government.

Kitchen himself is self-isolating currently, as when he returned home from Ottawa, he had a slight cough. “I’m all right, I’m not sick,” he added, but he said he will observe the full 14-day self-isolation period to be on the safe side.

What is concerning to him is that according to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), over one million Canadians have returned home in recent weeks. He hopes they all have the message clearly to go straight home and self-isolate for 14 days, and not go to the grocery store or other stores but to get family or friends to make the stop for them to get food or other supplies.

Meantime, in this riding, there have been some major issues in both the oil industry and agriculture industry, said Kitchen. With oil prices spiraling downward, the hope was for some support dollars for the oil industry, but that was put aside as the COVID-19 pandemic arose.

There are also questions for small business owners in light of the ordered closures of businesses, he added. They have not been paying into EI the way employees have been at their respective places of work, and they need help if they are forced to shut down their business during the pandemic.