Bring back Parliament to monitor soaring cost of COVID-19 measures, Senate report says

National Post Wednesday, 15 July 2020
*By Jonathan Bradley*

A Senate report says parliamentary sittings need to resume so the government’s ballooning bill on COVID measures can be monitored.

The report also calls on the Liberals to provide quarterly economic and fiscal updates for the remainder of the pandemic as a check on where money is going.

Newfoundland and Labrador Senator Elizabeth Marshall, a member of the Senate Committee on National Finance, said parliamentary sittings need to resume, whether it be online or in person, to provide accountability.

“We want parliamentarians to study the spending of the government,” said Marshall. “We’re not studying it the way we should be. We want to return to the normal process.”

The Senate Committee on National Finance has been studying the government’s response to the pandemic and its economic consequences. The report contains a list of sixteen recommendations for the government.

“The government’s response has been robust — many witnesses expressed sincere appreciation for the financial supports that were quickly put in place and that likely prevented a more severe economic crash,” said the report.

“However, the government has used extraordinary powers to achieve these aims.”

· The way out of COVID-19's economic hole looks slow, uneven and bleak: fiscal snapshot
· Liberals postpone Parliament until September with help from the NDP, despite Tory objections

Parliament passed the COVID-19 Emergency Responses Act on March 24. The government was granted considerable spending power and was exempted from having to request approval to expand borrowing authority.

Quebec Senator Tony Loffreda, a member of the Senate committee, said quarterly fiscal updates were necessary to monitor government spending.

“In order to help Canadians and make sure nobody falls within the cracks and all the gaps are covered, we have to know where we’re at at a financial point in time,” said Loffreda. “We have to know where we’re starting from to determine how much help we can put out there.”

Finance Minister Bill Morneau released a fiscal snapshot of government spending last week after pressure from opposition parties. The fiscal snapshot found the total cost of federal financial support programs was $212 billion, and credit and liquidity support was $686 billion.

Loffreda said quarterly financial updates would allow the government to determine the economic stimulus needing to go out. He said the economic stimulus could be provided through tax credits, infrastructure investments, and enticing entrepreneurs to invest.

The report said the Senate committee wanted the government to return to traditional parliamentary sittings to approve government spending.

Parliament voted in May to suspend full parliamentary sittings until September. The Liberals were able to pass the proposal with support from the New Democratic Party.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said the COVID-19 committee was no substitute for a fully functioning Parliament.

Mandating quarterly fiscal updates and returning to traditional parliamentary sittings were two of the recommendations listed in the report. Some of the other recommendations were restructuring the Canada Emergency Response Benefit as a declining benefit based on income and considering a universal basic income.

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