The Trudeau government’s $82-billion emergency coronavirus support package has officially passed.
The fast-tracked legislation received royal assent from Governor General Julie Payette at roughly 1:30 PM on Wednesday following its rapid introduction in the House of Commons around 3:30 AM and passage by the Senate several hours later around noon.
It contains broad new measures to help blunt the impact of the pandemic on Canadian workers and businesses.
While the House of Commons suspended for five weeks on March 13, all parties agreed to return on Tuesday to pass a package of proposals and sent a small number of their MPs to do so.
Those plans hit a snag though after Global News first reported on Monday that the draft legislation included sweeping new powers for the federal cabinet to spend, tax and borrow money without needing to get the consent of Parliament for upwards of 18 months.
Although the bill was supposed to be debated in the House of Commons around noon on Tuesday, it wasn’t tabled until roughly 3 AM on Wednesday because of last-minute negotiations between the parties aimed at getting the government to walk back some of the new powers it wanted.
Sources close to both the NDP and Conservative negotiating teams said both parties were in lockstep until the very end of negotiations in trying to get those powers narrowed.
Ultimately, the government did agree to scale back enough of the measures to get both parties on board and managed to secure the unanimous consent it needed to fast-track the bill.
Those concessions include getting rid of a proposal that would have let the finance minister raise taxes without parliamentary approval, requiring biweekly reports from the finance minister on all actions taken under the measures, and mandatory review of the legislation within six months.
And while cabinet ministers will still be allowed to spend any amount of money they deem needed in a public health emergency, that new power will expire on Sept. 30, 2020.
In the draft version of the legislation, that proposed power had been without an end date.
The biweekly reporting by the finance minister will begin in the week of March 30 with discussions set to take place on April 20 after the House of Commons is scheduled to return — although the current suspension could be pushed back further.
The House of Commons finance committee review of the coronavirus support legislation will need to begin within six months from the day it receives royal assent, which happened on Wednesday.
The Senate began its fast-tracked review of the support package at 10 AM on Wednesday.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau appeared before senators as those morning deliberations got underway.
He defended the legislation and the new powers it grants to the federal cabinet when questioned by Conservative senators, saying the government needs to be able to act quickly to get aid to Canadians.
Morneau added he expects the payments authorized in the legislation for Canadians who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic or are stuck at home will begin going out on April 6.
The billions of dollars in measures in the bill include tax deferrals, deferring repayments and freezing interest on student loans for six months, creating a new emergency benefit for workers who lose their income as a result of the coronavirus, and expanding eligibility for Employment Insurance.
The new emergency benefit combines two benefits the government had announced last week.
It will give $2,000 per month to those who have lost their income because of the pandemic for four months, including those who are self-employed or have to take care of ill dependents, among others.