Coronavirus aid bill negotiations continue, agreement in principle reached: sources

WATCH: (From March 22, 2020) Worries about mortgage deferral program and federal coronavirus financial aid package

The House of Commons was expected to sit Tuesday for the tabling of legislation meant to provide economic support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as of Tuesday night, talks over the draft bill stretched on.

Negotiations continued through the night and, at 11 p.m., sources said they expected it would be at least a few hours before opposition parties saw draft copies of legislation.

Earlier, sources said that an agreement in principle had been reached but that opposition members had not seen any final text.

Trudeau says sweeping coronavirus bill powers needed given ‘exceptional situation’

Under the special operating rules for this extraordinary sitting of the House of Commons, a relief package and other measures can only be passed by unanimous consent of all Liberal, Conservative, BQ and NDP MPs in the House.

One Conservative MP said the party was ready to pass the aid package but not if it was a “power grab” for the Liberals.

“We asked them to remove the power grab,” tweeted Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre just before 11:45 p.m. ET. “They have not gotten back to us. As of 11:39pm, we haven’t seen a new bill.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had earlier said that proposed sweeping new powers to let the government spend money without parliamentary approval are needed because the COVID-19 pandemic presents an “exceptional situation.”

Speaking with reporters in his daily briefing outside Rideau Cottage, where he is in self-isolation, Trudeau was questioned on proposals that Global News first reported were contained in a draft version of the coronavirus support bill.

The House had originally been scheduled to sit at noon on Tuesday. But immediately after that sitting opened, government House leader Pablo Rodriguez requested it be suspended until later in the day, citing ongoing negotiations with other parties over portions of the proposed legislation.

Parliament adjourned on March 13 until at least April 20 as part of a nationwide effort to curb the spread of the virus.

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It was recalled Tuesday to deal with the emergency aid package, with only about one in every 10 MPs present in the Commons, seated at least two metres apart.

Global News first reported on a draft version of the legislation on Monday night. That version included proposals to allow government spending without parliamentary approval, sparking criticism from the Conservatives as well as from parliamentary experts.

Earlier on Tuesday evening, Scheer had told Global News that the parties had been trying to find “a way to move forward.”

“We continue to believe that if the government just separates the financial measures, we can pass that immediately,” he said.

The Conservatives are not prepared to “give the government unlimited power without the proper parliamentary oversight.”

“I am optimistic that we’re going to find a solution,” Scheer had said.

The draft version seen by Global News 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 proposals are highly unusual because the power to tax and spend are powers that belong to the Parliament of Canada. By removing the need for parliamentary approval, the proposed measures would eliminate the ability of MPs in a minority government to vote for or against them.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that one part of the proposed legislation would be removed: the section that would have granted extraordinary power to the finance minister to change tax rules without parliamentary approval.

But at the time, Trudeau did not indicate whether other measures that would grant further extraordinary spending powers to the federal cabinet will also be removed.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has previously said the Conservatives plan to support the $82-billion aid package proposed by the Liberals.

But he also suggested the Tories are not prepared to give the federal cabinet extraordinary power over taxes and spending.

— With files by Global News’ Amanda Connolly, David Akin

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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