Politics

Government facing opposition grilling over COVID-19 response, Commons reconvenes

A small number of MPs are today convening for the once-a-week for in-person sittings of the House of Commons where they are focusing in on the billions of dollars in emergency aid programs the federal government has implemented to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic.

Trudeau is not in the House, attending ceremony for the helicopter crash victims

A reduced number of MPs took part in a special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A small number of MPs are today convening for the once-a-week for in-person sittings of the House of Commons where they are focusing in on the billions of dollars in emergency aid programs the federal government has implemented to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic.

Among the criticisms is the outraged reaction of Canadian farmers to the $252 million in support announced Tuesday for the agri-food sector — far less than the $2.6 billion deemed necessary by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

Trudeau is not in the Commons to deflect the criticism — he is at a base in Trenton, Ont., for a repatriation ceremony for the six members of the Canadian Armed Forces who died in last week's helicopter crash off the coast of Greece. Nor did he give his usual morning briefing on the COVID-19 crisis.

The absence of the prime minister and lack of any new announcements has shifted the focus from what the government is doing to combat the pandemic to what opposition parties contend it is doing wrong.

A virtual sitting of MPs on Tuesday featured plenty of criticism about the agriculture support program falling short of what's needed — from all parties.

Both Trudeau and Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau argued that farmers already have a number of existing income stabilization programs to fall back on. Still, Trudeau called the $252 million just an initial investment, indicating that more support is coming.

Farmers have been hit by reduced demand for some of their crops as a result of restaurants being closed since mid-March to curb the spread of the disease. And they've had difficulty getting the usual number of needed temporary foreign workers into the country to work on farms.

CERB criticism expected from Opposition

Beef, pork and poultry producers have been faced with the prospect of having to cull their animals due to reduced capacity at meat processing plants, which have been particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of COVID-19.

In addition to criticism of the support provided so far for farmers, each opposition party has favoured themes they are likely to continue raising.

Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Monday April 20, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Conservatives have lately focused on the $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit for those thrown out of work by the pandemic, arguing that it provides a disincentive to work.

New Democrats have been pointing out the gaps in the CERB and pushing for a universal benefit available to everyone hurt by the pandemic.

The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois have been demanding assurances — yet to be given — that companies that use tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of taxes will not benefit from any of the federal emergency aid programs.

And all opposition parties, particularly the Bloc, have been urging the government to provide financial support for seniors — something that is expected to be announced later this week.

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