Politics

Parliament suspended 5 weeks amid COVID-19 concerns after passing trade deal, spending bills

Canada's Parliament has suspended itself for five weeks after passing implementation legislation for the new North American free trade deal — and bills that grant cabinet extraordinary spending powers — as COVID-19 spreads, threatening the economy and the livelihoods of many Canadians.

MPs, senators voted to pass new North American trade bill

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa in 2019. The House of Commons is grinding to a halt over concerns about COVID-19. (Adrian Wyld /The Canadian Press)

Canada's Parliament has suspended itself for five weeks after passing implementation legislation for the new North American free trade deal — and bills that grant cabinet extraordinary spending powers — as COVID-19 spreads, threatening the economy and the livelihoods of many Canadians.

This morning, all parties agreed to a motion adjourning the House of Commons until at least April 20. That suspension can be extended as needed. The measure effectively wipes two sitting weeks from the calendar, since MPs already had planned to be away next week and for another two weeks in April.

Government House Leader Pablo Rodríguez said the motion also allows for a delay in releasing the federal budget, which originally was to be tabled on March 30. No new date has been set for the budget's release after April 20.

WATCH: All parties agree to suspend House of Commons

"It's the right thing to do," said Rodríguez. "We will face this together, and we will get through this together."

The motion also says that C-4, the bill to implement the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement on trade (CUSMA), or NAFTA 2.0, was deemed to be passed at third reading. The Senate also adopted that legislation Friday and it received royal assent from Gov. Gen. Julie Payette shortly afterward.

In addition to the CUSMA implementation legislation, the two chambers of Parliament have passed three spending-related bills into law to keep the money flowing to government even when the Commons and the Senate aren't sitting to approve those appropriations. In effect, in this emergency situation, the government can continue spending without MPs and senators approving every expenditure.

Parliament has passed Bill C-12, which legislates "Governor General Special Warrants." The warrants make it possible for the core operations of government to continue even though Parliament is not sitting and the normal supply process has been interrupted.

The opposition demanded, and the government accepted, that the auditor general "immediately conduct an audit of the special warrants" issued under the powers contained in Bill C-12 and report his findings to the Commons no later than June 1, 2021.

Rodríguez said the Commons could be called back sooner if it has to deal with an emergency.

"What we're doing today shows how serious we're taking this and how we can collaborate," he said today in the foyer of the House, flanked by Conservative, Bloc and NDP MPs.

The announcement came just hours after news emerged that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, has tested positive for COVID-19. The prime minister is in self-isolation at his home as a precaution.

A spokesperson for the Speaker's Office says all public tours of the House of Commons have been cancelled. It also has suspended committee travel and cancelled all parliamentary functions and events in the Parliamentary Precinct.

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