Finance Minister Bill Morneau rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on May 26, 2020. Opposition parties have laid out their demands as the federal Liberal government prepares to update Canadians on the state of the economy after four months of COVID-19. Wednesday’s fiscal snapshot will be the first public assessment of the country’s economic and financial situation since the pandemic started in earnest in March. The snapshot is expected to give an idea of how the government sees the rest of the fiscal year playing out, including figures for a potential deficit, but opposition parties want more than just numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Tories, NDP at odds over federal spending as Liberals prepare fiscal snapshot

Federal figures last week showed direct government spending on COVID-19 supports at just over $174 billion

Opposition parties have laid out their demands for the federal Liberal government as Ottawa prepares to update Canadians on the country’s finances after four months of COVID-19 — and where it expects the economy to head for the rest of the year.

Wednesday’s fiscal snapshot will be the first public assessment of the country’s economic and financial situation since the pandemic started in earnest in March, forcing provinces into lockdown and the Liberal government to start doling out billions in aid in lieu of a federal budget.

The snapshot is expected to give an idea of how the government sees the rest of the fiscal year playing out, including figures for a potential deficit.

But the Conservatives and NDP made clear Sunday that they want more than just numbers: they want action. That includes additions, changes and expansions to federal COVID-19 support programs along with more accountability and transparency.

Yet while the Conservatives also called for the Liberals to produce a plan to get government spending under control, the NDP was warning against any premature efforts to cut federal assistance.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre on Sunday blasted the Liberals’ handling of the economy while small business critic James Cumming underscored the importance of accurate fiscal projections and planning from the government for Canadian business.

“What business needs as they start to open up is some level of certainty,” Cumming said during a news conference on Parliament Hill.

“They need to understand what the government’s finances are to understand how long these programs are going to last to assist them and when they will be starting to phase out. And a lot of that has a lot to do with the financial health of the government.”

Federal figures last week showed direct government spending on COVID-19 supports at just over $174 billion, which included another increase to the budget for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. That is now expected to cost $80 billion as eligibility increased to 24 from 16 weeks.

At the same time, Statistics Canada last week reported that the Canadian economy shrank 11.6 per cent in April — the largest monthly drop on record. That follows a 7.5 contraction in gross domestic product in March. Both are expected to hit Ottawa’s bottom line through lost tax revenue.

Parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux has previously predicted that the increased spending and lost revenue could combine to see the federal deficit top $250 million this year.

With COVID-19 in retreat across most of the country — at least for the moment — Poilievre said it was time for the Liberals to produce a plan to start getting what he described as Ottawa’s “fiscal mess” under control.

That includes weaning Canadians off the CERB and getting them back to work by phasing out the $2,000-per-month benefit based on how much they earn rather than simply cutting off anyone who earns more than $1,000 in a month.

“The government is punishing Canadians for working,” Poilievre said. “We think that people on it should be rewarded when they make the courageous decision to go back to work and make a wage.”

Poilievre, who also demanded more money for the federal auditor general’s office to better scrutinize government spending during the pandemic, dismissed suggestions that Ottawa needs to keep the taps wide open to stimulate the economy as it starts to reopen.

He instead took aim at various Liberal policies and regulations around natural-resource development, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, as having stunted economic growth and prosperity in Canada.

“Removing these government obstacles is the way you unleash growth and create a cornucopia of opportunity for our workers and businesses that will generate the wealth,” he said. “More deficit spending does not create jobs and growth.”

Yet NDP finance critic Peter Julian warned against any early cut to COVID-19 benefits and support and instead repeated longstanding calls from his party for the federal government to crack down on tax havens and tax wealthy Canadians and businesses to pay for the federal aid.

“There’s been a call for … dealing with the economic and financial fallout of the pandemic through cutting services,” Julian said in an interview.

“We actually believe that now is the time to handle the pandemic from the revenue side. We believe in tackling the tax haven problem, which is more acute in Canada than any other country. And to put in place a wealth tax.”

The NDP is also pressing for the Liberals to ease the criteria for businesses to access the federal wage subsidy, which covers up to 75 per cent of employees’ salaries, to encourage more hiring. And it wants the government to provide promised support for Canadians living with disabilities.

While the fiscal update will be presented in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Julian said the report itself will not require a vote. However, he suggested NDP support for future legislative proposals from the government could be contingent on the Liberals accepting the NDP’s requests.

The Liberals have leaned heavily on the NDP since being elected to a minority government in October. That included securing NDP support for several confidence motions in the winter and spring that, if defeated, could have triggered a federal election.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Conservative Party of CanadaLiberalsndp

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fire Chief delivers update to Kimberley City Council

Somewhat of an odd year with pandemic, Prasad says

Interior Health reports three additional COVID-19 cases in region

The number of cases in the region since the beginning of the pandemic are now at 492

Conservative opposition critic tours through Kootenay riding on listening tour

Pierre Poilievre, the Tory finance critic, gathering local feedback on pandemic supports, recovery issues

Financial update on Bootleg Gap presented to Kimberley Council

The course was only able to open fully on July 17

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

70-year-old punched in the head in dispute over disability parking space in Nanaimo

Senior’s turban knocked off in incident at mall parking lot

Thousands of child care spaces coming to 35 B.C. communities

Province announces milestone in Childcare BC plan

Most Read