POLITICS INSIDER

MPs pull an all-nighter to pass a contentious emergency spending bill

Politics Insider for March 25: A marathon negotiation behind closed doors left the House of Commons suspended, and mostly empty. But MPs worked through the night and, just before sunrise, passed a heavily amended spending bill

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Seven hours into backroom negotiations meant to salvage an $82-billion federal economic aid package, Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne sat quietly in his front-row seat in the House of Commons. He’d spent most of the day in that seat, chatting with colleagues (from a safe distance), going over paperwork and answering emails. All the while, the House was suspended as a small group of MPs haggled over the contents of the bill.

By 7:20 p.m. Champagne presided over dead silence. But he had company. Scott Reid, a maverick Tory MP who defied his own party’s orders to stay away from the emergency session of Parliament, busied himself at his own desk on the opposite side of the chamber. Reid was there to thwart an all-party attempt to gain unanimous consent for the funding bill. Reid warned that whatever the merits of the legislation, he couldn’t support it without at least reading it through.

All around Champagne and Reid, everything was in its right place. Interpreters sat in their booth, awaiting the House’s return. The guy running the soundboard sat patiently. The Hansard staff, charged with recording every word spoken aloud, sat at tables in the aisle. The parliamentary mace lay on the clerk’s table at the foot of the Speaker’s chair.

But clues hinted at the extraordinary circumstances unfolding in the outside world that brought everyone back to town. A container of Lysol wipes sat on the Hansard table. There was not a parliamentary page in sight. In a room behind the soundboard, a news broadcast on TV showed a map of COVID-19 cases across Canada.

Just past 7 p.m., Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez informally told three Tory MPs on the House floor that the Liberal side was preparing a new draft bill, but that it would take a few hours.

At 7:35 p.m., Champagne vacated the chamber, moments after Reid took his own leave. Three-hundred and thirty-eight chairs briefly sat empty. And then Liberal MP Greg Fergus as if on cue, bounced into the House, greeting the young Hansard writer.

Meanwhile, negotiations continued, unseen, somewhere else.

***

Just before 10 p.m., Global News reporter Mercedes Stephenson reported the parties had reached an agreement-in-principle, and the House was “about to be recalled.” Just before midnight, Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre and Candice Bergen both complained their party had still seen no such bill. Just after midnight, Fergus himself finally left.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Globe and Mail also reported a deal. The Liberals, they said, retained the ability to dole out health-care funds without parliamentary approval until Sept. 30, 2020. CBC’s David Cochrane, also burning the midnight oil, reported only that the opposition was reviewing a revised bill.

Finally, all the speculation produced a tangible debate. At 2:36 a.m., Rodriguez tweeted that MPs were “headed back to the House.” They debated what became Bill C-13. Tory leader Andrew Scheer put out a statement at 3:32 a.m. confirming the Liberals had agreed to sunset clauses on spending powers and parliamentary oversight. Along the way, Finance Minister Bill Morneau revealed two family members tested positive for the coronavirus. Bergen admitted that for any government, the pandemic is a “heavy load to bear.”

At 5:52 a.m., the House passed C-13. The calendar in the chamber still read March 24, a procedural quirk of the House, which can’t move on to the next day until the previous day’s sitting comes to an end.

Today, the Senate will take up debate.

***

Survey says: Are Canadians worried about the economic impact of a coronavirus-fuelled downturn? You bet. Jason Kirby has the details on a new poll that gives a sense of rising national anxiety about paying the bills:

Nearly two-thirds of Canadian households have lost work or anticipate losing work as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, while 30 per cent fear they may be late paying their rent or mortgage, according to a new survey by Angus Reid Institute.

Escape from Florida: Stephen Maher was on Florida’s west coast, fixing an old sailboat, when the coronavirus outbreak started consuming the news. Maher hunkered down, reading up on the virus and worrying about the Floridian sense of nonchalance. Eventually he decided to flee the state, renting a car and driving it all the way back to his home in Ottawa.

The border agent was wearing a mask. She asked me where I had been, whether I had symptoms, which I didn’t. She didn’t bother asking about what I was bringing with me, as they always do in normal times. She told me I had to self-isolate for 14 days, and waited for me to confirm that I would. Then she told me that I could cross. I was shocked, as we crossed, to find myself fighting the sudden urge to cry tears of relief.

Almost every Conservative leadership candidate wants the race suspended for—well, you know why. Yesterday, three candidates—Marilyn Gladu Rudy Husny and Derek Sloan—urged the party committee overseeing the contest to delay the vote. Erin O’Toole already made the same request. Peter MacKay has taken the opposite tack, calling for a vote to be held as soon as possible. Leslyn Lewis, another candidate, called MacKay’s idea an “undemocratic proposal.”

Don’t follow Trump’s advice: That was the message from three health-care organizations in Toronto. iPolitics reports that the Ontario Pharmacists Associations, Ontario Medical Association and Registered Nurses Association of Ontario released a joint statement advising their members not to prescribe hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as COVID-19 treatments. Trump has offhandedly suggested the combo works, calling the drugs potentially the “biggest game-changers in the history of medicine.” He’s wrong.