Trudeau's spending bill still unconstitutional despite embarrassing retreats

Trudeau has retreated from his previous position of invoking the emergencies act, a bill that would have seriously violated Canada's democracy.

Nico Johnson Montreal QC

Justin Trudeau has retreated from his previous position of invoking the emergencies act, a bill that would have seriously violated Canada's parliamentary democracy.

Having said this, the prime minister will still look to pass other elements of the bill that allows the government to implement economic measures without the consent of parliament.

Parliament's ability to consent to economic legislation has been a pillar of democracy since King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. This, however, seemed to be of little concern to the prime minister.

The government had previously intended to grant significant, unchecked power to the Finance Minister Bill Morneau—allowing him to raise taxes and implement economic legislation without the consent of the House of Commons. It is unclear whether the prime minister will still go through with these proposals.

This bill came despite a promise by the Conservative Party that they would welcome any legislation from the Liberal government aimed at tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trudeau, however, has now retreated from his original stance by saying part 2 would not be included in the bill, something that would've granted Trudeau's cabinet the ability to raise or lower taxes without Parliamentary approval until the end of 2021.

It would have also centralized a great deal of power that it is currently in the hands of municipal and provincial governments, placing it instead with the federal government.

In short, this act would have transformed Canada's politics, giving unprecedented power to a peacetime government.  

This move, somewhat inevitably, was viewed as a power grab by journalists and politicians alike. The shadow Finance Minister Pierre Poilievre said in a statement on Twitter that "the Trudeau government is using a deadly crisis to amass new and totally unneeded powers."

Journalist Warren Kinsella, on the other hand, said that Trudeau's actions were "unethical and fundamentally wrong."

Having said this, the prime minister has not entirely retreated from his original "emergency powers" plan. Trudeau is still looking to suspend the house, which will effectively limit parliamentary oversight of the executive.

"This is not a time for overreach" said the CPC leadership contender Erin O'Toole. "We have a zero tolerance for this excessive power grab ... we are not here to sign a blank cheque."

Although the prime minister has said he will not table "clause 2," the most dangerous aspects of the bill derive from parts 4 and 9. If these are passed, Trudeau would be able to spend excessively without parliamentary approval.

Part 9, in particular, would give Trudeau the power to grant money to to any undefined "entity" of his choice, without the consent of parliament.

Similarly, part 4 would grant Trudeau's finance minister power to spend “all money required to do anything, including making payments to provinces and territories, in relation to that public health event.”

Due to the fact the Conservatives were willing to approve Trudeau's spending measures, this sudden, unannounced "power grab" by the government has caused some irritation within the Conservative caucus.

This owes especially to the fact that Trudeau picked this day for the House to sit and then didn't have legislation ready for Parliament to debate. The legislation that they did have was also unexpected and vastly inappropriate.

The Liberals, for instance, sent draft legislation 30 minutes before the House sat to debate it, leaving many MPs unprepared for the most significant debate in modern Canadian history.


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