Federal relief spending now exceeds $150-billion

Globe and Mail (Ontario)

Report on Business | B1, Words: 654

Government's total spending has increased by nearly $6-billion in the past two weeks

by: Bill Curry

Federal spending on COVID-19 measures now stands at $151.7-billion, according to the Finance Department's latest tally of government announcements.

As part of an agreement with the opposition parties in the minority Parliament, the Liberal government is required to table a full cost breakdown of its pandemic spending measures every other week in a report to the House of Commons finance committee.

This week's report, dated May 13, shows total spending has increased by nearly $6billion since the last report on April 29.

Some of the new spending announced over the past two weeks includes $240.5million for virtual care and mental-health online programs and $2.5-billion in onetime payments to Canadian seniors.

The government also announced a Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility program (LEEFF) on May 11 that will provide large corporations with government loans in the event that they are unable to secure private financing.

This week's finance report said the cost of the LEEFF is "to be determined." It is listed under "other liquidity support and capital relief."

That section is separate from the $151.7billion in direct spending measures.

Only the direct spending measures have an immediate impact on the fiscal bottom line as loans are accounted for separately.

The loans and liquidity support category includes measures such as the Business Credit Availability Program and credit actions taken by the Bank of Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

This week's report says the grand total of all liquidity support and capital relief measures is $686.4-billion.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau appeared Thursday afternoon before the House of Commons finance committee, where Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre and Bloc Québécois MP Gabriel SteMarie asked the minister when he intends on releasing a fiscal update.

Mr. Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have repeatedly declined to provide a clear timeline as to when the federal government will provide a budget or fiscal update on the impact of this new emergency spending on the size of the deficit.

However, earlier this week a senior Finance Department official told the Senate national finance committee that a fiscal update is in the works and could be ready "in the coming weeks."

During Thursday's committee meeting, Mr. Morneau pointed to the regular reports to the committee as evidence of the government's transparency. However, he again did not provide a clear timeline for releasing a fiscal update. "The situation is very fluid. It is difficult to make projections," he said.

"When we have a more stable situation, we'll have the possibility of doing more." Mr. Poilievre criticized the minister for not providing clear answers to this and other questions.

"Do you have answers to these questions or do you just believe that Canadians don't deserve to hear them?" Mr. Poilievre said.

NDP MP Peter Julian told the minister that the government's new loan program for big corporations should not go to companies that use tax havens.

Mr. Morneau replied that the government has other programs that focus on curbing tax avoidance and that the new loan program will be off limits to companies convicted of tax evasion.

Liberal MP and committee chair Wayne Easter said the Prime Minister and the government should respond more clearly to media reports indicating that public servants are aware of potentially fraudulent applications to programs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, but are being told by managers to process the claims anyway and potentially investigate them later.

"The government has to make it clear that we are not going to accept outright fraud and that money will be hauled back in," he said.

"The fact that there are some people who are committing fraud, or that there are accidents, is a problem and we're going to have to come back to those problems," Mr. Morneau replied.

"For those people who are fraudulent, it's not acceptable. We're going to come back and we're going to have to deal with that and that will be dealt with."

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