OTTAWA — The federal budget remains delayed until further notice.
The annual fiscal blueprint was scheduled to be tabled March 30 before it was postponed after the coronavirus pandemic prompted the suspension of Parliament. More than a month later, with the House of Commons back in a hybrid virtual-in-person format, it isn’t clear when or if the government intends to table one in the coming months.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that a budget is “usually pretty accurate” in laying out a roadmap for economic measures. This year is different, he suggested.
“Right now, we’re in a situation where there is a tremendous degree of uncertainty as to what the economy could look like six months from now, what the economy could look like three months from now, what’s going to happen in the coming weeks,” Trudeau said during a news conference outside his Ottawa home.
He said his government has been “extremely transparent” since the start of the COVID-19 crisis about the billions promised for families and small businesses in these “unprecedented” times.
Watch: Workers can get emergency benefit or wage support but not both, PM warns. Story continues below video.
Asked about the possibility an economic update, generally seen as a “mini budget,” could be released this spring, Trudeau said in French that “nothing is off the table.”
With provincial governments beginning to map out recovery plans to remove physical-distancing measures, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said now is the “right time” to plan a budget.
“We have expressed concerns about the federal budget before the crisis,” he said, referencing continued criticism fromConservatives about government spending.
Last week, the parliamentary budget officer released a report forecasting the federal budget to increase from $24.9 billion in 2019-2020 to $252.1 billion in 2020-21 — the “largest budgetary deficit on record.”
“Now that we have been impacted by the pandemic, it is clear that as a country we are weaker because of the mismanagement of Justin Trudeau,” Scheer said.
The Conservative leader said that while a federal budget or economic update may not come this week or “perhaps not even this month,” it doesn’t mean the finance department can’t get started on preliminary work.
Scheer said he would like to see an updated budget plan before Parliament adjourns for the summer in June. Reviewing a plan for how the government plans to manage the economy over the next several months is “necessary,” he said.
Parliament has so far approved $164 billion in funding, through three pieces of emergency legislation, for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), and the Canada Emergency Student Benefit.
Scheer wants ‘progressive’ change made to CERB
Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters during a daily news conference in Ottawa that the government has received 10.6 million applications for the CERB, and 7.3 million people have received the benefit.
He added that 96,000 applications have been made for the CEWS, which has helped 1.7 million workers across the country as of Sunday.
Conservative have also raised concerns about the current structure of the CERB, saying the rule that workers who earn more than $1,000 a month are deemed ineligible for the benefit may create a disincentive to work.
Scheer said as businesses look to reopen and fill their staffing schedules, some “flexibility” should be woven into the program.
Instead of a hardline cutoff that makes people ineligible for the emergency benefit, there should be a “gradual” reduction to foster an economic situation where it’s “always better off for Canadians to work.”
He explained a gradual phase-out of the benefit, as people earn more and more, would be a “progressive” change, which could help “encourage and incentivize” people to return to the workforce.
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