OTTAWA — All the federal political parties have agreed to suspend Canada’s Parliament Friday amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The House of Commons will be adjourned until April 20. The Senate will be adjourned until April 21. The government will still have the authority to spend public funds during the break to respond to the escalating crisis.
“We’re all united,” Liberal House Leader Pablo Rodriguez told the Commons. “We will face this together and we will get through this together.”
Rodriguez said the federal budget, which was set to be delivered by Finance Minister Bill Morneau on March 30, is now postponed. He said the House could be recalled to consider measures to address economic impacts of COVID-19, and pledged to provide “regular updates” to the other parties.
In the meantime, until April 20, the House of Commons will be closed to visitors and public tours are cancelled. Events and functions scheduled in the House during the affected time period have also been cancelled. Committee travel has also been suspended for MPs. The Senate also cancelled public tours and all events with external guests.
One of the last pieces of legislation the House adopted before its suspension was the passage of the new North American Free Trade Agreement at third reading. It sped through the Senate later Friday morning and is expected to become law before the end of the day.
Rodriguez later held a joint press conference with Conservative whip Mark Strahl, NDP House Leader Peter Julian and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet.
Strahl told reporters that while the “extraordinary” step was necessary, his party will continue to do its job of holding the government to account.
He noted the motion to adjourn includes “accountability measures,” most notably a demand that any funds spent without parliamentary approval during this period be reviewed by the auditor general and that the watchdog report back before June 1, 2021.
‘Proud Canadian tradition of coming together’
Julian also noted that his party received a concession through negotiations for adjournment: the government agreed to pass an NDP motion calling on the Liberals to adopt a truly national pharmacare program.
“The NDP really salutes the House leaders and the whips of all parties working together in the proud Canadian tradition of coming together in times of challenge, in times of difficulty,” Julian said.
Blanchet said his party will stay “vigilant” monitoring the government’s actions on the crisis and he called on the Liberals to ensure any missing work days are later added to the House’s calendar.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is currently in self-isolation following his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau’s positive test for COVID-19 Thursday after developing flu-like systems when she recently returned from a London, U.K. trip.
COVID-19 is a disease caused by the novel coronavirus. As of March 13, there are at least 138 confirmed cases across Canada. The disease is characterized by a fever, coughing, and shortness of breath and potentially life-threatening pneumonia in severe cases.
With files from Althia Raj