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Financial scrutiny, back-to-work bonus among Conservative demands ahead of fiscal snapshot

Uncovering what’s become of Canada’s deficit, implementing a bonus for workers returning to their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and boosting funding for the country’s auditor general are among the Official Opposition’s top priorities ahead of Wednesday’s fiscal snapshot.

“We need the government to tell us next week, ‘How big is the deficit, how big is the debt?'” Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said during a news conference Sunday.  “Stop hiding the mess.”

The Trudeau government will update the country on the state of Ottawa’s finances on July 8, after a plan to present the federal budget was sidelined in March as the novel coronavirus continued to spread. 

The snapshot will include a new official deficit estimate, a figure the parliamentary budget officer says could hit $256 billion due to spending on emergency aid and a historic drop in economic output. 

“I think the essential frame from my standpoint [is] we took on the debt so Canadians didn’t have to,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said in an interview last week. “We were in the position to take on the investments required because we had the capacity and the ability to deliver at scale that would only be possible for the federal government.”

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Finance Minister Bill Morneau, pictured in March, will provide an update on the government’s finances on July 8, after a plan to present the federal budget was sidelined in March as the novel coronavirus continued to spread. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Conservatives and members of other opposition parties have been critical of the Liberal government’s decision to release a snapshot instead of a more robust update.

“It shouldn’t be just what the deficit will be. There should be some understanding of what things will look like six months from now,” Conservative small business critic James Cumming said at the news conference.

“They could also provide some baselines. You could have a low baseline, a high baseline, so you could at least give some information on how we are tracking,” he said. 

In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that “making projections about what our economy would look like six months from now or a year from now is simply an exercise in invention and imagination.”

Easing workers off CERB

Poilievre also highlighted the Conservative Party’s proposed “back-to-work” bonus to transition workers off the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) — a plan he said his party has raised with the Liberals. 

“People on [CERB] should be rewarded when they make the courageous decision to go back to work and earn a wage,” he said. 

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Conservatives say their proposal for a ‘back-to-work’ bonus for those returning to work during the pandemic has not resulted in fruitful conversations with the Liberals. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Under the plan, Canadians who earn between $1,000 and $5,000 a month — workers who would lose their $2,000 CERB payment under the Liberals’ existing program — would be eligible for the bonus, which would replace the CERB. 

“I have personally raised this proposal with Finance Minister Bill Morneau. It is my understanding that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has raised it with the prime minister,” Poilievre said. “So far we have not gotten any positive signals.”

More funding for financial scrutiny

Poilievre also said fully funding Canada’s cash-strapped auditor general was critical to ensure financial oversight amid the pandemic.

“The auditor general has been deprived of at least $11 million in necessary funding in order to examine the government’s spending,” he said. 

Interim auditor general Sylvain Ricard has warned that his office has had to reduce the number of audits it performs because of a funding shortfall. 

NDP finance critic Peter Julian said his party will be focused Wednesday on seeing that the Liberals address the use of overseas tax havens, but he agrees that funding for proper scrutiny is needed.

“We have to reinforce the auditor general so that [they] can do the appropriate investigation around the expenditures, he told CBC Radio’s The House in an interview that aired Saturday.

LISTEN | MPs on the upcoming fiscal snapshot, We Charity contract:

A panel of MPs discuss the Liberal government and WE Charity parting ways over a controversial contract. Plus, a discussion of what opposition parties hope to see in next week’s fiscal snapshot. NaN:NaN

Poilievre cited the federal government’s recent decision to part ways with the WE Charity as a reason why better accountability is needed. 

The partnership would have seen the organization — which has ties to the Trudeau family — dole out more than $900 million in grants to students this summer. 

Canada’s ethics watchdog launched an investigation into the matter late Friday, a move both the Conservatives and NDP previously called for.

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