National coronavirus update, March 24: Parliament suspends emergency session

Coronavirus news from around Canada, updated at 10 a.m.

These are the latest updates provided by Canadian Press as of 10 a.m., Tuesday, March 24.

Emergency session of parliament suspended

The emergency sitting of the House of Commons has been suspended after only a few minutes.

A small group of 32 MPs were to begin debate on emergency legislation to provide billions in financial aid to help Canadians weather the COVID-19 crisis.

However, the sitting had no sooner begun than government House leader Pablo Rodriguez asked that it be suspended.

It appears that the government is continuing to negotiate details of the legislation with opposition parties after the Conservatives balked at a provision that would have given the government sweeping powers to unilaterally spend, borrow and change taxation levels without the approval of Parliament.

Prime minister ‘committed’ to democracy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians have his “unwavering commitment” to uphold the country’s democratic principles.

The comment follows Opposition anger over draft legislation that promised $82 billion in emergency aid for those struggling the COVID-19 pandemic, but also gave the federal cabinet extraordinary powers to control taxes and spending.

Trudeau says the pandemic is moving extremely quickly, which is why the government was looking at measures to respond just as fast.

However, he also says Canada has a “Parliament that works” and the government is working with opposition parties to draft the appropriate legislation to ensure Canadians are safe and supported.

Nova Scotia: 51 cases

Nova Scotia is reporting a total 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19 today, with 10 new ones identified yesterday.

The cases are travel-related or connected to earlier reported cases.

Several of the new cases are connected to groups or families who have returned to Nova Scotia following travel outside of Canada. None of these cases are from spread within the community.

The 51 individuals affected range in age from under 10 to mid-70s.

National parks restricted

Parks Canada is restricting vehicles in the national parks and national historic sites after people flocked to the popular areas on the weekend.

The national agency says it is still noticing high visitation despite the suspension of visitor services and the closure of facilities.

Officials will now suspend all motor vehicle access by visitors starting at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.

Highways and roadways that go through the parks and historic sites will remain open.

600 Air Canada pilots to go on unpaid leave

The union representing Air Canada’s pilots says up to 600 of its members will go on unpaid leave in the coming months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capt. Michael McKay, head of the Air Canada Pilots Association, says the union has agreed to a plan for a maximum of 600 pilots on furlough.

The 4,400 pilots have also agreed to reduced pay across the board and “simplified contract language” to allow pilots to retire earlier.

McKay says a “precipitous drop in passenger demand and the challenging operating environment” have prompted the changes.

He is joining other unions in calling on Ottawa for financial relief for the aviation industry.

Ontario: 85 new cases

Ontario is reporting 85 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the provincial total to 588.

The large increase includes one more death, meaning seven people have now died in the province.

Complete information is not listed for most of the new cases, but the latest death is a man in his 90s from Durham Region.

Bombardier temporarily shuts down production

Bombardier Inc. is temporarily halting production in Canada and suspending its 2020 financial forecast due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company says it is stopping all non-essential work in the country, including aircraft and rail production in Quebec and Ontario.

It says employees impacted by the shutdown will be placed on furlough, with workers as well as executives forgoing pay.

Board members have also agreed to forgo compensation for the remainder of the year.

Health coalitions urged Ottawa to maintain universal health care

Health coalitions in several provinces from the Maritimes to British Columbia are urging the federal government not to allow the COVID-19 crisis to be used to dismantle universal, public health care.

In a joint statement, groups including the Canadian Health Coalition and Friends of Medicare say all levels of government must work together to reclaim and increase the capacity of the public health-care system.

In addition to ensuring all services from testing to vaccination and hospital stays remain available free of charge, the coalitions support Spain’s decision to bring for-profit health care facilities under public control.

They say a robust public health-care system is the best defence against challenges like the novel coronavirus but they argue it has been eroded by decades of austerity and needs a renewed commitment.

Conservative leader balks at new taxing and spending powers

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says his MPs will help pass emergency economic measures that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week to cushion the blow from COVID-19.

But Scheer says Conservatives won’t give the consent the Liberals would need to take massive new taxing and spending powers for the cabinet, without Parliament’s supervision.

Scheer says he wants to ensure Canadian families and workers receive financial help to pay their bills and put food on their tables.

That’s why Scheer says he doesn’t want conversations about new powers for the Liberal government to get in the way of that assistance getting to Canadians.

-G7 finance ministers vow to do ‘whatever is necessary’

A statement from G7 finance ministers and central bankers says the group will do “whatever is necessary” to restore economic confidence and protect jobs and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nations, representing seven of the world’s leading economies, are also asking other countries to do the same.

Among the nations is Canada, represented by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the Bank of Canada.

The statement says countries affected by COVID-19 should expand their budget spending and support to financial institutions to mitigate the negative shock from the pandemic — and do so for as long as possible.

Ontario to cut hydro rates

Ontario is expected to announce a temporary cut in hydro rates as many people work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A senior government source, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the announcement publicly, says the province will lower rates for the next 45 days.

The source says it will be done by moving all of the current time-of-use pricing to off-peak rates.

Premier Doug Ford is set to make an announcement at 1 p.m alongside the province’s minister of energy and other officials.

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