N.L. government can borrow $2 billion to keep operating and handle financial cost of pandemic

Mark Cumby/CBC

In an urgent sitting of the House of Assembly, all three political parties worked together to pass measures to deal with the COIVD-19 pandemic including the ability to borrow $2 billion, in addition to relief for renters.

Ten MHAs, practicing social distancing, passed five pieces of legislation with a broad range of measures.

"If the three leaders here can work in collaboration, just imagine what 500,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can do to push back COVID-19," said Premier Dwight Ball.

It's a stark contrast from just weeks ago when there were talks of a coalition or a snap election.

"All of those hatchets you might have been aware of from several weeks ago are now firmly buried and we're focused on the public interest," said PC Leader Ches Crosbie.

Crosbie said the opposition and the government is working collaboratively to find solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I couldn't have seen myself standing here two weeks ago, and praising Mr. Ball, for the way in which he's shown leadership through this crisis," said Crosbie

NDP Leader Allison Coffin, says the All Party Committee on COVID-19 is working exceptionally well.

"We bring all kinds of issues to the table, we discuss them openly and concerns are being addressed. So that is a stellar initiative we are all working on together," said Coffin.

The MHAs approved $1.9 billion in interim supply on Thursday, which will allow the government to operate until this fall.

Ball said it is in case the House of Assembly is unable to sit and pass a budget before June due to the pandemic. 

"Just in case the house is disrupted and not in session until June of this year. This allows the government services to be paid for at least until September," he said.

The House also approved an additional $2 billion in borrowing and a $200 million contingency fund to deal with the pandemic. 

Additionally, the House passed an omnibus bill, called An Act Respecting Certain Measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes changes that protect renters and workers, increases Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro's debt limit by $500 million to $2.6 billion, and gives government leeway on deadlines.

Workers who need an unpaid leave of absence to deal with COVID-19 will not need a medical note if:

  • The employee has returned from travel and must self-isolate.
  • The employee is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19.
  • The employee is in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19.
  • The employee is acting in accordance with public health direction.
  • The employer directs the employee not to work due to COVID-19.
  • The employee needs to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as a school or day-care closure.
  • The employee is directly affected by travel restrictions and cannot reasonably be expected to travel back to the province.

The province has also added an extension of 30 days to the eviction notice for renters unable to pay rent.

Crosbie said there has to be a balancing of interests between renters and small landlords.

"I think what we passed today managed to achieve that," he said.

Relief for renters

Premier Dwight Ball hinted about several of these proposals earlier in the week, including financial relief for people who rent homes or apartments. 

The measure up for debate, which now adds 30 days to the eviction notice for for people who can't pay for rent for reasons related to COVID-19, comes less than a week ahead of April 1, which is when many people's rent is due. 

Katie Breen

That deadline wasn't lost on Sherwin Flight, an administrator for a Facebook forum Newfoundland Tenant and Landlord Support Group, who called for that precise measure to be put in place. 

Flight, who spoke to CBC News before the government introduced the measure, said the effects of COVID-19 have hit many people hard, including renters. 

"A lot of tenants have been laid off or are working reduced hours," said Flight.

"Many have applied for assistance from the federal government, but for many of them that assistance won't arrive before April 1 — which for most people is when rent is due."

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