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Prince George MP staying home as Ottawa meets to pass COVID-19 measures

Bob Zimmer - Question Period 2016
Bob Zimmer is the 2019 incumbent MP for the Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies riding representing the Conservative Party (via The Canadian Press)

Bob Zimmer won't be in Ottawa when the House of Commons meets today (March 24) to introduce urgent economic measures as part of an $82-billion response to support Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There will be 32 MPs, including the Conservative for Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies, in the chamber to follow public health guidelines about social distancing, and split among the parties based on the number of seats they hold.

Government officials say they've been working behind the scenes with opposition parties to make sure the legislation can be debated and passed as quickly as possible.

"We will have a scaled-down parliament to enable us to stay home and self isolate," Zimmer said.

The House will reconvene at Noon for four-and-a-half hours to approve the emergency legislation put forward by the federal government.

The Liberals are asking the opposition parties and Senate to rapidly approve a $27-billion spending package, with a further $55 billion in tax breaks and available credit.

Proposed measures announced last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau include changes that would allow people to more easily qualify for employment insurance, and support for people who don't qualify for EI.

Trudeau said Canadians can expect to hear about more economic measures from the government in the days and weeks ahead. He said Canadians are worried about their health and their jobs and asked all to work together to get through the crisis as COVID-19 continues to spread.

“We have to take immediate action to address the global COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“Canadians are counting on all parliamentarians to work together to help them during this difficult time.”

Zimmer said parliamentarians are still waiting on the full details of the relief package and could not immediately comment on the forthcoming measures.

The Senate is expected to sit Wednesday to pass Commons’ legislation, with a limited number of senators.

However, some of the benefits won't flow for a few weeks and a new report out Monday suggests many renters may not be able to wait until the first aid flows next month.

Research from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says just under half of renters in this country, or 1.6 million households, might have only enough money saved in the bank to pay their bills for a month or less.

A further quarter, roughly 830,000 households, don't have enough income to get through a single week without pay, the analysis says.

- with files from The Canadian Press