The House of Commons fast-tracked and passed the $9-billion suite of student-focused COVID-19 supports on Wednesday, after opposition parties negotiated a boost to the federal government’s proposed emergency benefit for students.
Before heading to Parliament Hill for the fourth in-person emergency session, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised students that the measures aimed at helping them over the summer will be enacted “as quickly as possible,” but the ability to expedite the bill required unanimous consent.
As part of the backroom deal making between parties to give the government the votes they needed to pass the third piece of emergency legislation since the pandemic began, the Canada Emergency Student Benefit is being expanded for students with disabilities or dependents.
As it had been proposed initially on April 22, eligible postsecondary students and recent graduates who have seen their education and job prospects hampered by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will receive $1,250 a month from May to August. For those who have a disability, or are taking care of someone else, that amount increases to $1,750 monthly.
Now, for those with a disability or a child, the $1,750 is being increased by $250 per month, making that benefit equal to the $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
The inequality between the two emergency benefits was first called out by federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who had made his caucus’ support for the bill contingent on the government changing the policy.
Singh told reporters Wednesday morning that he thought it was “wrong and unjust” that parents who are students would receive less through this program than parents who are eligible for the CERB. He said that as soon as that got solved the Liberals would have New Democrats’ support.
In an interview on CTV’s Power Play reacting to the revision, Singh said the initial approach made “no sense,” though he’d still like to see one universal benefit that all who need it could claim rather than the various targeted initiatives the Liberals have launched.
The House of Commons sitting wrapped up around 7 p.m. Though, in order for the new student supports to come into effect, senators will need to also study and pass the bill. That’s scheduled to happen on Friday.
OPPOSITION NEGOTIATE CHANGES
As part of the student aid package, the government has committed to creating an additional 76,000 jobs in sectors that need help or are on the front line; is spending millions on extending scholarships, grants, and fellowships as well as doubling the Canada Student Grant program; and is launching a new Canada Student Service Grant that would see young people receive up to $5,000 towards their fall tuition if they volunteer in a sector needing assistance on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further agreed to in the terms to fast track the legislation—known as Bill C-15 or “An Act respecting Canada emergency student benefits”—was a vow that the federal government implement new incentives to connect students to available jobs, which had been a sticking point of the Conservatives’ support.
Earlier in the week, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he had some concerns with the programs as proposed, including whether they offer enough of an incentive for students to work this summer and whether there are enough options to pair young people with jobs relevant to their skills or studies.
All sides have also agreed to instructing the House human resources committee to conduct a study into the CERB—which to date has received 7.3 million unique applications and has paid out $25.6 billion in aid money to unemployed or underemployed Canadians—by June 30.
During a press conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday morning, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said his caucus also requested changes, saying that the federal government should make it easier and not harder for students to find jobs amid this crisis, criticizing the Conservative view that some of the grants would not incentivize young people to look for jobs.
“There are three things that students are not. They are not kids running with flowers in their hair, naked in the field. Neither are they young, lazy people smoking cannabis in the basement. And they are not either merchandise that you deliver to somebody that says they need it,” Blanchet said.
A fraction of MPs proportional to each party’s standings spent the afternoon debating Bill C-15, which was tabled by Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, after wrapping up the first in-person meeting of the special all-party committee on COVID-19 in the House of Commons.
Going forward, the time for questioning cabinet ministers during these special committee meetings is increasing, another update negotiated by the opposition parties. So too, was a commitment to provide further COVID-19 economic supports for seniors in Canada, such as through the old age security program or guaranteed income supplements.
SACRIFICES PAYING OFF: PM
During his daily update, Trudeau said the sacrifices Canadians are making are paying off and need to continue.
In light of the federal and provincial governments releasing reopening guidelines and the latest national modelling indicating that the COVID-19 curve in Canada is flattening, the prime minister is encouraging Canadians to “stick to” their pandemic precautions.
“We’re seeing some progress because people from coast-to-coast-to-coast are making sacrifices and following public health rules,” he said. “We have to keep it up.”
“Let’s stay home, wash our hands and when we go out let’s stay two metres away from others,” Trudeau said.
As of when Trudeau concluded his daily address, there were 50,392 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada, and 2,905 deaths.