Liberals secure COVID-19 aid deal with NDP, avoiding election
OTTAWA -- The federal government has reached a deal with the NDP to soon pass the Liberals’ recently tabled bill to implement a trio of new COVID-19 benefits to fill gaps left by the expiring Canadian Emergency Response Benefit program. This agreement paved the way for the NDP confirming it will prop up the Liberal minority to avoid a fall election.
On Friday afternoon, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez tweeted that the Liberals had reached a deal "that will deliver the help people need."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh then confirmed the deal during a press conference on Parliament Hill. He said the NDP convinced the government to expand the number of people who can access a proposed sick leave benefit that was one of the three new measures within what's called Bill C-2, from thousands to millions of Canadians. He called it a “historic moment.”
“Yes, we will be able to support the throne speech,” Singh said. "I still maintain my concerns that the Liberal government likes to say a lot of empty words and don't back it up with actions, but if this agreement is reflected in the bill that's proposed if the same language is there, we will support the bill and we will also support the throne speech."
The minority Liberals needed to garner at least major opposition party’s support for the throne speech, or risk seeing their government fall if the confidence vote on the throne speech failed.
With the Conservatives already ardently against the speech, and the Bloc Quebecois sounding like they haven’t seen enough yet, but could come around if billions in new health funding is sent to the provinces, the Liberals looked to the NDP.
BILL TO BE ADVANCED NEXT WEEK
After a proposal from the federal Conservatives to hold a special Sunday meeting of MPs was defeated on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was confident the bill would pass “in the coming days.”
It's likely this alteration to the legislation would come in an amendment when the bill comes up for debate on Monday.
An enhanced sick leave benefit and an extension of CERB were the two sticking points the NDP had in guaranteeing their support for the eventual vote on the throne speech.
While CERB is not being extended, all who are eligible are being transitioned onto Employment Insurance and an equivalent payment is going to CERB recipients who don’t qualify for EI. Known as the “Canada Recovery Benefit” it will be available to self-employed, gig or contract workers. The benefit was initially promised to be $400 per week, but the Liberals increased to $500 a week, meaning it'll offer the same amount of support as CERB did.
On Thursday Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough tabled Bill C-2, to enact the trio of promised new COVID-19 aid benefits. In addition to the sick leave benefit and the recovery benefit, the government is also creating a caregiver benefit.
The three new benefits are targeted at Canadians who are out of work because they are sick or have to take care of someone, as well as to offer an equitable benefit to gig workers and others who aren't eligible for EI. Eligible CERB recipients will be moved onto EI in the next few days.
The bill also seeks to extend federal government powers to spend “all money required” to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, until the end of the year.
The legislation needs to pass through the House and Senate and when introducing it, the Liberals urged their colleagues across the aisle to support fast-tracking the bill so the new supports can be in place for Canadians as soon as possible.
The NDP had already indicated an intention to back the bill, though until late Friday they were still negotiating the terms of the sick leave benefit.
Asked about the NDP talks ahead of the deal, Trudeau said that while the NDP want to see paid sick leave become a permanent feature of Canada's system, it's "certainly something we can have conversations about, but we are very much focused on making sure that into this fall, as cold season starts again, people have access to sick leave, to be able to stay home and not risk going to work and infect people."
TORY SUNDAY PITCH DEFEATED
Despite the tight timeline to pass the bill before some Canadians are left without financial assistance, the Conservative's earlier suggestion to deal with the bill on Sunday required unanimous consent to pass, and not all MPs were on-side with the idea. The Bloc Quebecois directly opposed adding another sitting day.
The Conservatives argued that, given the amount of spending the bill would then prompt, it needs as thorough a study as possible. Specifically, the caucus suggested sitting in a special committee of the whole on Sunday that would have called on Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen, and the Minister of Labour Filomena Tassi to appear and face hours of questioning.
"Parliament owes it to Canadians to do the serious work of making sure Canadians get the support they need. Canadians need to know that the support they demand, they depend on, is coming. Our proposal will get it done right, and get it done on time," said Conservative MP and caucus-party Liaison Tim Uppal on Friday morning, making the pitch.