Liberals to face overnight confidence vote on new COVID-19 benefits
OTTAWA -- The federal Liberals are willing to put their minority government on the line over their proposal to implement a series of new COVID-19 benefits for Canadians transitioning off of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
The government has announced that they view the vote on the government's legislation to bring in the new aid package to be a matter of confidence, meaning if it fails Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government could fall.
That outcome is unlikely given the NDP's pre-stated commitment to back the bill, given they were able to negotiate an equitable CERB transition for those who don't qualify for the new EI program, and expanded eligibility for new sick leave coverage.
The bill, C-4, would introduce three new benefits designed to fill gaps left by the end of the CERB program, including a $500 per week payment for self-employed, gig, or contract workers who don't qualify for the newly modified Employment Insurance plan, as well as a form of paid sick leave and a caretaker benefit for Canadians who have to stay home to take care of someone due to COVID-19.
The Liberals are also looking for parliamentary approval to allow the federal government powers to spend “all money required” to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, until Dec. 30.
"We are in the 2nd wave of #COVID19, but we have a plan. Our bill on sick leave and support to families is at the core of it. We will consider the vote on the legislation as a matter of confidence. Canadians can't wait. We need to move forward. Together," tweeted Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez.
This key confidence vote will be the first opportunity for the opposition parties to declare both whether they support keeping financial aid going to Canadians who need it, while also weighing in on whether or not they support the Liberal minority continuing to govern amid the resurging COVID-19 crisis.
Now that the government has shut down debate on whether or not to fast-track the bill that includes billions of dollars in new spending, an abbreviated four and a half hour study on Bill C-4—to pass it through all stages of the House of Commons— will get underway sometime after 8 p.m. Tuesday night.
During debate on the motion to speed up the study, the Liberals faced criticism from the opposition parties about the tight timeline to see the new measures passed without leaving millions of Canadians benefit-less, citing the summer prorogation of Parliament as the reason for the rush now.
Together with the NDP the Liberals would have the majority of votes needed to pass the bill, even if the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois oppose it.
The Conservatives—who want more time to study the bill—have previously said they wouldn’t stand in the way of Canadians getting their benefits, but would not be backing the Liberal’s throne speech, which will also be a confidence vote, expected to happen in the days ahead.
The Conservatives had asked the Speaker to split up the bill when it comes to a vote, one on the new benefits package, and another on the extension of spending powers. Speaker Anthony Rota ruled against that request, stating that there is a common thread, in that all the measures are related to COVID-19 spending.
In a tweet, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said that making Bill C-4 a confidence vote is "political and partisan." He said the Liberals are using the COVID-19 crisis for partisan ends, with the help of the New Democrats.
The confidence vote will be one of the first formal votes taken under the new hybrid virtual and in-person format, with each so far taking around 50 minutes to complete, due to a slower process and technical issues that are gradually being worked out.
The Senate is already planning to sit on Wednesday to deal with the emergency aid bill, though Leader of the Canadian Senators Group, Sen. Scott Tannas, has said his group of 13 senators is displeased with the "the continuing pressure from the Government on the Senate to simply rubber stamp significant complex and wide-ranging pandemic-related legislation, spending billions of dollars without proper scrutiny, and with little or no debate during one-day sittings."
Tannas said he will suggest going forward that one week minimum of debate will be required on any future government legislation during the pandemic.
"This lack of planning and consideration from the Government for the entire legislative process is completely unwarranted and unacceptable," Tannas said.