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Opposition parties reject emergency COVID-19 aid bill,The Canadian Press,on June 10, 2020 at 2:32 pm
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Opposition parties reject emergency COVID-19 aid bill,The Canadian Press,on June 10, 2020 at 2:32 pm

Opposition parties have refused to give unanimous consent to speedily pass the Trudeau government’s latest emergency legislation.

They have also rejected the government’s bid to split the bill in two, to allow promised benefits for Canadians with disabilities to go ahead.

Those benefits are now in limbo, along with other measures in the bill.

The bill includes a proposed expansion of the wage subsidy program to include seasonal workers and some additional businesses, as well as proposed penalties for fraudulently claiming the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

It also proposes changes to the CERB in response to concerns that the benefit is discouraging people from returning to low-paying jobs.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez says the Liberals will attempt to find other ways to deliver on those promises.

Watch | ‘These changes matter’: Qualtrough says of new COVID response bill:

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough faces a battle with the opposition over a bill to increase benefits for seniors and people with disabilities while laying out penalties for fraud. 0:57

Speaking after the Commons adjourned until June 17, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party did support splitting the bill in two, even though the NDP’s position is that the disability benefit does not provide enough assistance to everyone who needs it.

“Their approach depends on someone earning income — because it’s a tax credit, you have to have taxable income. We know that a lot of Canadians living with disabilities would not be covered by that at all,” Singh said. “Those who are lower income earners would be missed entirely or would have no way to actually benefit from a tax credit.”

In exchange for the NDP’s support for the bill, Singh said his party wants the government to change the legislation by:

  • Assuring families that need the CERB that they will have a form of that benefit extended.
  • Broadening the disability support to allow more Canadians to qualify for it.
  • Removing parts of the bill that impose penalties for fraudulently claiming the CERB

“Sending desperate people to jail or giving them massive fines is wrong during a pandemic,” Singh said, adding that any improper claims should simply be paid back through general taxation.

The Conservatives are holding out for a full resumption of House of Commons business.

And the Bloc Quebecois is demanding three conditions be met before it will support the bill: a fiscal update this month, a first ministers’ meeting before September on health care transfers to the provinces and a ban on political parties accessing the wage subsidy to avoid laying off staff.

Watch | ‘They are asking us to rubber stamp,’ BQ leader says:

Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet accuses the Liberals of acting as if they have a majority government and their leader — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — of “acting like a prince” in attempting to push forward legislation that would extend COVID-19 aid programs. 2:18

Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said he believes the Liberals are acting like a majority government in trying to force legislation while not providing transparency about the country’s finances.

“The most poisonous pill of all of that is the government trying stubbornly to act as if there were not 338 people having been elected last October and doing as if it was a majority government led by some kind of prince, which is not the case,” Blanchet told reporters. “They are not asking us for negotiations, they are asking us for a rubber stamp.”

He also said he believes the Liberals were initially trying to pass the controversial fraud penalties by attaching provisions in the bill to extend benefits to disabled Canadians, which his party and others support, likening this to “putting cod-liver oil in chocolate cake.”

Blanchet said the measures for Canadians with disabilities should be voted on separately.

Singh said Blanchet’s “rubber stamp” statement was an accurate description of the government’s approach to the bill so far.

Watch | Trudeau challenges Scheer to debate his government’s new pandemic bill

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer debated Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the COVID committee of the House of Commons on Wednesday. 0:53

The minority Liberals would have been able to proceed with the bill with the support of just one opposition party but that would have taken days or weeks longer.

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Rodriguez said the government will, if necessary, find other ways to deliver on some of the measures that are included in the bill, although that could entail delays.

In particular, government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Ottawa will follow through on the promised one-time tax-free payment of up to $600 for Canadians with disabilities, announced by Trudeau last week.

The bill includes a provision to allow the Canada Revenue Agency to share information so that the benefit can be delivered to Canadians who are eligible for the disability tax credit.

Watch | Singh demands Trudeau extend CERB benefits

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh debates Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the COVID committee of the House of Commons on Wednesday. 1:59

Officials said a different delivery mechanism can be found if necessary.

The bill also includes changes to the CERB in response to concerns that the benefit is discouraging people from returning to low-paying jobs.

People would be cut off if they fail to return to work when “it is reasonable to do so” and their employer has asked them to come back, or if they are able to work but decline a reasonable job offer.

As well, it would allow people to make claims for the CERB for a two-week period, rather than the current four weeks. That is intended to help Canadians experiencing short-term job loss or having to take time off work to quarantine themselves or care for someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

It would also protect Canadians from penalties for missing deadlines in legal matters due to the pandemic.

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