NDP edges to­ward sup­port­ing Lib­eral mi­nor­ity af­ter changes to COVID-19 ben­e­fits

Medicine Hat News - - NATION -

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s mi­nor­ity Lib­eral gov­ern­ment ap­pears poised to sur­vive a con­fi­dence vote on its throne speech af­ter in­tro­duc­ing leg­is­la­tion Thurs­day aimed at se­cur­ing NDP sup­port.

NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh would not im­me­di­ately en­dorse the throne speech but hailed the bill re­form­ing the em­ploy­ment in­surance sys­tem as a “big vic­tory” for New Democrats and the peo­ple they fight for.

“This is a ma­jor win,” he said.

NDP sup­port will be cru­cial for the gov­ern­ment, which needs the back­ing of at least one of the main op­po­si­tion par­ties to avoid de­feat on a con­fi­dence vote, which could plunge the coun­try into an elec­tion.

The Con­ser­va­tives cat­e­gor­i­cally de­clared their in­ten­tion to vote against the throne speech shortly af­ter it was de­liv­ered Wed­nes­day. And the Bloc Que­be­cois has said it won’t sup­port the speech un­less Trudeau com­mits within a week to giv­ing the prov­inces $28 bil­lion more each year in health-care trans­fers.

Thurs­day’s bill fol­lows through on the gov­ern­ment’s prom­ise last month to cre­ate a more ro­bust em­ploy­ment-in­surance sys­tem and three new tem­po­rary ben­e­fits that are to re­place the Canada Emer­gency Re­sponse Ben­e­fit (or CERB), which is sched­uled to come to an end Satur­day af­ter help­ing mil­lions of job­less Cana­di­ans stay afloat dur­ing the pan­demic.

But the gov­ern­ment made one key change, en­sur­ing that un­em­ployed Cana­di­ans will re­ceive $500 a week in ben­e­fits - the same as they’ve been re­ceiv­ing un­der the CERB - rather than the orig­i­nally pro­posed $400.

Singh had been adamant that the NDP would not sup­port the throne speech if it did not first see leg­is­la­tion guar­an­tee­ing there’ll be no re­duc­tion in the ben­e­fits re­ceived by job­less Cana­di­ans.

The NDP is also de­mand­ing that any­one who falls ill with COVID-19 must be en­ti­tled to paid sick leave. The bill in­cludes a new sick leave ben­e­fit of $500 per week for two weeks for any­one who falls ill or must iso­late due to the pan­demic.

How­ever, Singh said his party has some con­cerns about how ac­ces­si­ble the sick leave will be and is ne­go­ti­at­ing with the gov­ern­ment on that point.

“We’re very op­ti­mistic about the out­come of th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions. Things are look­ing good,” he said.

If it gets what it wants on sick leave, Singh said his party will sup­port the bill. But he stopped short of say­ing that it will also sup­port the throne speech, in­sist­ing that’s a sep­a­rate is­sue.

Wed­nes­day, he had replied to ques­tions about whether the NDP would back the throne speech by say­ing he wanted to see leg­is­la­tion in­creas­ing ben­e­fits and guar­an­tee­ing sick leave.

Em­ploy­ment Min­is­ter Carla Qual­trough de­nied the pro­posed job­less ben­e­fit was in­creased to se­cure NDP sup­port for the throne speech. She main­tained the gov­ern­ment had in­di­cated from the out­set that it would be flex­i­ble about the amount, tak­ing into ac­count the state of the economy and the course of the pan­demic, which is en­ter­ing a sec­ond wave that threat­ens to be worse than the first last spring.

“We landed here (on $500 a week) be­cause this is where, where the coun­try is now in terms of the sup­port work­ers need,” she told a news con­fer­ence.

Al­though Trudeau pro­rogued Par­lia­ment for more than a month so that it could not deal with the em­ploy­ment in­surance re­forms or any­thing else, Qual­trough stressed that the bill now needs to be ap­proved quickly.

“Quite frankly, the ur­gency of this can­not be un­der­stated,” she said.

Other emer­gency aid bills have been passed with unan­i­mous con­sent of all op­po­si­tion MPs in a sin­gle day. It was not im­me­di­ately clear Thurs­day whether the gov­ern­ment will at­tempt a sim­i­lar route for the new bill.

Gov­ern­ment House leader Pablo Ro­driguez gave no­tice that the Com­mons will de­bate the bill Mon­day and Tues­day. His of­fice re­fused to say what mea­sures it might be ne­go­ti­at­ing with op­po­si­tion par­ties to fast-track the bill’s pas­sage.

Ear­lier Thurs­day, sev­eral dozen MPs took their seats in the cham­ber, while more signed in on­line as op­po­si­tion par­ties pre­pared to give their of­fi­cial re­sponses to Wed­nes­day’s speech from the throne.

The Con­ser­va­tives ac­cused the Lib­er­als of us­ing pro­ro­ga­tion, which led to the speech, to shut down par­lia­men­tary scru­tiny of their de­ci­sion to award WE Char­ity a con­tract to run a stu­dent grant pro­gram.

Be­fore de­bate on the speech, Con­ser­va­tive MP Michael Bar­rett was up on his feet say­ing his priv­i­leges had been breached by the redac­tions in doc­u­ments re­lated to the WE af­fair, show­ing that the Op­po­si­tion does not in­tend to let that is­sue go.

“If the speech from the throne was about pre­sent­ing a re­fresh­ing agenda re­flect­ing the COVID pan­demic, the prime min­is­ter could have sim­ply pro­rogued Par­lia­ment the night be­fore last, or yes­ter­day morn­ing for that mat­ter,” Bar­rett said.

“What he didn’t need to do was to shut down Par­lia­ment on the 18th of Au­gust. The only thing that ac­com­plished was to kill com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tions cold in their tracks.”

CP PHOTO SEAN KILPATRICK

NDP leader Jag­meet Singh ar­rives on Par­lia­ment Hill in Ot­tawa on Thurs­day.

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