Liberals Throw Down Challenge, Make COVID 19 Aid Bill a Confidence Matter

September 29, 2020 Updated: September 29, 2020

OTTAWA—Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez says proposed legislation for new COVID-19 aid programs will be a matter of confidence in the minority Liberal government.

The move appears to dare the opposition parties to bring the government down as the pandemic surges across the country.

The risk of that happening is low, given NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has already said his party will vote for the bill because the Liberals agreed to increase benefit payments and expand eligibility for paid sick leave.

The Liberals and NDP together have a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit expired on the weekend. The benefit was introduced in the spring to provide up to $500 a week to Canadians who lost their jobs because of COVID-19.

The new bill seeks to replace the CERB with a revamped employment insurance system, and three separate benefits for self-employed and gig workers, parents and caregivers, and people who are sick.

The bill adjusts the hours needed to qualify for EI and sets a minimum weekly benefit payment for the first time.

There are also three new benefits for those who still wouldn’t qualify for EI, including self-employed workers, people who need to say home to look after a child or someone else who needs care due to COVID-19, and a new sick leave benefit.

Originally the Liberals sought to set the minimum weekly amount for EI and the three separate benefits, at $400 a week, but increased that to $500 on the urging of the NDP, who wanted ensure the same level of support provided by the CERB.

The Liberals also agreed to change eligibility for the sick leave benefit so not only people who test positive for COVID-19 can access it. The new bill adds people who have to stay home because of underlying health conditions or other illnesses, like the flu, that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.

Rodriguez moved Monday to fast-track the bill so that it can be passed in a single day after just 4.5 hours of debate.

With the support of New Democrats, the Liberal government won a vote Tuesday to limit debate on Rodriguez’s motion. A vote on the fast-tracking motion itself is expected to take place Tuesday night. New Democrats have already indicated they’ll support it.

If the motion passes, as expected, debate on the actual bill will follow, with a vote occurring in the wee hours of the morning.

While the New Democrats are backing the government to get the aid bill through—and in the process allowing the Liberals to avoid an election—the NDP joined with the other opposition parties to draw further attention to Liberal ethical lapses.

All motions and debate on the aid package were delayed for two hours Tuesday, while MPs debated a motion from Conservative MP Michael Barrett, to force former Liberal Joe Peschisolido to apologize to the House of Commons for breaching conflict of interest rules when he was still an MP.

Ethics commissioner Mario Dion issued a report eight months ago saying Peschisolido repeatedly failed to disclose his private interests, including assets, loans, his marriage and the fact his B.C. law firm was taken over by the Law Society of British Columbia.

Barrett said it was just another example of Liberals ignoring the rules.

Prince Edward Island Liberal MP Wayne Easter said the matter should get properly debated but that “today is not the day.” Liberals accused the opposition of playing politics ahead of the needs of people, thousands of who are anxiously waiting to see if the new benefits will be approved.

Barrett shot back that if the Liberals wanted this dealt with quickly they should not have “slammed the door on Parliament” by proroguing in August.

NDP MP Charlie Angus said the priority for Parliament has to be dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, though he said corruption in Parliament must also be addressed.

Barrett’s motion passed easily with all opposition parties supporting it.

By Mia Rabson and Joan Bryden