The federal government is planning to increase one of the three promised new COVID-19 aid benefits. This will be equal to the amount received in the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. The move may have secured the political support required for the Liberal minority to stay afloat. The Liberals tabled Bill C-2 to implement the new benefits during the first full day of the new parliamentary session. In avoiding a snap election during a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal minority is looking for the opposition support.
In August, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough, outlined the $37 billion CERB transition plan. This includes moving most of the millions of Canadians collecting CERB onto an updated Employment Insurance program at the end of the month. The first is the “Canada Recovery Benefit” which will be available over the next year for 26 weeks to self-employed workers, gig, or contract workers. The Liberals have just announced it will increase to $500 a week, meaning it’ll offer the same amount of support as CERB did while this was initially promised to be $400 per week.
Canadians looking for employment, had stopped working or had their income reduced by 50% or more because of COVID-19, but are still making some money on their own, to qualify for this program. Qualtrough said the CERB was initiated when they basically shut down the economy and asked people to stay home, and they didn’t know then what was coming. He said they are much better placed to navigate their support in a more sophisticated way as they move into economic recovery. He said they had time to improve their EI system to the point where three-quarters of the people who are currently on CERB can transition seamlessly next week to EI. He emphasized on the requirement to demonstrate those applying for the ongoing benefits are actively looking for work.
On Thursday, while speaking to the updated plan, Qualtrough said combining the three new benefits would generate a safe bridge to assist Canadians span the gap between a safe and gradual reopening of the economy this fall and winter and the complete lockdown of last spring. For those who don’t already have paid sick leave through their employer, there is the “Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit” which is being created to make it easier for them to stay home from work when they are sick or have to self-isolate because of COVID-19. The benefit will give $500 for every week, up to two weeks.
In helping in the instances where someone needs to stay home to care for a loved one, there is a third new program called “Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit”. With only one adult per household able to claim the program at a time, the program offers up to 26 weeks per household, providing $500 a week.
CONTINUED EMERGENCY SPENDING
The legislation makes Canada Labour Code amendments around when employees are entitled to take COVID-19 associated sick leave in addition to enacting the new “Canada Recovery Benefits Act” to implement these aid programs. Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said that if an employee is unable to work because they have isolated themselves on the advice of their employer, or might have contracted COVID-19, federally regulated workers could take leave for a maximum of two weeks. To spend “all money required” to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the government is also asking MPs to support extending other COVID-19 emergency measures to allow the federal government powers.
Moreover, the emergency spending powers were granted until the end of September after they were first introduced in March when the House of Commons suspended regular sittings. According to the amendment in Bill C-2, the powers will be extended until Dec. 30. Besides, the legislation should also pass through the House and Senate. The new supports can be in place for Canadians as soon as possible since Chrystia Freeland requested her colleagues across the aisle to support the Liberals fast-tracking the bill. Freeland said that the legislation would provide ongoing funding for Canada and Canadians.
NDP LIKELY TO SUPPORT
The House of Commons started its as-normal-as-possible sitting for the first time since the pandemic started. In response to Wednesday’s speech from the throne, debates will continue throughout the day. To reduce the risk seeing their government fall, the minority Liberals will need to garner at least some support for the throne speech from across the aisle. Early indications were that this support may not be as secure as the Liberals might like. The Liberals currently hold 154 seats, the Conservatives have 121, the Bloc Québécois hold 32, the NDP have 24, the Green Party has three and there are two Independents and two vacancies.
While repairing inequalities the pandemic has exposed, the speech fixated primarily on how to keep supporting Canadians financially through COVID-19. Billed as “an ambitious plan for an unprecedented reality,” it included a commitment to keep up certain business aid benefits. The Liberals are looking to the NDP for support with the Conservatives already ardently against the speech, while the Bloc Quebecois are sounding like they haven’t seen enough yet. According to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, he wanted to see CERB extended and implementation of a form of paid sick leave. The Liberals outlined Thursday their pre-stated commitment to keep supporting CERB recipients when that benefit ends later this month though it was not exactly what the government had planned.