Liberals throw down challenge, make COVID-19 aid bill a confidence matter

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.

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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 his motion 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.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2020.

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