The minority Liberal government has averted a fall election by bending to NDP demands to make the planned replacement of emergency income benefits more generous.
On Friday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party negotiated a “massive increase” in the help that Canadians would get through a proposed program for paid sick leave. The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit is among the programs the Liberals announced in a new bill on Thursday.
Neither Mr. Singh nor the government can provide details on who would qualify because Parliamentary privilege limits what they can disclose before the amendments are tabled in the House of Commons. But Mr. Singh said the changes will mean millions, rather than thousands, of people could access the sick leave.
The cost of the changes was not made public on Friday by the government or the NDP.
The benefit was set at $500 a week in Bill C-2, the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, which was tabled on Thursday. At the time, the Liberals proposed that it be available to people who have experienced a drop in employment income of 50 per cent or more because they contracted COVID-19 or had to isolate themselves for reasons related to COVID-19.
Mr. Singh said the changes are a “vital and important investment” that will ensure people don’t go to work sick.
Mr. Singh sought changes to the paid sick-leave program and to the Canada Recovery Benefit, which will replace the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), in exchange for his party’s support for the Throne Speech. He said the Liberals have met both requests.
“If what we’ve agreed upon is reflected in the bill that’s presented on Monday, if all the same elements are still there, then we will be able to support that bill, and, yes, we will be able to support the Throne Speech," Mr. Singh said on Friday.
A vote on the speech, which has not yet been scheduled, is a confidence vote, and if the minority Liberals lose, it could trigger an election.
The Liberals said in August they would reduce income supports to $400 a week from $500 for people who are unable to work as a result of the pandemic. But Thursday’s bill reversed that.
A cost for that change also hasn’t been released. In August, the government estimated the price of the new income supports at $37-billion.
In a brief statement on Twitter, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said the deal with the NDP “will deliver the help that Canadians need.”
The Conservatives have not yet said whether they will support the new programs. On Friday, they declined to comment on the deal.
Wednesday’s Throne Speech also promised to extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to next summer. Details have not been released, but on Friday, the federal Finance Department announced it would be extended at its current level for at least another four weeks — from Sept. 27 to Oct. 24, 2020.
Employers who qualify for the wage subsidy will be able to claim up to $847 a week per employee to rehire furloughed workers, the statement said. Future changes to the program will be made “in light of ongoing progress in fighting COVID-19.”
A government plan released in July would have reduced the program’s benefits from 85 per cent of an individual’s salary to 45 per cent by December.
With reports from Bill Curry
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