The House of Commons approved a $9-billion package of new measures for students during a brief sitting Wednesday afternoon, after the minority Liberal government agreed to several opposition requests.
The Senate will now sit Friday to give final approval to Bill C-15, which includes a new Canada Emergency Student Benefit that will provide $1,250 a month for eligible students from May to August. As originally proposed last week, the program’s benefits would rise to $1,750 for students with dependent children or disabilities.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announced Wednesday morning that his party would not support the bill unless that amount for student parents and people with disabilities was increased to $2,000, so that it was equal to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which is aimed at all individuals who cannot work due to COVID-19. The government initially agreed to the new student benefit in response to concerns that some students were not eligible for CERB.
Mr. Singh welcomed the government’s move, but said it would be better if everyone – including students – could qualify for the more generous $2,000 CERB payments.
“In every moment of this crisis, the Liberal government’s first impulse or first reaction was to leave people behind,” Mr. Singh told MPs after the deal was announced. “Now they wanted to leave students behind, and we pushed them, and they’ve come some of the way. But we’re going to keep on pushing them to make sure they go all the way. Because the right thing to do right now is to help people out, not to complicate things with different programs that have different criteria and different levels of support.”
The legislation adopted Wednesday gives the government broad powers to define the precise terms of the student programs later through regulation. In approving the bill, the government also approved a motion that provides the government with guidance on how to craft those details and also commits the government to further action.
The Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois had both called for changes so that the programs included incentives for students to take available jobs, particularly in the agriculture sector.
The motion, which was approved unanimously Wednesday, states that the government will “implement new financial incentives and support measures to connect Canadians, particularly students and Canadian youth, to the various jobs available, for example, in the agriculture and agri-food sector, in order to ensure regional economic stability and food production during this crisis.”
The motion also calls on the government to “implement measures without delay to provide additional support for seniors and persons with disabilities," including by looking at enhancements to Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
Conservative MP Alain Rayes said the motion’s reference to linking students with available jobs was welcome.
“Happy to see that the work of the Conservative Party allowed this bill to be – not perfect – but better, to help students across the country,” he said.
Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet expressed a similar view and said his party is now focused on ensuring the government follows through with helping seniors.
Mr. Blanchet told MPs he was “happy enough” with the results of Wednesday’s negotiations.
“Certainly, we’ll need to stay vigilant,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Blanchet told reporters that his party was seeking a balance between the needs of students and the calls from some businesses that workers are needed in some sectors.
“There are three things that students are not. They are not kids running with flowers in their hair, naked in the fields. Neither are they young, lazy people smoking cannabis in the basement. And they are not either merchandise that you deliver to somebody who says they need it,” he said. “We have to make sure that they have a base income. That they are encouraged to go and work and the more they work, the more money is left for them. That’s the principle that should be put forward."
Mona Fortier, the Liberal Minister for Middle Class Prosperity, said the government expects more than one million students will benefit from the package of programs, which also includes increased student loans and a new grant program for students who volunteer during the summer on projects and programs related to COVID-19.
“All of these measures will make students’ lives a little less stressful during these difficult times,” she said.
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