New benefits for workers hurt by pandemic hits roadblock in Senate
Senate group complains of government pressure to pass billions of dollars' worth of emergency pandemic-related legislation without adequate scrutiny.
OTTAWA — After being rushed through the House of Commons in a single day, a bill authorizing new benefits for workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic has hit a roadblock in the Senate.
Sen. Marc Gold, the government’s representative in the Senate, was denied leave Sept. 30 to have the upper house deal with Bill C-4 Oct. 1, after hearing from Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough.
The Senate will now consider the legislation on Oct. 2, barring further holdups.
It was not immediately clear which senator said “No” in response to Gold’s request for leave.
But Sen. Scott Tannas, leader of the 13-member Canadian Senators Group, had issued a statement Sept. 30 expressing frustration that senators have been pressured by the government to pass billions of dollars’ worth of emergency pandemic-related legislation in a matter of hours, without adequate scrutiny.
Opposition MPs have expressed similar frustration, with Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois MPs voting Sept, 29 against the government’s bid to fast-track the bill through the Commons. With the support of the NDP, the government was nevertheless able to speed up passage of the bill, which was eventually approved unanimously in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
Conservative and Bloc MPs took shots Sept. 30 at the NDP as they explained why they supported the bill after vigorously opposing the manner in which it was sped through the Commons.
“This is a minority government, not a coalition government,” Conservative House leader Gerard Deltell said. “We have to keep that in mind and I hope that the NDP will continue to do their job. They are there as an opposition party and they have to do opposition work in the House of Commons.”
Deltell said Conservatives ultimately supported the bill because, “in the big picture, we are talking about Canadian workers.”
“They need some support. Canadian business, they need some support. So this is why we approved the bill at the end of the process.”
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet echoed that position, saying “the principles” of the legislation “are pretty good.”
Yet both he and Deltell continued to complain about the fast-tracking, with Blanchet saying the Liberals’ decision to rush the aid package was a blow to democracy, robbing MPs of a chance to analyze and possibly improve the bill.
“We were not given time to proceed with the analysis and the improvements that this law might have received because the government decided for some particular reasons or purpose that ? it was important enough for the government to impose the ‘shut-up’ procedure,”’ Blanchet said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh shot back that New Democrats supported the bill only after forcing the government to make changes that will help millions more Canadians. And he mocked the other two opposition parties for complaining that the NDP “fought to get help to people too quickly.”
“We fought and we won for Canadians,” Singh said.
“The Conservatives and the Bloc have done nothing. Throughout this pandemic, there’s not a single win they can point to that they’ve helped out Canadians. I think that’s a pretty bad record.”
All opposition parties have blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for creating the need for the speedy approval of the bill, without allowing for adequate scrutiny.
Bill C-4 replaces the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which came to an end last weekend after helping almost nine million Canadians weather the pandemic. The CERB is being replaced with a more flexible and generous employment insurance regime and, for those who still don’t qualify for EI, a new Canada Recovery Benefit.
The bill also creates a new sick-leave benefit and another new caregiver benefit for those forced to take time off work to care for a dependent due to the pandemic.
At the behest of the NDP, the government has increased the proposed new benefits to $500 per week from the originally proposed $400, aiming to see that no one receives less than they were getting under the CERB.
It has also expanded the eligibility criteria for the sick-leave benefit so that it applies not just to individuals who contract COVID-19 but also to those with underlying health conditions or other illnesses, including the flu or the common cold, that makes them more susceptible to COVID-19.