Tories fail to get House of Commons to sit Sunday to debate new COVID-19 aid bill

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's hopeful that legislation creating three new emergency benefits for jobless Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic will be passed "very quickly."

However, a Conservative bid Friday to have the House of Commons sit over the weekend to scrutinize the bill failed to get the unanimous consent needed to hold the sitting.

The government is pushing for speedy passage of the bill, which follows through on the Liberal government's promise last month to create a more robust employment insurance system and three new temporary benefits to replace the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

The CERB, which has helped almost nine million Canadians stay afloat during the pandemic, ends on Saturday. Recipients are to be moved automatically over to the new EI regime.

For those who don't qualify for EI, the bill creates a new temporary Canada Recovery Benefit. It also creates a sick-leave benefit for those who can't work if they fall ill or have to self-isolate and another caregiver benefit for those who have to stay home to care for a dependent who falls ill.

Negotiations with opposition parties "are ongoing as we speak and we all are hopeful that we'll be able to get this legislation passed very quickly in the coming days," Trudeau told a news conference Friday.

The government has already adjusted the bill from its original proposal to ensure that jobless Canadians will continue to receive $500 a week, the same benefit provided under the CERB.

The change was aimed at securing the support of the NDP but New Democrats are continuing to insist on further changes they deem necessary to assure access to the sick leave benefit.

"I've heard reflections ... from the NDP that this should be a permanent feature of Canada's system going forward and I think that's certainly something we can have conversations about," Trudeau said.

"But we are very much focused on making sure that into this fall as cold season starts again people have access to sick leave to be able to stay home and not risk going to work and infect people."

The government has set aside Monday and Tuesday to debate the bill.

Conservative House leader Gerard Deltell said the bill needs urgent scrutiny: with the clock ticking for CERB recipients, some version of it needs to be passed but Parliamentarians also need time to examine and debate it.

"We want support for Canadians. This is what we are here for," he said. "But on the other hand, we have to do our job."

Tory MP Eric Duncan called the bill an important piece of legislation with much at stake.

"There are billions of dollars and dozens of government programs that need to be reviewed," he said.

"Canadians cannot afford for Parliament to get this wrong."

Trudeau's minority Liberal government would need unanimous consent to pass the bill in a single day, as was done with some previous emergency aid legislation. With the support of one of the main opposition parties, it could still speed the bill through the Commons in a few days.

The government's best hope for speedy passage appears to lie with the NDP, whose support in the upcoming confidence vote on the throne speech is dependent on New Democrats' being satisfied with the bill.

NDP MPs have said they remain concerned about some elements of the sick leave provisions but if they are changed, they'll back the bill.

The Conservatives would not say Friday what, if any, amendments they might be seeking.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2020

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