Liberals declare confidence vote on new COVID-19 benefits

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are willing to put their minority government on the line over their proposal to implement a series of new COVID-19 benefits for Canadians transitioning off of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

The government has announced that they view the looming vote on the government’s legislation to bring in the new aid package to be a matter of confidence, meaning if it fails Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government could fall.

That outcome is unlikely given the NDP’s pre-stated commitment to back the bill, given they were able to negotiate an equitable CERB transition for those who don’t qualify for the new EI program, and expanded eligibility for new sick leave coverage.

The bill, C-4, would introduce three new benefits designed to fill gaps left by the end of the CERB program, including a $500 per week payment for self-employed, gig, or contract workers who don’t qualify for the newly modified Employment Insurance plan, as well as a form of paid sick leave and a caretaker benefit for Canadians who have to stay home to take care of someone due to COVID-19.

The Liberals are also looking for parliamentary approval to allow the federal government powers to spend “all money required” to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, until Dec. 30.

“We are in the 2nd wave of #COVID19, but we have a plan. Our bill on sick leave and support to families is at the core of it. We will consider the vote on the legislation as a matter of confidence. Canadians can’t wait. We need to move forward. Together,” tweeted Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez.

This key confidence vote will be the first opportunity for the opposition parties to declare both whether they support keeping financial aid going to Canadians who need it, while also weighing in on whether or not they support the Liberal minority continuing to govern amid the resurging COVID-19 crisis.

The vote could happen late Tuesday evening, if the government moves to shut down debate on whether or not to fast-track the bill and proceed with an abbreviated hours-long study on it later this afternoon.

During debate on the motion to speed up the study, the Liberals faced criticism from the opposition parties about the tight timeline to see the new measures passed without leaving millions of Canadians benefit-less, citing the summer prorogation of Parliament as the reason for the rush now.

The Senate is already planning to sit on Wednesday to deal with the emergency aid bill.

Together with the NDP the Liberals would have the majority of votes needed to pass the bill, even if the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois oppose it.

The Conservatives—who want more time to study the bill—have previously said they wouldn’t stand in the way of Canadians getting their benefits, but would not be backing the Liberal’s throne speech, which will also be a confidence vote, expected to happen in the days ahead.

In a tweet, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said that making Bill C-4 a confidence vote is “political and partisan.” He said the Liberals are using the COVID-19 crisis for partisan ends, with the help of the New Democrats.

So far there has only been one formal vote taken under the new hybrid virtual and in-person format, and it took around 50 minutes to complete, due to a slower process and technical issues.

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