Politics

Liberals say they rushed relief bill to help Canadians

The federal government says it isn't trying to escape scrutiny by passing a COVID-19 relief bill quickly, but opposition MPs have questioned the rapid process.

Opposition MPs say the government moved too fast, doesn't want to be scrutinized

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough says the government pushed through the COVID relief bill to ensure Canadians didn't lose benefits in the transition between relief programs. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough says the government isn't trying to escape public scrutiny of its pandemic response, despite having shut down debate this week on her bill extending income supports to Canadians hit hardest by the spring lockdown.

Qualtrough told CBC's The House that the goal in pushing through Bill C-4 was to ensure people didn't lose out on the benefits transition from the original Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which expired last weekend.

"We're really trying to provide some confidence and certainty moving forward in these incredibly uncertain times," she told host Chris Hall when asked if allowing MPs to review the bill, and to propose suggestions, could have led to improvements.

"I would say probably. I don't know. I think we ended up in a really good place."

Qualtrough's bill replaces the $500-a-week CERB — which provided income to nearly nine million Canadians over the past six months — with a package of new programs.

EI benefits will be increased from $400 to $500 a week to match the CERB benefit. A new Canada Recovery Benefit will be available to people who still don't qualify for EI. The legislation also creates two new benefits, one for sick leave and the other for people who stay at home to care for a dependant.

NDP MP Heather McPherson says the government should have been consulting with opposition members about Bill C-4 starting in August, which might have avoided last-minute negotiations. (Marc Robichaud/ CBC)

But the sick leave benefit and increased EI benefit came only after intense pressure from the NDP, whose support the Liberals needed to stave off defeat in a confidence vote.

New Democrat MP Heather McPherson said those last-minute negotiations could have been avoided had the government bothered to consult properly with the opposition after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued the Commons back in August.

"We were so happy to fight and push the Liberals and get them to keep the CERB at $2,000 a month … and to get them to put sick leave in,'" she said in a separate panel discussion on The House with Conservative MP Karen Vecchio.

"Did we want them to do it in this time frame? Absolutely not."

Vecchio said that Conservatives understand the urgent need to support Canadians as a second wave of COVID-19 emerges in some parts of the country. But she also argues the Liberals are showing they're more interested in finding a partner to stay in power than in coming up with good public policy.

"I understand that people need these programs. My concern is that [the Liberals] do not want to be scrutinized," she said.

Conservative critic Karen Vecchio says she knows Canadians need support programs but she suspects the government is trying to avoid scrutiny. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Qualtrough insisted she consulted regularly with opposition critics on the creation of the new benefits, despite the changes introduced this week in order to win NDP support.

She said she's also open to further changes — including an extension of the 26-week benefit period — as new cases of COVID-19 begin to mount in parts of Ontario and Quebec. Both provinces introduced new restrictions this week to slow the spread.

"We have modelled the different scenarios and part of the 26 weeks is giving people a good six months of benefits, understanding that regions may open or close, and sectors may open more slowly than others," she said.

"But you know, for me, the bigger message is … we will be there when it comes to COVID. We're going to be there for Canadians and do whatever it takes to make sure that we get through this."

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough walks through the government’s major COVID-19 relief bill passed this week, while Conservative MP Karen Vecchio and NDP MP Heather McPherson offer thoughts from their side of the aisle. 12:26

About the Author

Chris Hall

National Affairs Editor

Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998.

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