Trudeau, Tories spar over who's to blame for delaying disability support payments
Scheer says Liberals are playing ‘disgusting’ political games
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took aim at the Opposition Conservatives today, blaming the Tories for delays to government legislation that would send cheques to disabled people to help them cope with the added costs imposed by the pandemic.
"The Conservatives' choice to put politics ahead of helping people will have caused extra hardship for Canadians," Trudeau told reporters during a stop at an Ottawa-area print shop.
During a sitting that lasted a little more than 10 minutes Wednesday, the Liberal government failed to secure unanimous consent in the House of Commons to debate a bill, C-17, that also includes new penalties for relief benefit fraud and extends the wage subsidy support for seasonal businesses.
The Commons adjourned without any sort of resolution, with the parties at an impasse over how to proceed.
WATCH | Trudeau says the Conservatives are playing politics with disability payments
All of the opposition parties — not just the Conservatives — had problems with the bill as written.
At the outset of the pandemic, the Conservatives were generally supportive of COVID-19 relief programs but have since soured on the government's legislative agenda because Trudeau has refused to reinstate normal in-person sittings of the Commons.
Scheer has said that, as the economy reopens in many parts of the country, so too should Parliament.
Late last month, the Liberals brokered a deal with the NDP to suspend Parliament until September and adopt a 'hybrid' model where MPs can participate in a COVID-19 committee in person or online. The NDP also agreed to a Liberal plan to have that committee meet four times over the summer months.
However, many of the normal accountability functions of the Commons remain suspended.
The government has resisted reinstating Parliament entirely, citing health and safety risks — an argument that has prompted the Tories to accuse Trudeau of ducking accountability.
"They lost that debate a number of weeks ago, they chose yesterday to still litigate that debate and block concrete help that was going for Canadians," Trudeau said of the Conservatives' demand that the Commons meet with MPs present in the chamber itself.
Asked if he should be willing to compromise and restore some of the parliamentary functions the Conservatives want, Trudeau said that discussion has been settled already.
"They continue to complain and play politics, and they blocked help to Canadians with disabilities because they're still trying to argue something they lost the debate on," Trudeau said.
Scheer fired back, saying the Liberals are to blame.
"The mistake yesterday was Liberals shamefully saying no to allowing Parliament to deal with that legislation and then disgustingly today trying to play petty politics on the backs of people with disabilities," said Scheer.
WATCH | Trudeau, Scheer trade barbs over who's to blame for delaying legislation
Scheer did move a motion Wednesday to have a debate on the bill, but it too failed to receive unanimous consent as some Liberals shouted "no" when the motion was up for a voice vote.
In addition to their calls for a return to normal operations in Parliament, the Conservatives balked at the Liberal plan to pass this bill in a single sitting with limited debate, with no testimony from expert witnesses and with no chance for amendments.
While the NDP allied with the Liberals on the plan to limit Commons sittings, leader Jagmeet Singh is opposed to portions of C-17 that would fine and criminalize people who fraudulently apply for the Canada emergency response benefit.
The government estimates anywhere from 1 to 2 per cent of the 9 million benefit claims are fraudulent. Singh said people shouldn't be penalized for applying for funds during the pandemic.
Singh also has asked for the disabilities payments to be sent to more people.
Under the Liberal terms, the $600 one-time, tax-free payment would be paid to people who claim the federal disability tax credit. The government already has verified disability claims for these tax credit recipients, but Singh said the criteria should be loosened so more people can get a cheque.
WATCH | Trudeau is asked when the Commons will return to normal
The Bloc Québécois was also supportive of the Liberal relief program in the early days but has since become more critical of Trudeau's handling of the crisis.
The party's leader, Yves-François Blanchet, has said the prime minister is acting like a "prince" and expecting the opposition parties to agree to his every command.
Blanchet has made his support for the disabilities bill conditional on the government tabling a fiscal update this month. The government hasn't presented a budget for this fiscal year and has been reluctant to open the books publicly.
Trudeau said the government has been presenting figures to the Commons finance committee biweekly.
"We are demonstrating transparency every step of the way," Trudeau said. "We'll continue to be transparent."