The House

Jagmeet Singh tallies up the price for NDP to support fall throne speech: Chris Hall

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tells CBC Radio's The House that he’s not looking to force an election this fall if the Liberal government follows through on commitments to help women and other marginalized groups affected by the COVID-19 lockdown.

NDP leader says child care, reform of EI top the list of his party's priorities

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, shown in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill on June 17, says his party has a list of priorities for the government to address if it wants the NDP's support for the throne speech in September. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says he's not looking to force an election this fall if the Liberal government follows through on commitments to help women and other marginalized groups affected by the COVID-19 lockdown.

Topping the list is child care, Singh said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC's The House. 

"Right now, the pressing need is that people are looking to September and their kids going back to school, or whether or not they can find child care, so that's going to be top of mind," he said. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh talks about what he needs to see from the Liberal government to guarantee his party’s support in the fall, including changes to the CERB and movement on a national pharmacare and dental care plan. 12:43

The Liberals will need the support of either the Bloc Québécois or the NDP to survive a confidence vote after the government prorogued Parliament this week until Sept. 23. The abrupt curtailing of business came in the face of four parliamentary committee hearings into a multi-million-dollar, sole-sourced contract awarded to WE Charity to deliver a student volunteer program this summer that has now been abandoned.

The prime minister and former finance minister Bill Morneau, who resigned on Monday, both have close family ties to WE Charity.

Justin Trudeau has said he plans to return with a speech from the throne setting out a new agenda to address problems laid bare during the pandemic lockdown.

"We need to reset the approach of this government to a recovery to build back better," the prime minister said on Tuesday. 

The Conservatives and Bloc Québécois have indicated a willingness to vote against the speech in September because of the WE affair. 

Singh, on the other hand, said his party is all ears. But child care isn't the only must-have item on the list. He said the New Democrats want more money for education, bigger investments in health care, and permanent changes to enhance Employment Insurance, starting with higher benefits for those people moving off the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, CERB.

CERB was crucial: Qualtrough

Under the Liberal plan released this week, most of the nearly 4.5 million Canadians still on CERB will see their $2,000 a month benefit cut to $1,600 a month on EI.

"We think a 20 per cent decrease in support to families is the wrong thing to do," Singh said in The House interview. "The $1,600 amount for families that are on the brink, who are just getting by, that drop in support will put them through some very serious pain."

More than eight million Canadians have received CERB since the program began. Since then, nearly half have returned to work or found new jobs.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said those numbers show just how crucial CERB was to people during the lockdown.

"There was clearly a need out there that the EI system in March would not have been able to handle and wouldn't have included everybody because, of course, EI doesn't cover self-employed [workers], gig workers and doesn't give benefits for caregiving or ... self-isolation," she told The House in a separate interviewing airing Saturday.

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Carla Qualtrough discusses plans to move beyond the Canada Emergency Response Benefit — and is asked why the Liberal government chose to suspend all parliamentary business amid a pandemic. 13:26

"So we need to figure out how to transition these roughly four million [people] ... We wanted to get as many people back into the EI system because it's a decent system. You know, as much as we could look at improving it long-term, it's better than a hastily created emergency system that doesn't have the sophistication of years of thought put into it."

$10B to fund child care

The Liberal plan released this week includes changes to make it easier for people to qualify for EI by reducing the number of hours a person needs to have worked to receive benefits. And it creates three temporary one-year programs to extend EI benefits to the self-employed, people who need to stay home to self-isolate or who can't work because they must care for a child or other dependent.

Carla Qualtrough, Canada's employment minister, hinted that the throne speech will specifically address the needs of women put out of work by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Qualtrough said there's more to come in the September speech from the throne to address the specific needs of women who lost their jobs in the pandemic.

She declined to indicate what those changes might entail, saying it would be career-limiting for her to "scoop the prime minister" ahead of September's throne speech.

"I can certainly say that we are looking at ways to directly support women who are working women … on the barriers to employment, and I think of child care in particular. Everybody I talk to, when I go down the road of how we improve EI, says, 'Wait, minister — before you do anything on Employment Insurance, you have to deal with child care.'"

The NDP has already called for an immediate $2-billion injection into child care and early childhood education in response to COVID-19. But Singh said that's just a start.

"We think it needs to be at least 10 billion dollars to really bring in a universally accessible and affordable childcare for everyone."

But Singh wavered when asked, several times, whether he's prepared to defeat the government if these kinds of spending demands aren't met. He said "all options are on the table," and the NDP will look at "every option." 

Does the party have enough money for a campaign just a year after the last one?

"Well, we won't let that get in the way of our fight for Canadian," Singh said. "So we want to make it really clear to the Liberal government that our goal isn't to grandstand or to posture for an election for no reason. Our goal is to get help to Canadians."

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