OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government avoided defeat with help from the NDP on Wednesday as the two joined forces to pass a multibillion-dollar spending bill in the House of Commons and avert a summer election.
The result had been considered a foregone conclusion after the Liberals assured the New Democrats’ support — and their own survival — by extending Tuesday the $2,000-a-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit another eight weeks.
In return, the NDP supported the government in passing the supplementary spending estimates — some $87 billion in planned government spending, most of which is aimed at pandemic-related support for Canadians and businesses.
Only about $6 billion actually involves new spending; the other $81 billion had already been approved by Parliament.
Because the Liberals hold only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, they needed the support of at least one party to pass the spending bill or risk plunging the country into an election.
Any bill involving government spending is typically considered a confidence matter. A government that fails to win a vote of confidence in the Commons is deemed defeated.
“The prime minister says he has heard us and is extending support through CERB through the summer,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement prior to the estimates being approved.
“This is what we were calling for in the short term. We’ll keep working to make sure help is there for Canadians who need it in the long term.”
Trudeau announced Tuesday that the CERB would be extended to a maximum of 24 weeks instead of 16 weeks for people who lost their jobs or saw their hours slashed due to the pandemic.
The extension means the first cohort of applicants who signed up in April and were set to max out their payment periods in early July won’t have to worry if they have no jobs to go back to over the summer or are unable to work because of health reasons.
Yet while the supplementary estimates were approved — on division, which means with some opposition but no recorded vote — there was still no resolution to an emergency aid bill that stalled last week as the government butted heads with opposition parties.
That bill included measures to deliver a one-time, tax-free benefit of up to $600 to Canadians with disabilities, an expansion to the wage subsidy program and fines or jail time for Canadians who deliberately defraud the CERB program.
The government needed unanimous consent to quickly pass the bill in a matter of hours last week but none of the opposition parties would support it.
It then offered to deal with the disability benefit separately, which was supported by the NDP and the Bloc but the Conservatives blocked that idea.
The bill remained on the order paper Wednesday, meaning the government could have theoretically tried again, but that wasn’t in the cards.
The government will instead try to work out other ways to deliver the disability benefit and other measures without needing legislation.
The approval of the supplementary estimates followed almost five hours of parliamentary debate that was preceded by Singh being kicked out of the House of Commons for calling a Bloc Quebecois MP racist over an NDP motion on systemic racism in the RCMP.
The debate coincided with news that Canada had lost its bid to win a temporary seat at the United Nations’ Security Council, which prompted several sharp exchanges between the Conservatives and Liberals over the cost of the campaign.
The prime minister was not present for the proceedings, which mark the end of an unprecedented parliamentary sitting that saw the House of Commons — like much of the rest of the country — all but shut down because of COVID-19.
Trudeau instead left it to his ministers to respond to opposition questions and concerns, including Conservative complaints about a lack of transparency and accountability over the government’s response to the pandemic.
The Conservatives and Bloc had been calling for the resumption of Parliament rather than the special COVID-19 committee that has been holding hybrid hearings for the past few weeks with some MPs attending in person and others virtually.
The Liberals announced Wednesday that they will provide a “snapshot” of the country’s economy on July 8.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2020.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press