Politicians urged to collaborate on pandemic benefit for disabled Canadians

Politicians urged to collaborate on pandemic benefit for disabled Canadians

OTTAWA — Federal politicians are being urged to work together to help Canadians with disabilities weather the COVID-19 crisis.

This after opposition parties refused Wednesday to give the unanimous consent needed to swiftly pass the government’s latest emergency aid bill.

The bill included provisions to deliver on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise of a one-time, tax-free benefit of up to $600 for disabled Canadians.

That benefit, along with other measures in the bill, are now in limbo.

Jewelles Smith, chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, says she’s disappointed that governments have failed to provide emergency help for disabled Canadians.

Many of them face increased costs due to the pandemic including for grocery delivery, medication dispensing fees and increased home care.

“We urge all parties to work together during this crisis,” Smith said in an email. “People with disabilities continue to experience barriers that are not being recognized.” 

The bill also includes a proposed expansion of the wage subsidy program to include more seasonal workers and some additional businesses and proposed penalties for fraudulently claiming the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

As well, it proposes changes to the CERB in response to concerns that the benefit is discouraging people from returning to low-paying jobs.

For a variety of reasons, some of them unrelated to the content of the legislation, no opposition party was prepared to give the unanimous consent needed to debate and approve the bill within a matter of hours.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez proposed splitting the bill to deal with the disability benefit separately but the Conservatives nixed that idea, holding out instead for a full resumption of business as usual in the House of Commons.

Rodriguez said afterwards that he will continue negotiating with the opposition parties to try to find a resolution.

Most likely, that will involve introducing a separate bill for the disability benefit, which could be passed relatively quickly if at least one opposition party is prepared to support it and agree to limit the amount of time for debate.

The NDP has indicated it would not block the proposed benefit if it was dealt with in a stand-alone bill, even though New Democrats maintain the benefit is inadequate and would apply to only 40 per cent of Canadians with disabilities.

Gaining support for other measures in the bill could prove to be more difficult. The NDP is adamantly opposed to imposing fines or jail time on Canadians who fraudulently claim the CERB — despite Trudeau’s assurances that the penalties are intended only for the small number who deliberately defraud the government.

Trudeau is expected to address Wednesday’s failure to pass the bill during his daily morning news conference today.

However, he will not be speaking to the media outside his home as usual.

He is to conduct the news conference at an Ottawa factory that has taken advantage of the 75-per-cent wage subsidy and an emergency federal loan program to rehire 16 laid-off workers and to retool to produce protective face masks.

Trudeau’s visit to Regimbal Awards and Promotions, which normally makes trophies and promotional material for companies, is intended to underscore his plea to businesses to use the wage subsidy program to get Canadians back to work and off their reliance on the $2,000-a-month CERB.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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