Party leaders speak before Parliament reconvenes to debate wage subsidy bill Politics by: Raisa Patel

Politics, Words: 511

Canada's opposition leaders have returned to Ottawa ahead of the House of Commons reconvening Saturday afternoon to debate the federal government's wage subsidy legislation.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet and the Leader of the Official Opposition Andrew Scheer are set to deliver remarks before the debate, which is scheduled to start at 12:15 p.m. ET. The Senate is expected to sit at 4 p.m. this afternoon.

In a departure from his daily briefings outside his Rideau Cottage home, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will instead address Canadians from within the Commons.

The multi-billion-dollar program, called the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), is designed to help companies avoid laying off employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused many businesses to shut their doors as the country comes to a standstill.

The CEWS is intended to encourage companies to rehire workers by offering a 75 per cent wage subsidy over the next three months to businesses that have lost 30 per cent of their revenue due to the crisis. Companies will need to reapply for the program each month.

The legislation was drafted last weekend and shared with opposition parties Monday.

This week, representatives from those parties negotiated proposed amendments to the bill with government House leader Pablo Rodriguez.

"We're not approaching this with ultimatums or a list of demands," Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told the CBC's Power & Politics Thursday. "We support the wage subsidy in principle."

While the Conservatives do have some tweaks in mind, the party is also calling for more consistent parliamentary oversight on "an ongoing basis" to debate legislation while Parliament is not regularly sitting.

Meanwhile, Singh said he has always been in favour of 75 per cent wage subsidy, but that he was primarily concerned about expanding eligibility for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to meet the needs of more Canadians.

"If we're going to Ottawa, it makes no sense to leave Ottawa without having also fixed this problem," Singh said.

Earlier this week, NDP small business critic Gord Johns and finance critic Peter Julian also asked Finance Minister Bill Morneau for more help for small businesses struggling to pay commercial rent during the pandemic.

In a letter to the prime minister Tuesday, the Bloc's Blanchet said that he welcomed several aspects of the draft bill but noted that the proposed legislation does not include support for businesses struggling with operational costs.

Elizabeth May will represent the Green Party of Canada's caucus in the House of Commons Saturday.

In a statement to CBC News from interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts, the party says it has agreed to support the bill.

On Thursday, Trudeau said that his government is open to "suggestions or amendments" from opposition parties to the draft bill, provided that they address the wage subsidy itself.

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