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2.1 million Canadians have applied for EI in last 2 weeks

Liberals to recall parliament to pass new legislation, opposition supportive - but critical about lack of details on programs


April 1, 2020
By Jordan Press and Stephanie Levitz/The Canadian Press

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians from outside his home, Rideau Cottage, in Ottawa. Photo: Screen Grab/PMO

The federal government will summon Parliament again to approve more spending to help the country to combat the financial fallout from COVID-19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.

Trudeau said Wednesday that he’s planning to call Parliament back for another sitting to pass additional items in what he described as perhaps the biggest economic bailout and social program this country has ever seen.

The value of the program is already over $200 billion, with almost half of that estimated to be direct financial aid, although the Liberals haven’t yet unveiled the price projections for a wage-subsidy program vastly larger than the one they first promised.

Legislation doesn’t cover new promises: Conservatives

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Conservatives have pointed out that the emergency legislation Parliament passed just last week didn’t allow for the scale of the subsidies the Liberals are promising to help employers keep people on their payrolls.

The government has said that all companies will get 75 per cent of salaries covered, if they’ve lost 30 per cent of their revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s a departure from the original plan to cover just 10 per cent of salaries for small businesses.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is to provide more details on the wage subsidy, including the costs, this afternoon in Toronto, but Trudeau said Wednesday morning that the money will go to companies that aren’t publicly funded.

He also said companies that receive the cash need to do whatever they can to pay the remaining 25 per cent of their employees’ wages.

Clear confusion: Scheer

Before Trudeau spoke, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called on the government to clear up confusion over who is eligible for the wage subsidy, arguing the legislation as written doesn’t jibe with the Liberals’ pledge about who can get the help.

He said his party is ready to return to Parliament to amend the law if needed, but the problem shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

“It’s up to the government to decide how to proceed, but if they want to provide Canadians with the program they made in their announcement, they would have to amend their own legislation,” Scheer said during a press conference in his home city of Regina.

“It’s up to them to decide whether or not that’s what they want to do or how long they want to wait to do that.”

The Liberals didn’t put a timeline on when MPs and senators will be asked to return to Ottawa to pass any new legislation — a process that, under the practice they used last time, will require picking a small group of parliamentarians to review and vote on measures.

Parliament needs voice heard: Freeland

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government felt it was important for Parliament to have its voice heard on the measures when asked whether the move would delay people receiving badly needed financial aid.

“The magnitude of the measures that we know are necessary means that it would be a good idea to bring Parliament back to work on them,” she said.

Any worker who receives the wage subsidy can’t at the same time receive a $2,000-a-month emergency benefit aimed at those who have lost their sources of income, Trudeau said.

“It’s one or the other. You can’t get both of these benefits,” he said, speaking outside his Ottawa residence.

An online application for the benefit will open as planned on April 6, Trudeau said, promising unspecified measures will be in place to avoid overwhelming federal systems.

Some 2.1 million people have applied for employment insurance benefits within the last two weeks, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said — a number that is dramatically higher than what the program normally sees.

So far, federal workers have processed more than 430,000 of those claims, and a new system being implemented Wednesday will help quickly address the backlog, she said during a midday press conference.

Anyone who has already been approved for EI benefits will be moved over to the new emergency benefit, Qualtrough said.