Liberals unanimously survive first confidence vote with coronavirus benefit bill

The federal Liberals have survived their first confidence vote since the House of Commons returned from a controversial prorogation requested by the government amid the WE Charity scandal.

In a surprise unanimous vote, the Liberals passed Bill C-4, the legislation that will create three new streams of federal benefits for Canadians ineligible for Employment Insurance as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit wraps up this week.

Read more: CERB to EI: What to know about transitioning to the new coronavirus benefits

Liberal House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said in a tweet on Tuesday that because the creation of the benefits is central to the government’s response plan to the second wave of the pandemic, it would be made a confidence vote.

That means the government needed to garner support for the bill from at least one other party in order to remain in power.

In the end, all parties ended up supporting the minority government, despite earlier protests from the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois.

The legislation in question proposes creating three new streams of federal benefits for Canadians ineligible for Employment Insurance as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit wraps up this week.

The bill presented for a final vote also fulfills a key NDP demand by creating a sick leave benefit for Canadians along with a benefit for caregivers and those ineligible for Employment Insurance.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Liberals argue there is ‘urgency’ to pass Bill C-2 to help Canadians as CERB ends' 1:16 Coronavirus: Liberals argue there is ‘urgency’ to pass Bill C-2 to help Canadians as CERB ends

Coronavirus: Liberals argue there is ‘urgency’ to pass Bill C-2 to help Canadians as CERB ends

Both the NDP and Greens joined the Liberals on Tuesday afternoon in voting to limit debate on the bill and move to a rapid vote that wrapped up around 3 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday morning.

That move triggered fierce criticism from the Conservatives and the Bloc.

The two parties pushed back at the government’s desire to cut off debate by arguing that if the matter truly was urgent, the government should not have prorogued Parliament for over a month — time, they said, that could’ve been used for more fulsome debate.

Read more: COVID-19 aid bill headlines Parliament’s first full week

While the NDP had already signalled it would support the Liberals, guaranteeing the government would survive the vote of confidence, all members of the House ended up voting in favour.

The bill will now be sent off to the Senate. The Red Chamber is scheduled to sit on Wednesday and is expected to review the bill then.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said the new measures are estimated to cost about $34 billion. Even with the changes demanded by the NDP, that’s still some $3 billion less than the government’s original estimate in August — due, Qualtrough said, to the fact that the CERB was cut off two weeks earlier than originally proposed.

The bill also includes some $17 billion more in other COVID-19-related measures.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Conservative MP says Liberals prorogued government to put themselves in ‘angelic position’ to pass Bill C-2' 2:18 Coronavirus: Conservative MP says Liberals prorogued government to put themselves in ‘angelic position’ to pass Bill C-2

Coronavirus: Conservative MP says Liberals prorogued government to put themselves in ‘angelic position’ to pass Bill C-2

During the 4.5 hours of debate ahead of the vote, MPs from all parties still voiced objections to some areas where they felt the bill fell short, accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals of not allowing proper scrutiny of the bill.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan, for instance, pointed to a lack of solutions to combatting the opioid and homelessness crises afflicting Metro Vancouver, where she serves.

Green MP and former party leader Elizabeth May urged members to “think big” about future economic recovery measures, including the creation of a guaranteed livable wage for Canadians.

Read more: NDP will back Liberal throne speech, preventing fall election

But May and Liberal members also spoke to the collaboration between parties in crafting Bill C-4, with the latter promising that more modifications could come to the bill in the future.

“This legislation being brought forward is not going to preclude other changes,” Irek Kusmierczyk said. “In fact, evolution has always been the signature of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that we adapt to it.”

The Conservatives delayed the vote late Tuesday by proposing an amendment to the government motion to fast-track the bill to allow for several more days of debate. That triggered another vote, which has become a time-consuming process as most MPs are voting remotely through videoconference.

The amendment was defeated with all but Conservative MPs voting against it.

— With files from The Canadian Press.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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