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Bloc pledges support for new bill to scale back COVID-19 benefits, which could be introduced this week


Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet told reporters that his party would vote with the government if they decided to shut down the main COVID-19 benefit program for individuals.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Liberal government will introduce legislation as soon as this week that would implement plans to scale back COVID-19 benefits and the Bloc Québécois says it is prepared to offer its support.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has served formal notice of the plan to introduce such a bill, which would likely be the first piece of government legislation in the new Parliament.

Ms. Freeland announced last month that the government was ending the Canada Recovery Benefit – which was paid directly to individuals who could not work because of COVID-19 – while extending a more limited version of wage and rent supports for businesses in the hardest-hit sectors of the economy. The extension until May 7 is expected to cost $7.4-billion.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said this week that his party will not vote for the legislation because the NDP opposes the decision to shut down the main benefit program for individuals.

However, Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet told reporters Tuesday that his party will vote with the government on that bill.

“We will be supporting that,” he said. Mr. Blanchet said Ms. Freeland has assured the Bloc that the government is open to policy changes that would ensure there is support for workers in the cultural sector. He did not provide more specifics, but said he expects Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez will be making a related announcement soon.

The minority Liberal government only needs the support of one of the three other major parties in the House of Commons to win a vote.

The 44th Parliament opened Tuesday with a Throne Speech delivered by Governor-General Mary Simon. The House of Commons is scheduled to sit for four weeks before recessing until Jan. 31.

Conservative MP and finance critic Pierre Poilievre said his party has yet to decide how it will vote on a COVID-19 benefits bill, but his comments to reporters Tuesday suggested some alignment with the government’s approach. The initial Conservative reaction to last month’s announcement was generally positive.

When asked whether his party will support the bill, Mr. Poilievre responded by stating that the finance committee would need to be set up quickly so that MPs can review issues related to the program.

“We want assurances that the government will no longer pay people not to work when we have a half-million vacant jobs and businesses can’t find workers to to operate their facilities,” he said at a news conference. “It’s too early to say exactly how we’ll vote on the legislation. But that is an indication of the lens through which we will analyze it.”

Mr. Poilievre was also asked if his party believes that any COVID-19 benefit programs should continue.

“We think there should be some narrowly targeted assistance for sectors that are subject to severe restrictions on their operations,” he said, listing tourism and hospitality as examples.

The focus of Mr. Poilievre’s news conference was to highlight his party’s concerns with inflation, which he said the government should address by scaling back the spending outlined in the April federal budget and the recent Liberal election platform.

Mr. Poilievre said the government’s COVID-19 programs were too broad and lasted too long, and additional new spending is not required.

“We don’t have to come out of the pandemic adding yet another hundred billion dollars in spending that is unrelated to the pandemic altogether. Those are decisions that COVID did not impose on the government. They are the irresponsible inflationary expenditures that the government chose to make through its own irresponsibility,” he said.

The government’s Throne Speech included one reference to inflation, describing it as a challenge that countries around the world are facing.

“And while Canada’s economic performance is better than many of our partners, we must keep tackling the rising cost of living. To do that, the government’s plan includes two major priorities: housing and child care,” the government said in the speech.

In addition to the COVID-19 benefits legislation, the Liberal government is also seeking support for a motion to continue hybrid and remote voting options that were originally adopted during the pandemic to allow MPs to participate remotely. The Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois oppose hybrid sittings on the grounds that it allows ministers to avoid the scrutiny that comes with answering questions in person.

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