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Singh says NDP, Liberals having ‘ongoing discussions’ about fast-tracking legislation through Parliament

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says his party is engaged in ongoing discussions with the Liberals about fast-tracking legislation that both parties support, but is warning that his party will strongly oppose the government’s plans to scale back COVID-19 benefits.

Mr. Singh made the comments to reporters on Monday as Members of Parliament returned to the House of Commons for the first time since June. The first order of business is to elect a Speaker on Monday afternoon. The government will then outline its policy priorities via a Throne Speech on Tuesday. The House is scheduled to sit for four weeks before recessing until Jan. 31.

The Sept. 20 federal election produced a Parliament with very similar numbers in terms of party standings as what was in place prior to the campaign. The minority Liberal government will need the support of at least one other major party to win votes on spending and legislation in the House of Commons. In the previous Parliament, the NDP frequently voted with the Liberals to approve government measures.

“We’re open to looking at ways to speed up the passage of bills that we agree with,” said Mr. Singh, who described the discussions with the Liberals as “ongoing,” while also adding that no deal has been reached.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced plans in October to end the Canada Recovery Benefit, while extending a more limited version of wage and rent supports for businesses in the hardest-hit sectors of the economy.

Extending the business supports through to May 7 is projected to cost $7.4-billion and will need parliamentary approval, but Mr. Singh cautioned the government that his party is not on board with the plan.

“We’ve seen that this government’s taking an approach to cut help to people, and if they want to hurt people, and they’re going to bring in laws that will make it harder on folks, then they can go to the Conservatives or to the Bloc [Québécois] for support, but we’ll be voting against something that makes life worse for people,” he said.

Government House Leader Mark Holland said in a news conference Monday that immediate legislative priorities include implementing 10 days of paid sick leave, enacting a campaign pledge to protect health care workers from threats and intimidation and re-introducing a bill that effectively bans the practice of conversion therapy.

Most of his news conference focused on raising questions about the Conservative Party’s approach to COVID-19 vaccines.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has said that all Conservative MPs in the House of Commons will be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or will have medical exemptions.

Mr. Holland said he doesn’t know how many Conservative MPs have exemptions, but he is under the impression that there are a “multitude” of Conservative MPs in that situation. He did not say how he reached that conclusion, but called for more scrutiny of medical exemptions.

“Given that we’re dealing with public health, I’m asking for assurances on that. And to me, that seems to preeminently logical,” he said.

He also said he wants an all-party agreement on the procedural rules for the House of Commons, including continuing the practice of hybrid sittings in which MPs can participate via remote video link. The Conservatives and the Bloc are opposed to hybrid sittings.

Mr. Holland said he’s confused by the Conservative opposition to hybrid arrangements given that there appears to several CPC MPs who are unvaccinated but have received medical exemptions to attend Parliament in person.

Mr. O’Toole and the Conservatives did not schedule a news conference Monday in Ottawa and the Conservative leader’s office has repeatedly declined to say how many of the 119 Conservative MPs are fully-vaccinated.

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