Dan Albas

COLUMN: Federal bill does not have unanimous support

Some measures in COVID-19 assistance bill were opposed by federal parties

As I write this week’s report, the House of Commons special COVID Committee has just adjourned until next week.

The Liberal government was to introduce a new bill today, an omnibus bill, to propose measures and revisions to the various COVID-19 assistance response programs.

One of these measures was a new, one-time non taxable $600 payment (expected mid August) that would help some but not all Canadians living with a disability, as it would go to only those who have been approved for the Disability Tax Credit.

What became obvious early on was that due to this being an omnibus bill, some measures were not supported by all parties.

As an example, the NDP opposed to penalties for citizens who intentionally defrauded the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit program.

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The Bloc Québécois also had various demands, such as that the Liberal government providing a fiscal update that, despite hundreds of billions in spending, the government has refused to account for.

At one point things looked promising as the Liberal government agreed to split the omnibus bill so that a separate bill, proposing the one time $600 disability payment, could be potentially debated and passed independently.

However, the Liberal government wanted their legislation to pass all stages in less than a single day, while the Conservative opposition has been clamouring for the responsible return of parliament.

One that would follow health protocols with less than 50 MPs, but would allow parliamentarians to scrutinize the proposed bills, have a regular question period, request emergency debates and file questions on the order paper.

Unfortunately, the Liberal government rejected this proposal.

As the minority Liberal government only needs the support of one party to pass legislation forward, some have suggested that by refusing to make a concession to any of the three opposition parties, the Liberals engineered this failure.

Why would a minority government engineer a failure?

Simply to present an argument to Canadians that a minority Parliament is not working and to build a case for a majority and an election.

I do not necessarily buy into this argument as the Liberals, by their own admission, have other means to deliver the one time disability tax credit payment through the Canadian Revenue Agency without this bill by using an Information Sharing Agreement.

Information Sharing Agreements are regularly used by government agencies such as CRA to communicate with other federal departments on important benefits like the Canada Child Benefit, Old Age Security or the Guaranteed Income Supplement or GST credit.

When the Liberals wanted to sideline regular sittings of parliament, they were able to make a deal with the NDP to do so.

That deal, to possibly provide 10 days of paid sick leave, was largely an issue that requires provincial governments to support if it is to occur.

In this case, all of the demands from the opposition parties depended on actions from the Liberal government and it would appear these demands were considered too significant to be met.

My question this week: Were opposition parties correct to stick to their demands or should the Liberals have made a concession with one or more of the parties to move a split bill forward?

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola. This riding includes the communities of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland, Keremeos, Princeton, Merritt and Logan Lake.

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