House Call with Carol Hughes

Better outcomes across the board with people-first approach

The House of Commons was busy this week (July 20) in part due to an arrangement New Democrats negotiated earlier in the summer to ensure sittings over the traditional break period. The deal was struck so that MPs would be able to debate special measures needed to address the pandemic throughout the summer months instead of waiting until late September when the parliamentary calendar would have brought Parliament back. With concessions gained on the legislation the government brought forward this week, the wrangling has already proven to be worth the effort.

The bill addresses a number of measures that will help us work through our challenges, but none was more anticipated and welcome than the monetary help for more disabled Canadians. While the assistance was announced long ago, the government’s initial offering was too limited in scope and buried inside legislation that couldn’t work its way through Parliament. That meant those who live with disabilities were asked to wait longer to learn when they would receive their help.

New Democrats were upset with the government’s first draft because it needed to be expanded to reach more people in need. This is similar to the issues we had with the proposal to slightly adjust Employment Insurance, which was the government’s initial attempt to address those who had lost their jobs or the ability o perform them when the pandemic struck. We suggested a payment that met need and would allow people to shelter in place which led to the creation of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which most people know as the CERB. The same scenario played out with the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) which was initially pegged at a woefully inadequate 10 percent which we negotiated to the 80 percent mark.

It’s easy to see where the government’s focus has been throughout the pandemic and it clearly isn’t on the ‘little guy.’ While disabled Canadians were forced to wait for 60 days until the government relented and expanded the scope of those who will receive the one-time $600 payment, banks were given help in four days. During the 60-day period the government also attempted to pad the pockets of their friends at the WE charity to the tune of $43 million so they could administer a $900 million program for student volunteers that didn’t even match minimum wage requirements in any province. While the money has been there for their friends, it has been difficult to secure for those who need it most.

Now, the benefit will flow to more people than it would have instead of by-passing 60 percent of Canada’s disabled population. The initial proposal only offered the payment to those who were eligible for the Disability Tax Credit, it will now also include those who collect Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPPD) benefits as well as individuals receiving Veterans Disability Pensions. If you’re asking why this took 60 days to arrive at, so are we.

Other measures in the legislation will remove the overly punitive approach to those who received the CERB in error, which the NDP had insisted on as well as our request the CEWS be extended with more flexibility built into the program to ensure as many businesses as possible will be able to survive the pandemic. This is in stark contrast to other parties who demanded committee sittings so their MPs could receive more time criticizing the government in the media. The difference in approach is stark.

Every step of the way, the government has been forced to focus on those in need. Whether it is the CERB, CEWS or help for those with disabilities, our work has brought significant improvements to the tepid approach the government has taken.