NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Image: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook

Canadians want to know when the new series of measures the government just announced to deal with the economic hardship brought on by the COVID-19 crisis will come into effect.

To a significant extent, those measures heed the advice of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the federal NDP that employment insurance (EI) and sick leave must be extended to the tens of thousands who do not now qualify — especially the lowest paid and most precarious workers.

As economist Jim Stanford has pointed out, the Trudeau government’s just-announced package of measures is a good start, but more will be needed. 

As massive as it sounds, the $82-billion package will not be adequate to support workers and their families, and tide over businesses, especially the thousands of small ones, throughout this unprecedented crisis.

Of most immediate concern, however, is the question of timing, and the federal NDP is seized with that issue. 

To help get action as quickly as possible, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has written the prime minister to promise his MPs will vote for the Liberal government’s package. 

Singh’s purpose in taking this unusual step is to assure the government its legislation will pass. Even if the other opposition parties were to vote against the new measures, the NDP’s support would be sufficient to get them over the top. 

Given that, Singh is urging the government to take whatever concrete actions it can, right now, to implement its economic package, and not wait for the full legislative process to reach completion.

While waiting for parliamentary approval, government can take certain steps

The NDP leader has told the prime minister that he is “alarmed at the news that many Canadians will not receive this additional help until April or May.” He encourages the government to “open up applications and provide Canadians with information on how to access these new programs” — even though the new programs do not yet officially exist. 

Singh adds that he understands “it may not be possible to actually fund these measures until the necessary legislative process is completed.” What he proposes is that the federal bureaucracy be “put in motion … to begin processing these benefits so that Canadians do not need to wait one day longer than absolutely necessary.”

Singh also suggests a few other easy-to-achieve, immediate measures, in addition to the ones the government has already put on the table.  

One of those is “to issue second payments this month of existing income support programs, such as the Canada Child Benefit.” 

As well, the NDP leader urges the government and the Bank of Canada to use their powers “to ensure that banks and lending institutions lower interest rates and suspend penalties for late payments.”

Singh also wants assurance that nobody in need will be obliged to first apply for EI and be denied before they are allowed to apply for other new benefits. That would create unnecessary, and, for some, dangerous delays, he says.

Finally, the NDP joins many other others, including those who represent small and independent businesses, in deploring “the low rate of the wage subsidy being offered to businesses.” 

“While we support the initiative to help small businesses keep people employed, offering 10% of payroll up to a maximum of $25,000 is simply not enough,” Singh writes.

Singh points to the examples of other countries, such as Denmark and New Zealand, “who have offered much more ambitious subsidy programs designed to keep people employed.” 

The bottom line for the NDP is that it will fully support the package the Trudeau government will present to Parliament, when it re-convenes in special session in the days to come. Jagmeet Singh’s party believes the government could and should have done more, but it knows now is not a time to quibble. 

The NDP’s main and most urgent request is that the government start taking practical steps to put its emergency fiscal measures into action immediately. 

That is a request with which millions of anxious Canadians would no doubt concur, regardless of their political stripe. 

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble’s politics reporter.

Image: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook​


Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg joined rabble in 2011 to cover news for the rest of us from Parliament Hill. Karl has been a journalist and filmmaker for over 25 years, including eight years as the producer of the CBC...