CERB extension shows pitfalls of diminished parliament

2 minute read

On Tuesday, the federal government announced it was extending the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for an additional eight weeks. The government also promised to strengthen the attestation CERB recipients are required to sign before being approved. The Prime Minister said this would encourage recipients to seek employment through the Job Bank and other means. In a minority parliament, the extension was used as a bargaining chip by a government that failed to get the support it needed to pass proposed legislation that would have introduced penalties for fraudulent CERB applicants.

In the face of a confidence vote Wednesday on the supplementary estimates, which could have led to an election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the CERB extension on Tuesday in exchange for support from the NDP. Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the NDP, has been quite adept at pressuring the federal government’s policy-making aimed at supporting Canadians during the pandemic.

“The prime minister says he has heard us and is extending support through CERB through the summer,” Singh said in a statement.

Singh has taken credit for much of the government’s COVID-19 relief work, including the CERB extension, the creation of CERB, the increase of the wage subsidy to 75 per cent, and national standards for paid sick leave. He probably can’t rightly take all that credit, but it appears Jagmeet Singh is making the most of his 24 seats in today’s minority parliament. Regardless of the NDP’s willingness to work with the government, Trudeau needed unanimous support in the House to move forward with expedited debate and voting on the government’s proposed CERB legislation last week. The Conservatives have made it clear that they will oppose all government measures until the House of Commons has more regular and modified in-person sittings.

Trudeau acknowledged on Tuesday that the incentive to return to work in the updated CERB would not be as strong now that the update is being done through regulatory changes rather than legislative amendments.

The Prime Minister confirmed that the changes would be made through regulation but noted the government was still figuring out how to tighten up the CERB system without pulling legislative levers. He said updating the attestation through regulation rather than legislation would only encourage recipients to seek work rather than bar them from the CERB if they don’t take an available job. Trudeau has continued to lay responsibility for missing the mark on the legislation on the Official Opposition, which did not consent to a procedural agreement on Bill C-17. The procedural protest put up by the Official Opposition last week may have precluded a big ask coming from their benches over the last couple months: push CERB recipients to return to work.

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