Senators pass a pandemic aid bill

The Senate gave swift approval Thursday to a new round of pandemic aid after Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland placed an order before Christmas to seal the aid and promised benefits would flow quickly to businesses and workers in need.

Bill C-2 would provide targeted assistance to businesses that are ordered to close and workers sent home as part of a local shutdown, as well as wage and rent subsidies for those still recovering from previous pandemic restrictions.

Freeland told senators that the government created the measures in case there was another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that they are needed even more now with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

Just before Freeland’s appearance by video conference in the Senate, the House of Commons voted to expedite the legislation to the upper house as one of its final acts before MPs agreed to leave the national capital for a long winter break. until the end. from January.

It is not unusual for the House of Commons to send bills to the Senate after deputies have taken a break, and for the upper house to sit longer to discuss any pending legislation.

But Senator Scott Tannas told Freeland that it has been happening too often for his liking and it is limiting the Senate’s ability to review legislation as the sober second thought chamber should be.

The government hopes the Senate will pass a second bill sent to senators Thursday night, C-3, before the holiday Friday.

Tannas asked Freeland to persuade the government to “plan a little better, so we don’t get cornered,” adding a moment later: “We know it’s difficult, but this is it, we’re tired of this.”

The sentiments shared by other senators came during the 90-minute questioning Freeland faced to help win final parliamentary approval of the new round of aid to workers and businesses that the government says will cost $ 7.4 billion.

Bill C-2 considers that a lockdown occurs when a health authority orders the closure of non-essential businesses and that non-essential workers stay home. Freeland said there may be some regions of the country that apply.

Senators pass the #PandemicAid bill after MPs leave for winter break. #CDNPoli #OmicronVariant

Although he did not set a specific time frame for when benefits start to flow, he said the government plans to use existing systems for applications and payments to quickly distribute aid.

“This is a fast-moving situation on the ground, as we are viewing provinces and territories quite appropriately, let me say, responding to COVID and Omicron, and putting in new restrictions,” he said.

Bill C-3, which would provide 10 days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers and crack down on harassment and intimidation of healthcare workers, was also accelerated Thursday through the Commons without a recorded vote and sent to the Senate. .

C-3 passed with several amendments, one of which incorporated a conservative private member bill that establishes an unpaid, prolonged bereavement leave for parents experiencing stillbirth or the death of a child.

Two other amendments were intended to address concerns that workers would slowly accumulate their right to paid sick leave, at the rate of one day per month of work, and an employer could require a doctor’s note to validate sick days.

As amended, the bill now proposes that workers would accrue three days of paid sick leave after one month and, after two months, begin accruing one additional sick day per month up to a maximum of 10 days per year. Employers can still request a medical certificate, but only when a worker claims more than five consecutive days of illness.

House Leader Mark Holland praised opposition parties for being “incredibly reasonable” and willing to work together to get all priority Liberal bills swiftly passed to the Commons in less than four weeks from the start of the new session of Parliament.

A third bill, banning the traumatic practice of conversion therapy, was approved by both houses of parliament earlier this month and has already received royal approval.

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 16, 2021.

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