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Don't wait for Parliament, start processing applications for financial aid now: Singh


OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is urging the federal government to immediately begin accepting applications for emergency financial aid from Canadians struggling during the COVID-19 crisis.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Singh says the government should begin receiving applications now so that it can get the money into the hands of Canadians as quickly as possible after Parliament approves the legislation necessary to get a promised $82 billion in direct financial assistance and tax deferrals flowing.

Parliament is to be recalled sometime next week and opposition parties have signalled their willingness to quickly approve the legislation.

Singh says he's alarmed that many people — who are without income now as businesses shut down all across the country to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus — won't get any of the emergency federal financial help until April or even May.

He says starting the application process now will ensure no one waits "one day longer than absolutely necessary."

Among other things, the government has promised to create two new emergency benefits for Canadians who don't qualify for employment insurance and to increase the GST credit and the Canada Child Benefit.

In his letter to Trudeau on Thursday, Singh said his party will ensure the governing Liberals, who hold only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, will have the majority needed to pass the legislation putting the emergency measures into effect.

"It is my hope that knowing that your government will be able to pass these measures, you will be able to immediately open up applications and provide Canadians with information on how to access these new programs," he wrote.

"Waiting until April to begin the application process means that Canadians will unnecessarily wait several more weeks to get the help they need."

The emergency aid package is likely to be expedited with unanimous support through Parliament, which adjourned last week until April 20. But it will be recalled briefly next week to deal with the necessary legislation.

The Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois and Greens have all signalled their willingness to deal with it quickly.

Conservative Senate leader Don Plett said Thursday he expects the legislation will be debated and approved in one day in the House of Commons, possibly Tuesday, and the next day in the Senate, without amendment or delay.

"We are in an emergency situation here and we need to approve a stimulus package to keep the country going, to keep Canadians going here," Plett said in an interview.

The governing Liberals are discussing with opposition parties how to minimize the number of MPs and senators who actually need to return next week, while maintaining each party's proportional share of seats. The House of Commons requires only 20 MPs to be present for quorum; the Senate requires 15 senators.

Although the NDP will support the legislation, Singh urged the government to do more, including dramatically increasing a promised payroll subsidy of 10 per cent.

"Businesses may choose to keep people employed, with drastically reduced hours, in order to qualify for the subsidy. These employees may be worse off than if they had been laid off and could collect EI," he said.

Singh also suggested that the government could double payments this month of existing income support programs, like the child benefit, to ensure that getting financial help to those who need it is "fast and easy."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2020.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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