Canada proposes new pandemic aid, set to avoid snap election

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government on Thursday proposed new benefits to help Canadians through a second Covid-19 wave, which appear to have mustered just enough opposition support to avert snap elections.

The proposed benefits include a weekly payment of Can$500 (US$375) for up to 26 weeks to those unable to work during the pandemic, including to care for children or relatives.

The initiative — broadly outlined in a speech Wednesday — would replace another aid program that supported nine million Canadians in the first six months of the outbreak, but which expires this month.

Another new measure would provide two weeks of paid sick leave for workers who must isolate after being exposed to the new coronavirus.

“The urgency of this cannot be understated,” Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough told a news conference.

“These (benefits) will help Canadians bridge the gap between the emergency measures put in place during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic to today’s economic recovery.”

The plan will require the support of at least one of three opposition parties to pass. If all three reject Trudeau’s reforms, Canada will head to the polls in the middle of the crisis.

The leftist New Democratic Party had demanded such measures in order to prop up the government, and its leader Jagmeet Singh said Thursday he was happy that the Liberals backed off cutting the first benefit to Can$400 per week, as originally planned.

Singh also said he remained hopeful for a deal with the Liberals on broadening access to the paid sick leave.

“We’re very optimistic about the outcome of these negotiations, things are looking good,” Singh told reporters.

“If they work out, then we will be prepared to vote for this proposal, (for) this piece of legislation,” he said.

Canada, a country of 38 million people, has seen more than 147,000 Covid-19 cases and nearly 9,300 related deaths. (AFP)