Parliament could be recalled this Easter weekend to pass wage subsidy bill

The Liberals and opposition parties are continuing to negotiate the details of a new bill to implement the government’s retooled wage subsidy for businesses hurting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the House could be recalled to pass the legislation during the upcoming Easter long weekend.

A government official told iPolitics on Tuesday that the hope is all parties can agree on the draft version of the bill before a request is made to the Speaker of the House of Commons to recall the House on 48 hours’ notice.

That means if parties agree on the bill, Parliament could reconvene as early as Thursday. The source said if negotiations last longer, the House could return sometime during the Easter long weekend.

Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said a draft version of the bill was sent to opposition parties on Monday.

The process is intended to be different from the emergency sitting that began on March 24, when the passage of the emergency aid bill was delayed into the next morning over disagreements on provisions offering the Liberal government broad powers to tax and spend.

An opposition party source said it’s highly unlikely Parliament would reconvene on Thursday because of the 48-hour-notice requirement. Even if a deal was struck at 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, the mandated notice period means the House couldn’t resume sitting until that time on Thursday, the source noted.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said the changes to the wage subsidy program are going to be “embedded with the Income Tax Act,” which would require the government to “move forward on parliamentary legislation.”

“That is what we are talking about right now with parliamentarians,” he said.

The comments came as Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet publicly released a letter Tuesday morning to the prime minister stating his MPs were ready to return to Ottawa to pass the wage subsidy bill.

He also said his party wants the feds to create a complementary subsidy program to help offset the “fixed costs” shouldered by small- and medium-sized businesses reeling from the pandemic.

“I am hopeful that in the next few hours, our respective teams will have agreed on the consensual terms required to move the necessary number of parliamentarians to Ottawa on Thursday,” said the letter in French.

The NDP says its MPs are also prepared for the House to resume at any time, as the party ramps up calls for Ottawa to provide $2,000 to every Canadian to help weather the COVID-19-induced slowdown, with an extra $250 per child.

The NDP was an early advocate for increasing the wage subsidy to 75 per cent after the Liberals originally committed to only a 10-per-cent subsidy. The government then reversed course and increased the subsidy to 75 per cent for businesses who have experienced a 30 per cent drop in revenue.

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