Promise of COVID-19 funds to support disabled Canadians remains in limbo

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to provide a payment worth up to $600 to some disabled Canadians to help with additional COVID-19 costs remains in limbo.

The measure, announced on June 5, was contained in a piece of legislation that failed to pass later that month after the Liberals didn't win unanimous consent.

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Though the House of Commons is sitting Wednesday, no bills are expected to be introduced.

A spokesperson for Carla Qualtrough, the minister in charge of the file, says the government is still working on a way forward on the benefit program.

"This financial support matters and Canadians with disabilities can have confidence that we will continue to work to find a solution to deliver this supplement," Marielle Hossack said in an email.

"We all benefit when everyone can participate equally in our economy, and society."

The Liberals have accused the Tories in particular of holding up the aid, arguing they were the ones who refused to pass the bill back in June.

At the time, the Conservatives were pressing for a full return to Parliament, but had also disagreed with the plan to pass the bill within a single sitting so there was no chance for experts to weigh-in or for amendments.

"The Conservatives' choice to put politics ahead of helping people will have caused extra hardship for Canadians," Trudeau told reporters during a stop at an Ottawa-area print shop in mid-June.

But Conservative MP Dan Albas said Tuesday the Liberals' decision to include the measure in legislation raises questions about who exactly is playing politics.

He said that given the payment will go to Canadians who already receive the disability tax credit, the government has the information it would need to forward the money directly using an information-sharing agreement with the Canada Revenue Agency.

A bill isn't entirely necessary, he argued, and at this point, the Liberals need to make clear which approach they will take, he said.

"The government should be helping those that need the support the most and part of that is to give them the certainty," he said.

"The payment is important but also knowing when the payment will be and by what means."

The program would provide a one-time, tax-free payment to people who already qualify for the disability tax credit.

The maximum payable would be $600.

The Liberals are making separate payments to seniors, so those who receive the tax credit and are eligible for the old age security pension would receive $300, and those who have the tax credit and are eligible for both OAS and the guaranteed income supplement would get $100.

That doesn't cover everyone who need the money, the NDP's Peter Julian said Tuesday.

"We're trying to convince the government to extend that benefit to all Canadians with a disability," he said.

The NDP had objected to the original bill on other grounds, including a provision that could have led to jail time for those fraudulently applying for the Canada emergency response benefit.

The Liberals had proposed hiving off the disability portion of the bill and delaying the other measures, but that failed as well.

The Conservatives have been steadfast in their demand for a total return to normal Parliamentary sittings that would provide full accountability and oversight of government activities.

At present, what's happened most often is the gathering of a special COVID-19 committee made up of all MPs.

It gives them the chance to ask questions of the government for a few hours each sitting, and for the handling of some routine elements of Parliament, like the tabling of petitions or reports.

Wednesday's sitting is a variation of that committee arrangement.

MPs will have the chance to press the government for around 90 minutes, before Finance Minister Bill Morneau tables a hotly anticipated fiscal "snapshot."

The next scheduled sitting day for the House of Commons is July 22, and is expected to mirror the format for Wednesday.

Parliament is currently scheduled to fully resume on Sept. 21.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2020.

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