Canada’s political consensus over coronavirus aid programs starts to fray

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s political consensus over help for those hit by the coronavirus outbreak began to fray on Wednesday when a government official complained the opposition was blocking a proposed expansion of benefits.

FILE PHOTO: Canada’s Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez speaks during a meeting in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Blair Gable

The move could spell trouble for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who need the support of other parties to govern. Legislators have so far been united, approving aid programs worth more than C$160 billion ($119 billion) in direct spending, or around 7% of gross domestic product.

But the three opposition parties, citing concerns over how the money is being spent and a push by Trudeau to slash the number of times Parliament meets, are resisting a Liberal appeal to quickly adopt draft legislation boosting the programs.

“The other parties have not agreed to do this and this is very unfortunate,” said Pablo Rodriguez, the minister charged with pushing legislation through the House of Commons.

“I’m calling on (them) to set politics aside,” he told reporters, saying he hoped to find a compromise.

The legislation would expand benefits for the disabled and seasonal workers while punishing those cheating the system.

The New Democrats say such penalties would hurt the most vulnerable. The official opposition Conservatives want legislators to meet more often while the Bloc Quebecois are demanding a fiscal update.

“If (Trudeau) wants us to trust him, he needs to open up those books,” Bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet told reporters. Trudeau says the situation is too uncertain to make forecasts.

Rodriguez sidestepped a question as to whether Trudeau – who barely held onto power last October – would press for a quick election. Insiders and analysts say Trudeau has little chance of cashing in soon on his popularity with voters.

The total number of Canadian deaths linked to the coronavirus rose to 7,897 on Tuesday from 7,835 on Monday, data showed.

($1 = 1.3415 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by David Ljunggren