North Island–Powell River MP Rachel Blaney was one of three NDP members of 32 MPs sitting in the House of Commons in Ottawa Tuesday. These MPs came together after Parliament was suspended March 13 to pass emergency legislation to help Canadians weather the COVID-19 crisis.
Measures announced last week by Prime Minister had received support from all parties, including a letter from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. However, when the draft legislation was sent to MPs late Sunday, additional measures were included that had not been previously discussed.
“We were really taken by surprise by some of these new measures,” Blaney said in a news release. “They gave the ministers of finance and health extreme spending and taxation powers for nearly two years without any parliamentary oversight.”
Negotiations on the bill began in earnest Monday morning, and continued well past the original debate start time slated for noon Tuesday. Blaney was one of the lead opposition negotiators on this bill.
“We had every intention of supporting the emergency measures the prime minister had announced earlier. But we couldn’t allow the bill to go through as presented. We have a job to do as parliamentarians and a big part of that is keeping the government accountable to Canadians.”
Negotiations came to a close at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“We made sure that Canadians would get the support they need, even though that meant intense negotiations and little sleep. These are unprecedented times, and those call for unprecedented measures from the government. I understood that from the beginning. But there needed to be a balance with accountability, and I think we managed to strike that balance.”
In the end, the legislation was passed and has since been approved by the Senate. Blaney is pleased that the simplified and strengthened Canada Emergency Response Benefit will be made available to Canadians very soon. Where the NDP and Liberals couldn’t agree on removing entire clauses, durations were shortened, and additional oversight measures were added to hold the government accountable without stalling the legislation any further.
“The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for everyone in Ottawa and around the world,” Blaney said. “I’m very glad I got to do this important work on behalf of my constituents and all Canadians, but now I’m ready to come home.”
Because Blaney will be travelling by plane to get home, she will be voluntarily self-isolating for two weeks upon her return. She and her staff will continue to be available by phone and email to support constituents and businesses, and to answer questions about the new legislation and programs.