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Commons approval sought for $9-billion emergency student aid package

Canadian Members of Parliament are shown on a monitor during a virtual session of the House of Commons Tuesday April 28, 2020 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA — The House of Commons will be asked today to give rapid approval to legislation authorizing $9 billion in promised financial assistance for students facing bleak summer job prospects in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Late Tuesday, the government was continuing negotiations with opposition parties on details of the bill, which was shared with them on the weekend. The Liberals need unanimous agreement from the opposition parties to get the bill passed in one abbreviated afternoon sitting of the Commons.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said his party wants changes that would ensure the legislation includes incentives for young people to take available jobs, rather than stay home and collect the emergency aid.

“Right now, there is no link between those available jobs. There is no incentive to fill them,” he said earlier this week.

“We believe that this program can be improved upon if there is that kind of link so that benefits can flow in a way that ensures that students are still getting experience and still learning a skill or getting hands-on training.”

New Democrat and Green MPs have also been pushing for the aid package to be expanded to include international students who remain in Canada over the summer.

As promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week, the aid package includes:

— A new Canada Emergency Student Benefit, which would provide $1,250 per month from May through August for students unable to find a full-time job or unable to work due to the pandemic. The benefit would be $1,750 per month for students with dependents or with permanent disabilities.

— A new Canada Student Service grant of up to $5,000 for post-secondary students who volunteer in some aspect of the pandemic response.

— Expanded eligibility criteria for student loans and doubling of non-repayable grants.

— For international students working in an essential service such as health care, removal of  the restriction that forbids them from working more than 20 hours per week while classes are in session.

The House of Commons has been adjourned since mid-March, except for three single-day sittings to pass emergency aid legislation.

It will be meeting today with a skeleton crew of MPs in the chamber in the first of what is to be a once-a-week, in-person sitting, supplemented by one and eventually two virtual sittings each week.

The sittings are intended to allow opposition MPs to continue to hold the Liberal government to account as the pandemic drags on, requiring them to keep physical distance from one another.

MPs held their first virtual gathering on Tuesday, an exercise that was declared a success despite being plagued with technical glitches. The Speaker’s office said approximately 280 of the country’s 338 MPs took part, along with 20 Commons staff.

Trudeau, who took part Tuesday from his home office, is expected to be in the Commons today.

He is also scheduled to speak with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2020.

 

The Canadian Press

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