OTTAWA—After striking a deal to increase pandemic benefits for the sick and unemployed, NDP House Leader Peter Julian says his party wants to use its influence to press the minority Liberal government to create a wealth tax on the super rich.
On Monday, the government tabled legislation to fulfil the NDP’s demand of broadening the proposed Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit so it is not restricted to Canadians who miss work because they are infected with COVD-19.
The NDP also took credit for pushing the government to maintain emergency jobless benefits of $500 per week for people who lose work during the crisis, after the Canada Emergency Response Benefit that had been received by millions of people expired on Sunday.
In an interview with the Star, Julian said the changes mean paid sick leave will be “much closer to universal” in Canada, even if the expanded sickness benefit isn’t the permanent program New Democrats wanted.
His party now plans to support the government’s throne speech — meaning the upcoming confidence vote on the speech won’t trigger an election — but Julian said the NDP is also looking for its next moment of potential leverage to push Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to agree to more of its priorities.
That chance could come when the government tables its next fiscal update and budget. The NDP will press for new taxes so Ottawa can raise revenue after historic spending that has driven up the federal deficit during the pandemic crisis, Julian said.
That would include taxes on web giants like Facebook and Google, he said, as well as the wealth tax the NDP campaigned on during the last federal election: a one per cent levy on wealth exceeding $20 million that the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated could rake in as much as $70 billion over 10 years.
“We’re talking about tens of billions of dollars that we don’t believe are being used appropriately when it’s a pandemic, and it’s all hands on deck, and we have to provide supports for small businesses and for people across the country,” said Julian.
“We can’t pretend that the revenue side is not important. It is, and I think that’ll be a key part of the debate in the coming months.”
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to speak on the record about last week’s negotiations with the NDP, and Liberal House Leader Pablo Rodriguez’s office said he was not available for an interview Monday. A spokesperson for Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough did not respond to requests for comment from the Star.
On Monday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told the House of Commons it’s “unacceptable” for workers and small businesses to “pay the price” for the pandemic recovery process and asked for a tax on the ultra-wealthy.
“While the Liberal government talks about taxing extreme wealth inequality, no one knows what that means,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland responded by saying the government has a plan to tax web giants and stock options.
“It is a time for all of us to bare a deep responsibility for uniting and not dividing Canadians,” Freeland said.
The legislation tabled Monday is part of the plan to replace CERB with a slate of programs the government predicted would cost $39 billion before they were expanded to meet the NDP’s demands.
This includes a beefed up Employment Insurance program that allows more people to qualify and apply to receive a minimum payout of $500 per week as of Sept. 27.
For those who don’t qualify for EI, such as self-employed and contract workers, the legislation creates the new Canada Recovery Benefit, which pays $500 per week — up from the originally proposed $400.
The government also plans to create the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, which would provide $500 a week per household for up to 26 weeks when someone must take leave from work to care for a family member.
Finally, the bill proposes to create the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which could provide $500 per week for two weeks to workers who fall ill or need to self-isolate during the pandemic. Originally, the government proposed that this only apply to COVID-19 infections, but the NDP talks prompted the Liberals to expand eligibility so that the benefit is also available to “those who have underlying conditions, are undergoing treatments or have contracted other sicknesses that, in the opinion of a medical practitioner … would make them more susceptible to COVID-19.”
The EI changes and new benefits are set to continue until next fall.