Hugh Pouliot | CUPE Communications

You wouldn’t know it from media reports, but without the federal NDP and its leader, Jagmeet Singh, we wouldn’t have the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) as we know them, or many of the other critical supports the government introduced since the COVID-19 pandemic swept across Canada.  

While the Conservatives and the Bloc have been fighting to cut people off their benefits and force them back to work before it was safe, the NDP has shown the power and importance of having a determined, if small, opposition in Parliament that is focused on helping people in need. 

Many of the measures the Liberals introduced initially were inadequate to address the depth and scale of the economic damage of COVID-19 on working people in Canada. The NDP fought hard to make them better. Without a strong NDP at their heels, it’s not hard to imagine the Liberals listing even further to the right, leaving many more people behind. 

For example, let’s consider CERB. In mid-March, when it became clear that the government’s original aid package for out-of-work Canadians would be woefully inadequate, the NDP stepped in with a plan to provide $2000 per month – and within days the Liberals announced the NDP plan as its own. Since then, 8 million people have applied for CERB. 

And when it became clear that the Liberals’ criteria for accessing CERB were still leaving up to a million people without benefits, the NDP fought to remove those barriers. In doing so, they secured access to CERB for students, seasonal workers, owners and operators, people who had exhausted their EI benefits, and those who continued to receive modest income from part-time work. 

For another example, let’s look at the emergency wage subsidy. In March, as businesses told the government that its 10 per cent wage subsidy would not be enough to prevent skyrocketing layoffs, the NDP called for a 75 per cent wage subsidy to mount a so-called “firing freeze”. Thousands of workers were rehired at their companies as a result. 

The NDP has also used its position in the minority parliament wisely, scoring key victories for working people when the Liberals needed the support of another party to pass its agenda. Most significantly, Jagmeet Singh won a commitment from the Liberals to provide ten days of paid sick leave for workers during the pandemic, so that no one has to choose between spreading the virus or earning a living. Singh also used his negotiating leverage to extend CERB from the original 16 weeks to 24 weeks. 

For us in the labour movement, and for all who fight to make life better for working people, it’s clear that Jagmeet Singh and the NDP have our back, they are our voice and our ally in Parliament.