OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he could see his party supporting the Liberals for their full mandate.
In an interview with “Follow-Up,” HuffPost Canada’s political podcast, which will be released late Friday, Singh said his goal is to use his current position — as one of three opposition parties with the balance of power in a minority Parliament — to support people.
Watch: COVID-19 benefits hike a ‘major victory for people,’ Singh says
“Yes,” he said, when asked if he could see the Liberals lasting another three years in office. “The goal for me, like the test is, if they continue to support us in bringing about things, like paid sick leave, that’s something we fought for. If they support us and bring that in, that’s something we can continue to support.
“If we can continue to find ways to help people and they’ll support us in helping people, then we’ll continue to go,” Singh said.
“For me, it’s not about finding a reason to tear down government. I want to use my position to get the help to people. And sometimes that means we have to go to an election. But I don’t want that. I want to continue to fight for people and get them the help they need.
“That’s my operating principle. And if I can continue to achieve that, if our team can continue to do that, then we’re going to continue down that path.”
Singh said his party’s 11th-hour negotiations with the Trudeau government Thursday were about laying the groundwork for a program that would provide federal assistance to workers who need to stay home because of illness — not just those affected by COVID-19.
Liberals, NDP reach deal to stave off fall election
He was “optimistic” about a resolution — one that eventually came Friday afternoon — ensuring the passage of the Liberals’ speech from the throne and staving off an immediate federal election.
“We hope we’ve laid down the argument … not just for paid sick leave during the pandemic, but I want to see this as the first step towards a permanent paid sick leave for all Canadians now and forever,” Singh said during the interview recorded Thursday evening. “That is really my hope.”
Listen to Singh’s full interview with ‘Follow-Up’:
Late Friday afternoon, the Liberals and NDP announced they had struck a deal that would see the government’s legislation fast-tracked to ensure benefits keep flowing, as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) winds down this weekend.
Singh told reporters that the details of the deal would have to be withheld until the Commons meets again on Monday, but he views the change as a victory for all workers.
“What the Liberals were proposing would help thousands of Canadians; what we have achieved will help millions of Canadians. That is the scale of the difference,” he said.
A source close to the negotiations, whose name we have withheld because they were not authorized to speak publicly, told HuffPost that the paid sick leave of up to two weeks would no longer be limited to people who have or are caring for someone with COVID-19. But the benefit will not be permanent, nor will not cover everybody.
Earlier this month, Singh had outlined two conditions for his support: the maintenance of the $2,000 a month in federal assistance to those financially impacted by the pandemic and paid sick leave.
The Liberals had committed back in May to work on a pan-Canadian sick leave policy — it was included in the $19-billion safe restart program the government struck with the provinces in August.
At the time — and again on Friday — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose to give credit for the idea to B.C. Premier John Horgan, saying it was the NDP provincial leader who suggested such a policy earlier this spring.
Still it was the federal NDP that made support of the Liberals’ House of Commons agenda in June contingent on sick-leave policy. While that policy and the specific amount that former CERB recipients could obtain were left out of Wednesday’s throne speech, they were included in Thursday’s legislation. Bill C-2 outlines $500 a week in benefits — $100 more than the $400 the Liberals had planned to offer in August — for those who are underemployed because of COVID-19 and would not normally be eligible for employment insurance, and another similar benefit for those who must stay home to care for a family member for reasons related to COVID-19.
The legislation also provides $500 a week for up to two weeks for a Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit for those workers who are sick or must self-isolate for reasons related to COVID-19. The government says that responds to their commitment to provide 10 days of paid sick leave.
Singh told HuffPost he was concerned about accessibility — about ensuring, he suggested, that people would be able to obtain the benefit even if they don’t have a doctor’s note.
“Those would be the type of details that we’re working on right now, and I can’t get into them,” he said. “... what we want is a paid sick leave that works, that people can use, that will no longer create this dilemma that people are uncertain if they can take time off because they don’t have the money to be able to pay their bills.”
The NDP leader said he thought he was “out of time now” to really negotiate for a permanent program, but he hoped Canadians and political leaders would realize that paid sick leave should exist and should be established.
The left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) noted in a briefing document earlier this year that, in 2019, employers paid for only 38 per cent of illness or disability leave and 23 per cent of family responsibility leave.
Low-income workers are much more likely to be taking unpaid leave than their high-income counterparts. Only 14 per cent of workers earning less than $16,000 took paid leave, compared with 74 per cent of those earning more than $96,000 a year, the think tank found.
In a wide ranging interview, Singh also spoke about his ability to work with the Liberals, despite a lack of trust toward the government exhibited by members of his caucus and NDP supporters across the country. He spoke about his desire to see all long-term-care homes publicly funded, as well as his support for national standards and his lack of interest for those concerned about provincial jurisdiction. He also explained why he was dancing on election night, when his party lost 15 seats and was reduced to one MP in Quebec.
Asked if the NDP should be held responsible if the federal deficit climbs to $400 billion this year, Singh responded: “If the response has been more compassionate and caring and left less people behind, you can thank New Democrats for that.”