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Liberals still plan to work with opposition on EI reform during prorogation: minister

Click to play video '‘We weren’t perfect’: Qualtrough on government’s response to COVID-19' ‘We weren’t perfect’: Qualtrough on government’s response to COVID-19
WATCH: Canada's employment minister speaks about COVID-19 response – Aug 23, 2020

Despite shutting down Parliament with a prorogation set to last until Sept. 23, the government will still find ways to work with the opposition on sweeping overhauls to employment insurance, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Qualtrough was asked about criticism from the political opposition that it is undemocratic to shut down Parliament and days later announce massive reforms to the social welfare program and extensions to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

“I personally don’t think so,” she said. “I’m very confident that we’re going to allow MPs to dig in on this over the next month, work with critics, work with opposition parties, our own Liberal MPs, and just seeing the way forward.

“You’re going to see how this fits into the bigger economic picture that we’re going to present to Canadians on Sept. 23.”

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Read more: Liberals unveil $37B for CERB transition to new benefits, EI changes

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday announced he had asked the governor general to prorogue Parliament because the world has changed since the last throne speech and he feels the government needs to outline its vision for the pandemic recovery and seek a mandate for that plan from the opposition parties.

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But shutting down Parliament also shuts down the four parliamentary committees that had been probing or in the midst of planning to probe the conflict of interest accusations in the WE Charity scandal.

Click to play video 'Federal government unveils CERB transition plan' Federal government unveils CERB transition plan
Federal government unveils CERB transition plan – Aug 20, 2020

Just two days after that announcement, the government also unveiled $37-billion plans to extend the CERB for an additional four weeks, broaden the eligibility criteria for employment insurance and create new benefit programs for caregivers and those needing sick leave.

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The first two can be done without legislation but the new benefits will need to be enacted through a bill in the House of Commons once Parliament returns this fall.

Read more: What we know so far about the CERB to EI transition

Qualtrough said any extension to the CERB had to happen this week.

“That had to be delivered this week, it just had to be so Canadians had certainty heading into September,” she said. “Partially announcing this yesterday was to give us a chance to work together.”

She said she has already had conversations with opposition critics about the plans and thinks people need to separate the circumstances of the announcement and the prorogation.

“I think we have to decouple these two things that are happening.”

She did not say why the government felt it needed to prorogue Parliament before announcing the employment insurance changes.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: CERB transition to new benefits, EI changes expected to cost $37B' Coronavirus: CERB transition to new benefits, EI changes expected to cost $37B
Coronavirus: CERB transition to new benefits, EI changes expected to cost $37B – Aug 20, 2020