Liberals move bills on GST benefits, dental care as Parliament resumes

·3 min read

OTTAWA — The Liberals moved forward on their promised financial help for Canada's lowest-income families on Tuesday, introducing bills to expand the GST, housing and dental benefits within minutes of the House of Commons kicking off its fall sitting.

But even as government House leader Mark Holland pleaded for political calm and co-operation from opposition parties, he criticized new Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre for what Holland said was an unserious cryptocurrency solution to the affordability problem.

"This is not a time for parlour tricks," Holland said at a news conference Tuesday morning.

"This is not a time for shell games. This is a time for real solutions."

The Liberals are keen to make Canadians aware that in March, while campaigning for leader, Poilievre promised he would normalize and promote cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. He insisted at the time that investing in currencies that aren't influenced by central banks would allow people to "opt out of inflation."

Bitcoin, which had already fallen in value by almost one-third in the four months before Poilievre said that, has fallen by more than half in the six months since.

Holland said the Conservatives have now delayed their own private member's bill to develop a plan to grow cryptocurrencies. That bill, put forward by Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner in February, was supposed to come up for its second hour of debate on Tuesday afternoon.

Instead, the Conservatives put a different bill on the agenda to allow parents or grandparents of Canadian citizens to get a five-year visa to come to Canada.

In a statement, Rempel Garner's assistant said scheduling conflicts meant MPs agreed to move around debate time for three private members' bills. The House was to have returned Monday but that was pushed back a day because of the funeral for Queen Elizabeth.

The bill is now scheduled to be debated in three weeks.

Poilievre has made clear that his priority is to show Canadians that inflation is caused by Trudeau's massive spending during the pandemic and Bank of Canada policies. He often refers to the cost-of-living crisis as "Justinflation," playing on the prime minister's first name.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party will support the new measures after pushing all three policies as positive solutions for months, said the Liberals spent too long dismissing the problem as not their fault.

"The Liberal government and Justin Trudeau were unwilling to even talk about the struggles people are going through," said Singh.

Dental care and the housing benefit top-up were on the NDP's list of demands in the supply and confidence agreement reached with the Liberals last March. The GST top-up wasn't in that deal, but Singh began asking for it in the spring.

Associate finance minister Randy Boissonnault said Trudeau has indicated affordability is the government's priority, and by moving immediately Tuesday to introduce the two bills, they're acting on that.

The new benefits can't flow until those bills pass, which will happen with the support of the NDP. Holland said how quickly they move depends on the co-operation in the House.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2022.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press