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Canada's political consensus over coronavirus aid programs starts to fray

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s political consensus over help for those hit by the coronavirus outbreak began to fray on Wednesday when opposition legislators blocked a government move to approve a proposed expansion of benefits.

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez speaks during a meeting in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Blair Gable

The move could spell trouble for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who need the support of other parties to govern. Legislators have so far been united, approving aid programs worth more than C$160 billion ($119 billion) in direct spending, or around 7% of gross domestic product.

But the official opposition Conservative Party, citing concerns over a push by Trudeau to slash how often Parliament meets, formally rejected a Liberal appeal to quickly adopt draft legislation boosting the programs.

Trudeau said it appeared that opposition legislators who had been asking for more time in Parliament did now not want to debate the measures.

“That’s a little head-scratching,” he told the House of Commons, urging the opposition to cooperate.

The legislation would expand benefits for the disabled and seasonal workers while punishing those cheating the system.

In a bid to end the standoff, the government offered to split the bill to allow quick passage of help for the disabled. The Conservatives rejected this, insisting legislators should gather more often in Parliament rather than taking part in virtual meetings as the Liberals propose.

“Parliament should be sitting. But Justin Trudeau shamefully shut it down,” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wrote on Twitter after opposing the bid to split the bill.

“The Trudeau Liberals need to ... let members of Parliament do our job in the House.”

The opposition New Democrats had also expressed unhappiness with the bill, saying that to crack down on fraud would hurt the most vulnerable.

The total number of Canadian deaths linked to the coronavirus rose to 7,897 on Tuesday from 7,835 on Monday, data showed.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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