House Call with Carol Hughes

New benefits come from short sitting of Parliament

It is no surprise that Canada is joining other nations by addressing the COVID-19 pandemic with stimulus spending. It is our great fortune that we are among the wealthiest nations and able to direct resources that some other countries cannot. Even with this advantage, our system requires that the government bring legislation to Parliament to account for the extraordinary spending needed to maintain that economic advantage into the recovery period once the pandemic’s threat has passed.

Unfortunately, the government’s first draft over-reached in terms of scope of powers and the time frame those special powers would last. Naturally, opposition MPPs balked at the proposal which led to successful negotiations that added a more appropriate time-frame and opposition oversight to the legislation. Once those concerns were addressed, the government was granted the spending power it requires to begin to address the pandemic.

As the scope of this crisis became clear, New Democrats called for direct payments of $2,000 to every adult to help Canadians weather this storm. Our voice was not alone in that respect and the government listened-to a degree. The government has now combined the first temporary benefits announced last week into the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) that will deliver $2,000 a month to workers who have lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, as well as working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures. The CERB will apply to wage earners, as well as contract workers and self-employed individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI).

The measures relating to EI are a little more complicated. That’s because individuals who are already receiving EI regular benefits and sickness benefits will continue to receive those benefits and should not apply to the CERB. For those who have applied for EI since the pandemic began, there is no need to reapply for the CERB. Also, anyone who is eligible for regular EI and sickness benefits can still access those benefits if they remain unemployed after the 16-week period covered by the CERB.

This is uncharted territory for all of us. Things have changed quickly and there are announcements daily, some of which changes criteria/accessibility to previously announced measures. As members of the opposition, New Democrats will continue to promote good ideas to the government and ensure the appropriate oversight is given to their programs and proposals as well. The CERB is an encouraging start, but we were also asking for a robust wage subsidy program of 75 percent or more like had been instituted in Denmark and Germany.

The government has finally been convinced of the wisdom of that proposal and introduced a 75 percent wage subsidy to help small- and medium-sized businesses keep their employees in place during the pandemic. Initiatives like these are critical to ensuring the foundation of an economic recovery is in place and ready once we resume normal activity.

Next up we will have to consider how to help individuals who don’t qualify for the CERB or aren’t remaining employed via wage subsidies. There are individuals who make a bit of money to offset income from sources such as pensions that are unable to earn that additional money during the pandemic. Also, there are people who have been recently employed for months that did not earn enough in 2019 to be eligible for the CERB. My colleagues and I will continue to work on behalf of everyone we can identify as needing help so that Canada’s efforts are as just and fair as possible.