Feds pro­pose up­ping value of new ben­e­fits to match sun­set­ting CERB

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE - JOR­DAN PRESS

OT­TAWA

The Lib­er­als are propos­ing to in­crease the value of ben­e­fits for un­em­ployed work­ers to $500 a week un­der newly tabled leg­is­la­tion that lands days be­fore aid runs out for mil­lions.

It fol­lows a de­mand from the New Demo­cratic Party, whose leader Jag­meet Singh con­demned the Lib­er­als for plan­ning to re­duce ben­e­fits to $400 a week.

The pro­posal still needs par­lia­men­tary ap­proval, but would bring the value of pay­ments to the same level as un­der the soonto-dis­ap­pear Canada Emer­gency Re­sponse Ben­e­fit, or CERB.

The same $500-a-week floor would be placed un­der em­ploy­ment in­surance ben­e­fits for those el­i­gi­ble for the pro­gram.

The Lib­er­als first un­veiled a pack­age of three ben­e­fits and an ex­panded em­ploy­ment in­surance pro­gram to re­place the CERB in Au­gust, days af­ter Par­lia­ment was pro­rogued.

The coun­try’s fi­nance and em­ploy­ment min­is­ters down­played any po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions in the lan­guage of the bill in­tro­duced in the House of Com­mons on Thurs­day, which re­quires some op­po­si­tion sup­port for it to be­come law.

“We re­ally were try­ing to be flex­i­ble from the begin­ning. We landed here be­cause this is where the coun­try is now in terms of the sup­port work­ers need,” Em­ploy­ment Min­is­ter Carla Qual­trough said.

But the bill does more than just re­shape aid for peo­ple who aren’t able to work, whether it’s be­cause they don’t have jobs or can’t work be­cause they are ill or have to stay home to take care of chil­dren or fam­ily mem­bers for pan­demic-re­lated rea­sons.

It also in­cludes $1.5 bil­lion to send to prov­inces for train­ing pro­grams as a first in­stal­ment of money linked to the gov­ern­ment’s throne-speech prom­ise to help Cana­di­ans im­prove or ac­quire skills to help them in a shift­ing labour mar­ket.

And it also asks Par­lia­ment to give the gov­ern­ment emer­gency spend­ing pow­ers un­til the end of the year on what Fi­nance Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land said are spe­cific mea­sures to com­bat the pan­demic, such as vac­cines.

Still, Free­land said the gov­ern­ment ex­pects to have to come back to Par­lia­ment for spend­ing ap­proval on ad­di­tional pro­grams as the need arises.

The CERB has paid out some $78 bil­lion to nearly 8.8 mil­lion peo­ple since the on­set of the pan­demic, cov­er­ing those who are and are not el­i­gi­ble for em­ploy­ment in­surance.

Bump­ing the value of the new ben­e­fits will mean that about 750,000 peo­ple would re­ceive less than un­der the CERB, down from the 2.7 mil­lion the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives es­ti­mated un­der the Lib­er­als’ pre­vi­ous pro­posal.

“It’s cer­tainly a big im­prove­ment in the pro­gram,” said CCPA se­nior econ­o­mist David Mac­don­ald, who ran the up­dated num­bers.

“I don’t think this will change the un­nec­es­sary messi­ness of the rollover from CERB to EI or some of th­ese new pro­grams in the sense that it doesn’t help peo­ple fig­ure out where they should ap­ply or not ap­ply,” he added. “How­ever, for most peo­ple now, the ben­e­fits are the same, if not bet­ter.”

The gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates about 2.8 mil­lion peo­ple re­ceiv­ing CERB pay­ments will move to EI, and Qual­trough said she is con­fi­dent it will be a smooth tran­si­tion for the decades-old EI sys­tem.

Ev­ery­one else will need to wait for par­lia­men­tary ap­proval even as the CERB winds down begin­ning this week­end.

“We have been work­ing with the other par­ties all along through this process, so I stress ur­gency be­cause we’re now rolling up our sleeves to get this past the fin­ish line,” Qual­trough said about the Lib­er­als’ push for speedy pas­sage of the bill.

The NDP’s Singh said he’s happy to see the in­crease in un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, but on Thurs­day af­ter­noon his party was still ne­go­ti­at­ing bet­ter ac­cess to the sick­ness pro­vi­sions be­fore the party could sup­port the leg­is­la­tion.

CP PHOTO SEAN KILPATRICK

Min­is­ter of Em­ploy­ment, Work­force De­vel­op­ment and Dis­abil­ity In­clu­sion Carla Qual­trough holds a press con­fer­ence on Par­lia­ment Hill in Ot­tawa on Thurs­day.

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