National Post (Latest Edition)

Where CERB went

6.5 million recipients in first weeks

- Jordan Press

OTTAWA • Kelly Ernst recalls standing on sidewalks, waving to needy families in Calgary’s northeast as they opened their doors to pick up food hampers.

Ernst, vice-president for vulnerable population­s at Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers, said the memory speaks to how COVID-19 hurt the community, socially and economical­ly.

The Skyview Ranch neighbourh­ood is one of the most diverse in the country, with a high proportion of visible minorities and newcomers. Residents are often employed in precarious retail jobs or in warehouses, Ernst said. Others work at the city’s airport or in the municipal transit system, both of which were also affected by the pandemic.

“Some of the first people to be laid off during the downturn were people in these precarious jobs,” Ernst said, adding many were left looking for “some way to get through this whole thing.”

Almost seven in every 10 residents over age 15 in Skyview Ranch, received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit in the initial month that the pandemic aid was available, one of the highest concentrat­ions among over 1,600 neighbourh­oods The Canadian Press analyzed.

Federal data, obtained through the Access to Informatio­n Act, provides the most detailed picture yet of where billions of dollars in emergency aid went last year.

The data is broken down by the first three characters of postal codes, known as “forward sortation areas,” to determine the number of active recipients at any time anywhere in the country.

The Canadian Press used population counts from the 2016 census to calculate what percentage of the population over age 15 in each forward sortation ar

ea received the CERB in any four-week pay period.

Some forward sortation areas in the data from Employment and Social Developmen­t Canada were created after the 2016 census and weren’t included in the analysis.

Over its lifespan between late March and October of last year, the CERB paid out nearly $82 billion to 8.9 million people whose incomes crashed because they saw their hours slashed or lost their jobs.

Some three million people lost their jobs in March and April as non-essential businesses were ordered closed, and 2.5 million more worked less than half their usual hours.

The data from Employment and Social Developmen­t Canada show that 6.5 million people received the $500-a-week CERB during the first four weeks it was available, or more than one in five Canadians over age 15.

What emerges from that initial wave is a largely ruralurban split, with higher proportion­s of population­s relying on the CERB in cities compared to rural parts of the country.

Neighbourh­oods in Brampton, Ont., on Toronto’s northwest edge, had the largest volume of CERB recipients with postal-code areas averaging over 15,160 recipients per fourweek pay period.

CERB usage also appears higher in urban areas that had higher COVID-19 case counts, which was and remains the case in Calgary’s northeast.

“As cities relied more on accommodat­ions, tourism and food as drivers of economic growth, the more they would have been sideswiped by the pandemic, and larger centres have a higher concentrat­ion of jobs in these areas,” said David Macdonald, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternativ­es, who has studied the CERB.

“More rural areas of the country and certain cities that have a higher reliance on, say, natural resources wouldn’t have been hit as hard.”

In Skyview Ranch, census data says 12 per cent lived below the poverty line in 2016, and about three in 10 owners and four in 10 renters faced a housing affordabil­ity crunch, meaning they spent 30 per cent or more of their incomes on shelter.

Many live in multi-generation­al households, which the local city councillor said caused additional concerns about students and working adults spreading the virus to grandparen­ts.

“These are real worries and challenges that members of my community have been facing throughout a pandemic,” said Coun. George Chahal.

“The CERB program and the additional support to small businesses was a huge relief for the fear with many folks in my ward.”

The CERB program paid out $500 per week for people whose incomes had fallen to nothing as a result of the pandemic. The federal Liberals amended the program in April to set a monthly income threshold of $1,000.

At the outset, there were 6,520 residents of Skyview Ranch on the CERB, about 69.4 per cent of the population 15 and up.

Then things improved. Businesses reopened and workers were rehired. The decline in the program’s use in Calgary’s northeast mirrored a nationwide drop in recipients overall, even though there were local increases here and there.

In all, there were 4.4 million recipients in the CERB’S second month, the biggest month-to-month change, 3.7 million in the third, and a steady decline to almost 2.3 million recipients by the time the CERB was replaced.

Over the lifetime of the CERB, the Ontario town of East Gwillimbur­y had the highest average number of residents accessing the program, at 24 per cent. The town with the lowest percentage was Winkler, Man., at 3.83 per cent.

MONTREAL • The coroner heading the public inquiry into the deaths at Quebec’s long-term care centres last spring will decide Tuesday whether it is postponed or moves ahead as scheduled.

The sweeping inquiry will look into deaths at several long-term care centres across the province, but its main focus will be those that occurred at the résidence Herron CHSLD in dorval last spring during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As it began Monday, coroner Géhane Kamel was presented with a request by the Herron’s owners and administra­tors arguing the inquiry needs to be postponed.

The request was filed on behalf of the centre’s co-owner, Samantha Chowieri, and its director, Andrei Sabin Stanica. It seeks to have the portion of the inquiry on the Herron pushed back until prosecutor­s decide whether they will face criminal charges.

If the postponeme­nt is not granted, they are also seeking to have any testimony related to the Herron placed under a publicatio­n ban. They argue it’s necessary given the evidence presented during the inquiry could influence an eventual jury if charges are laid.

After hearing arguments Monday, Kamel said she will rule on the request Tuesday morning.

She said she understand­s it’s an “extremely important” decision for the families, the public and the Herron’s owners.

A lawyer representi­ng the families objected to the request, arguing families have been waiting nearly a year for the inquiry in hopes that it might finally bring them some answers.

Lawyer Marc-andré Nadon, representi­ng several media organizati­ons, also argued public interest dictates the inquiry should proceed as planned. He noted the Herron’s owners are not facing any charges at the moment and it’s not yet known if or when they will.

Nadon also questioned whether the inquiry could even help the Herron’s case, by allowing its owners to explain what happened and add some nuance to what went wrong.

A lawyer representi­ng Quebec’s office of criminal prosecutio­ns couldn’t say when it plans to announce its decision on any possible charges, but agreed the inquiry should proceed.

earlier, in her opening statement,

will Look into Deaths that occurred in the HOMES.

Kamel said the inquiry’s goal is not to determine criminal or civil responsibi­lity, but rather to explore the circumstan­ces of each death.

The inquiry will look into deaths that occurred in the homes between March 12 and May 1 of last year, including 47 at the Herron CHSLD. After the portion on the Herron, it will focus on deaths at other centres, including Montreal’s CHSLD yvon-brunet and Laval’s CHSLD Ste-dorothée.

Kamel said she knows the proceeding­s will be emotional for families and asked everyone to be respectful, noting the “indecent or inhumane” conditions surroundin­g the deaths can factor into the inquiry.

As of last week, Quebec had recorded 10,046 deaths from COVID-19 — 52 per cent of those deaths were people who lived in CHSLDS.

 ??  ?? Kelly Ernst
Kelly Ernst
 ?? JOHN MAHONEY / POSTMEDIA NEWS FILES ?? A sweeping inquiry will look into deaths at several long-term care centres across Quebec, but its main focus will be those that occurred at the
Résidence Herron CHSLD in Dorval last spring during the COVID-19 pandemic.
JOHN MAHONEY / POSTMEDIA NEWS FILES A sweeping inquiry will look into deaths at several long-term care centres across Quebec, but its main focus will be those that occurred at the Résidence Herron CHSLD in Dorval last spring during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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