COVID-19 Update April 13

Here is our latest update from Monday, April 13

Dear Constituents,

Following an emergency session of Parliament on Saturday, the federal wage subsidy bill C-14 received royal assent. This now puts in place a $70 billion program where business, charities and not for profit organizations can receive up to $847 per week for up to 12 weeks to pay 75% of an employee’s salary. This program is retroactive to March 15. Click here for full details.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the goal was to have “cash in the hands” of small businesses within two to four weeks with the goal being the shorter timeline. He also urged small businesses that apply for the program to top-up wages so employees wouldn’t have to take a 25% cut in pay. He said the government would not enforce that provision however because too many employers couldn’t fill the gap and then would not take advantage of the program.

The bill approved by the House of Commons budgeted $74 billion to fund this program.

CERB Updates

The government also provided an update on the status of the Canadian Emergency Response Program (CERB) which began taking applications on Monday. This program provides $2,000 per month for 4 months for those persons losing all their income as a result of the government effectively shutting down the economy to deal with the crisis and who don’t qualify for Employment Insurance (EI). By end of day Friday 3.2 million Canadians had applied for this program and another 2.65 million have applied for (EI) since March 15.

The Finance Minister has estimated the cost of this program at $24 billion but it is likely to go much higher. This amount would already be surpassed if every applicant received the full 4 months of payments.  

If you qualify and haven’t yet applied, click here.

The government also announced this week that modifications to this program will be forthcoming. One matter many constituents have raised, and I have also advocated for, is that the program be modified to allow for people to still be able to do some work while receiving CERB (in other words, that income each month doesn’t have to be $0).  I am hopeful, based on the Minister’s comments Saturday, that an income threshold will be created whereby Canadians earning a small amount of income would be eligible for CERB. Expect something on this in the next few days.

Student Employment

Students are another group that has been left out by the benefit programs.  Many worked very hard to secure summer employment or a co-op, and have seen them cancelled.  To that end, I am putting out a call to community organizations that have not already applied to the Canada Summer Jobs program.  The Government of Canada has significantly enhanced the program to now cover 100% of wages for eligible students up to the provincial minimum wage, now allows for part time jobs, and now allows for placements to go into February.  If you are a member of a community organization, and would like the opportunity to hire students under Canada Summer Jobs, please reach out to my office no later than April 17th.  While applications are currently closed, we have been given the ability to add organizations into the approval queue.  I will be making a separate appeal to community associations and other groups that may be eligible in the hopes that this will be given serious consideration, to help students who have lost income because of COVID-19.  For more information on the program, please visit this webpage (but disregard application deadlines).  I realize this is a very quick turnaround, and appreciate your assistance in this regard. 

Ministers’ Question Period

During the two-hour question period Conservative MPs had an opportunity to ask many of the questions you have been sending to my office. A second question period took place in the senate. I have attempted to compile questions that are relevant to Alberta and the various minister’s responses. To view please click here.  These responses are provided for your information – I am not suggesting that we agree with them in all cases, and rest assured, we continue to advocate with government on many of these matters.

Question period on Saturday also provided an opportunity for Conservative opposition members to ask about recent media reports that indicates senior government officials were warned by Canadian intelligence about the virus’s seriousness in China months before infections happened in Canada. For more information click here to read the original CBC article. 

The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister refused to comment on the reports only to say ministers are privy to a great deal of briefings.

The government also confirmed that an estimated 2000 people from Hubei province who entered Canada early in the year were only asked to self- isolate with no monitoring even though that area of China was already in a lockdown for the coronavirus. 

Commentary

I raise these matters because while we are working diligently to get supports into the hands of Canadians who need them most, we must also begin to consider, in the near future, lessons learned during this pandemic. Our public health officials, and our civil servants have done many things very well during these unprecedented times.  Nevertheless, it is also a worthwhile exercise to examine places where our response seems to have been inadequate so that we might do better in the future.

Thank you,

Ron Liepert