COVID-19 Update June 12 2020

There were some technical problems with the links in this update when it was emailed to constituents.  We have corrected the links in the online version below.  Our apologies for the inconvenience.  

Dear Constituents,

Today marks a major milestone for our province as stage 2 of the post COVID-19 re-launch takes effect. Not only is the re-launch a week ahead of schedule, but a number of services that were originally included as part of stage 3, such as gyms and arenas, are good to go today. It should be noted however that not all venues allowed to open today will actually do so. For a full list of services that are now able to open please refer to the Alberta Government website here.

Happenings in Ottawa

The government will be introducing a massive spending bill in the House of Commons next week. The bill, asking for authorization to spend $87 billion, will only be given 4 hours of debate under the rules forced through by the Liberals supported by the NDP. The Liberals attempted to get the bill fast tracked through the House this past week by seeking unanimous consent and including expenditures for the $600 disability grant announced last week.

The Prime Minister has tried to spin the situation to make it look like Conservatives are blocking support for Canadians with disabilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. We offered to return to the House yesterday to debate and pass the proposed support for Canadians disabilities. The government declined that offer. Secondly, the government does not actually need Parliamentary approval to provide this benefit. It could be done through a regulatory change to the disability tax credit. A simple regulatory change by cabinet was the method used for the recent firearms ban. What has become typical of this government is to include something like the disability benefit as a lever to gain almost unlimited spending power with no financial oversight.

Conservatives refused to give unanimous consent using this leverage to try to get some movement on the broad issues that we know many are facing including:

• If CERB is to be extended, flexibility needs to be introduced regarding working. Currently, if someone makes $1000 in a month, they get the full CERB.  If they make $1001, they get nothing.  We are of the view that people should not be unduly penalized for working.

• The government announced changes to CEBA ($40,000 interest free loan) which allow businesses who do not use traditional employment structures to be eligible.  However, as usual, almost a month has passed and the government has not released details nor modified the application process.  We will continue to request this be fixed.

• Since the government and NDP have shut down parliament and severely curtailed debate and scrutiny on massive spending measures, we are in support of a proposal by the Office of the Auditor General to fund audits on COVID-19 related programming.  Notably, Liberal members on the Standing Committee on Finance agreed to this, so we are hopeful that the government will do so as well.

Opening the Canada-U.S border

The border was closed to traffic, other than essential, on March 21 and subsequently re-issued until June 21. Many constituents, with property in northern states, have written requesting assistance to re-open the border so they can travel to check on their properties. Changes to re-opening the border seem to be a last minute decision made at the Prime Ministerial/Presidential level. This past week the government did announce that the Canadian side of the border would be relaxed for family re-unification, but indications are the border may not be opened any further for some time to come. A Reuters article, quoting senior government sources from both the Government of Canada and U.S. Government, confirms that the current closure is likely to be extended into July.

Many residents are having difficulty understanding why our economy in Alberta is opening and yet the border remains closed. While Alberta and several other provinces have done exceedingly well in beating back the virus, the fact remains that large population areas in central Canada have not. Many services available in Alberta today are not re-opened in the Greater Toronto area. Any relaxing of border rules would apply across the country evenly and some parts of Canada continue to struggle with the pandemic more than others.

Protests Versus Social Distancing

A number of constituents have written regarding the Prime Minister’s participation in a massive protest in Ottawa last Friday. The protests are being held by persons who feel more must be done to address racism in this country. The Prime Minister participated while not respecting the public health measures put into place by his own government. He attended the protest wearing a mask but clearly was not social distancing. This is the same Prime Minister who has spent the past three months lecturing Canadians about the necessity to social distance and scolded Torontonians a month ago who congregated in a park on a sunny Saturday after being cooped up for two months. The government is brushing off his appearance at the rally as being okay “because he was wearing a mask.” This is the same Prime Minister whose government early in the pandemic told Canadians that wearing a mask did no good in preventing the spread of the virus. This is simply another example of a Prime Minister who says one thing on a certain day and then does the exact opposite the next day.

It is also an example of the continued “virtue signalling” of this government. If the Prime Minister wanted, he could introduce legislation or regulations to combat racism or increase police accountability. This would be a concrete step forward. Yet, his only action thus far has been to join a protest for a photo-op.

Financial Accountability

The Prime Minister continues to insist that introducing a budget or even a fiscal update would be a futile exercise and so Canadians will not be told how far in debt we are as a result of spending on COVID-19. To quote the Prime Minister “providing a fiscal update would require a crystal ball to predict where the economy was headed. With so much of the economy frozen or in a coma any prediction would be unreliable.” The failure to release any kind of accounting as to the country’s financial picture combined with an extension of CERB benefits into October will be a clear indication to get prepared for an election in October.

Ron Liepert