COVID-19 Update June 19 2020

Dear Constituents,

This past week marked a major blow to the ego of the Prime Minister, when Canada came in third out of three countries competing for two UN Security council seats. This Liberal government has spent $2.5 million over the past 5 years attempting to woo and bribe voting members only to come up with fewer votes (108) than Stephen Harper’s government did in 2010 (114). The good news for the Prime Minister however is that there are probably less than 108 people in the entire country who care.

CERB Extended

The government announced this week that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) would be extended for two additional months, until mid-September.  As of July 5th, applicants will have to sign an attestation that they are actively looking for work.

There is much speculation that a federal election will be called for this fall, maybe as soon as immediately following the Labour day weekend. This would mean CERB benefits would expire before the actual vote. There has also been significant discussion as to how the government was going to wean a large portion of those 8 million Canadians off the benefit if unemployment numbers remain in double digits. One likely option is the Liberals stealing the NDP proposal for a universal basic income (UBI) as a key promise in an election platform. UBI is a government guaranteed payment for every citizen to cover the basic cost of living. The major opposition to UBI is cost, however this Prime Minister has proven in the last three months that controlling spending isn’t a priority.

Parliamentary Business

The House of Commons met for four hours on Wednesday. This brief session was a negotiated agreement between the Liberals and NDP.  The House voted on government estimates (basically a standard budgetary bill we see yearly) which passed with the Liberals and NDP in favour.  Although the length of time given to scrutinize the government’s spending of funds was brief, we asked a number of important questions about underfunding of student assistance programs, a lack of funding for the Auditor General’s Office, and expanding the Canada Emergency Business loan program (CEBA) to ensure small businesses don’t slip through the cracks.

The House did not vote on Bill C-17, the bill that would seek to add penalties for fraudulent use of CERB and give $600 to Canadians with disabilities.  I want to assure constituents that we are in no way attempting to hold up the disability funds.  The government does not need parliamentary approval to distribute the money – it can be done via a regulatory change at the cabinet level.  We remain available, and very willing, to return to Ottawa, should the government recall the House, to get this done.

Despite the fact that most of the Liberal’s responses during the sitting sidestepped our queries altogether, some important information came to light. The Student Service Grant portal, providing up to a $5,000 bursary for students who volunteer in approved organizations, announced months ago will be open “within days”. Students planning to apply for the bursary should be cautious of such a promise however, as three months ago Finance Minister Bill Morneau said help for the energy industry was “within days, if not hours” from being announced yet nothing has been forthcoming.

The government confirmed that seniors would be eligible for the $2,000 CERB payment, if they qualify, even if they are on the Canada Pension Plan, OAS, or GIS. Additionally, the government reconfirmed its intent to provide a one-time, non-taxable payment of $600 dollars to certificate holders of the Disability Tax Credit.

Small Business Minister Mary Ng said financial institutions would be able to accept CEBA applications, starting today, for businesses who pay with dividends and don’t meet the payroll requirements. Once the house adjourned however Minister Morneau tweeted that would not be the case and so applying for that program remains in limbo.

Government to Provide Fiscal Update

The government has selected July 8th to provide a fiscal “snapshot” to Canadians.  The Prime Minister has, for months, resisted tabling a budget or providing an economic update. Bowing to pressure from the Conservative Opposition, the Liberals will now present an economic “selfie” instead. The Parliamentary Budget Officer is now projecting a deficit of $256 billion which doesn’t include any provision for the two-month extension of CERB which is estimated by the Minister to cost in the range of $34 billion. There is now little doubt the net federal debt will top $1 trillion (yes you’re reading that correctly).  With the House of Commons adjourned and Canadians enjoying summer outdoors, the fiscal “snapshot” is well timed to garner the least amount of attention possible.

Border Concerns

I have heard two concerns very clearly about the US-Canada border this week.  Constituents with family ties, or property, in the United States are hoping that US entry requirements will be relaxed.  Ultimately the US Government makes this decision, and has chosen to extend its land border closure another 30 days until late July.  We know this is a challenge for many.  If you’d like to read our questioning on this issue, click here.

Conversely, there has been a great deal of very legitimate concern about reports of US residents entering Canada by falsely telling CBSA officers that they are “driving to Alaska” and then vacationing in Banff.  We have raised this issue both in the House, and internally with the relevant government ministers.  The Minister of Public Safety has called on CBSA to do more due diligence on this issue, however, has acknowledged that border agents are required to allow Alaska residents to cross Canada during this closure.

Commentary

This will be the final edition of our weekly COVID-19 updates. With Parliament recessed until September, with the exception of a few one-day committee meetings during July and August, it is time to move on. Many of us are getting tired of seeing the Prime Minister pop out of his cottage daily (sort of like the old cuckoo clock) and I don’t want our communication to get stale.

I have received many wonderful comments from constituents for the weekly updates over the past three months and am pleased that our communications helped navigate through the myriad of announcements. I have had the opportunity to communicate directly by telephone and email with far more constituents than previous years when my weeks were spent in Ottawa. Many of you asked “how can I help” when it comes to ensuring Canadians living outside Alberta understand the challenges our province is facing. To that end I will throw out some ideas that each of you may pursue over the summer months as we head into a possible fall election.

Several constituents have suggested writing letters to the editor. I agree, but not to the Calgary Herald. This is speaking to the converted. Write a Letter to the Editor of the Ottawa Citizen, the Hamilton Spectator, the Toronto Star, or the London Free Press. Albertans are thoughtful and passionate about issues. Many electors in central Canada seem to make last minute decisions and vote based on issues that certain political parties exploit. Don’t be afraid to have those conversations with friends and relatives elsewhere in the country.

The next majority government will not be determined by how Alberta votes but rather who Montreal, the Greater Toronto area, and the lower mainland of B.C. select. In many instances a few votes may separate candidates. If you play your part to ensure even a few voters are better informed it can make a difference.

Watch Your Mailboxes

I have been working with my team to produce a comprehensive newsletter for all constituents, that intends to act as the beginning of a post-mortem for government’s response to COVID-19, and to give you some commentary and insights into what lies ahead for us.  That document has now been printed and is on its way to your mailboxes in the next two weeks.  If you’d like to take a look at it in advance, click here.

As always, I appreciate you taking the time to read my email, and look forward to your responses.

Ron Liepert