Things continue to look encouraging in terms of new case numbers for Alberta this week. My sense is that many of us are beginning to breathe a sigh of relief and that some aspects of our day to day lives are moving back towards normal. That being said, the implications of COVID-19 and the economic shut down are, and will continue to be, far reaching. Albertans have had a tough last few years, and I am afraid there are more tough days ahead for our province.
In this email, I want to outline a few programs and announcements where we are continuing to see challenges in implementation. While I do not want to be entirely critical, this week has left us with not a lot of positives to report in terms of government programs.
Support for Seniors
The Prime Minister announced on May 12th that seniors receiving Old Age Security would get a one-tine, tax free payment of $300. Seniors that also receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement will get an additional $200. Almost a month has passed, and many of you emailed, wondering when this would be happening. Government has announced this week that the payment will be made July 6th.
The procedure of announcing something, and working out details months later, sadly is becoming routine for this government. I know many seniors are frustrated by these delays, and many are struggling with the increased costs that have come as a result of COVID, while their income remains stagnant. When governments make announcements, the public expects immediate action, not implementation weeks or months following. Unfortunately too often throughout this pandemic that has been the situation.
Canada Summer Jobs
I have spent a great deal of time this week on the phone with officials from Service Canada, who administer the Canada Summer Jobs program. As you know, youth employment is a key area of concern – especially given many young people lost their positions this summer. Again the prime Minister announced in early April that the Canada Summer Jobs program would be expanded and employers had until April 17th to submit applications to MPs offices. Now almost two months later most applicants are still waiting to find out if they can hire a student under the program. Last week, for instance, we had a total of 3 positions approved, out of hundreds that were applied for out of our constituency. The week previous it was one applicant approved and two the week prior to that. Summer is here, and we are running the risk of this program being very unhelpful due to bureaucratic delays. I have expressed to Service Canada that these funds need to be pushed out the door much faster than is currently happening. Again this is another example of a good idea but poor execution.
Help for Canada’s Energy Sector
It is now almost three months since Finance Minister Bill Morneau said that assistance for the hard-hit oil and gas sector “would be coming in hours, possibly days.” A $1.7 billion announcement was made for oil well remediation however industry said $30 billion was required in liquidity so companies could stay afloat. Finally in mid-May the government announced the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF) to provide bridge financing for Canada’s largest employers. This program was initially welcomed by industry however individual companies are still waiting for the criteria to be developed and are unable to tap into any funds. If you want to read more, consider Chris Varcoe’s column in the Calgary Herald yesterday.
Applying for this program has also been rejected by Calgary’s Airport Authority (YYC) because of the high interest rates being charged by government. While the Bank of Canada rate hovers near zero, the federal government is charging 5% for the first year, 8% in year two and increases by 2% per annum after. YYC’s passenger traffic has dropped by 98% and they expect a four year recovery period. Even though YYC will soon run out of money, signing up for this program would be like putting your home mortgage on visa. All Canadian airports are in the same situation. Tourism is another industry where assistance was promised months ago and little follow through has taken place.
Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA)
I have heard from many business owners that the CECRA has been of little assistance to offset commercial rent. Landlords are simply refusing to participate – an economic decision I find challenging to understand, given that it is much more costly to show a space and find a new tenant, rather than simply taking a reduced rent, for a short period of time, from a current small business owner. Nevertheless, I’d like to acknowledge several of our local landlords who I know are participating in the program. Your support is appreciated.
This program would likely have been more successful if assistance was provided to the small business attempting to pay rent rather than making it optional for the landlord.
Official Opposition Leader’s Comments on Killing of George Floyd
The Covid-19 pandemic was pushed out of being the lead item on newscasts for the first time in months by the protests resulting from the death of George Floyd in the United States. With a situation like this, it is oftentimes challenging to find the right words to describe the emotions we feel. The Leader of the Official Opposition has tried to do so in his remarks to Parliament this week. Click here to read them.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read my email. I look forward to your responses.