Tue. May 17th, 2022

A chorus of business, academic and political voices want an end to CRB once and for all, claiming it is hampering productivity and exacerbating labor shortages

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OTTAWA-Ask around Parliament Hill what the future holds for the government’s Canada Recovery benefit of $ 1,200 per tonne. Month and you probably get no more than a shrug and maybe a sigh.

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Although the pandemic assistance program ends on October 23, the reality is that politics in the latest (but eerily similar) version of the liberal minority government and the development of the fourth wave of the pandemic will determine whether the CRB lives to see another day.

CRB is one of three programs (along with Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit and Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit) that replaced the first Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) at $ 2,000 per year. Month back in September 2020.

CRB began as generously as CERB, but eventually dropped to $ 600 every other week after July 17, 2021. As of September 26, the program paid out well over $ 26 billion to nearly 2.1 million Canadians.

Applications for the last two-week payment period are October 23, which means that if the program is not extended to November 20 (which is an option included in Budget 2021), it will expire in mid-November.

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But as Canada gradually transitions from COVID-19 lockdowns to post-pandemic recovery, a growing chorus of business, academic and political voices are urging the federal government to stop CRB once and for all, claiming it is hampering productivity and exacerbating labor shortages throughout the country.

“If you extend job assistance, it must be extremely, extremely targeted,” CIBC Deputy Chief Economist Benjamin Tal said in an interview. “You have to distinguish between people who lost a significant income due to COVID or simply decided they would not return.”

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Among other opponents: Restaurants Canada, Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) and Canadian Chamber of Commerce. But few political leaders have hit the drums as hard as Quebec Prime Minister François Legault.

“I think we have to say that CERB and CRB have been a problem,” Legault told Quebec radio station 95.7 Kyk at the start of the last federal election, in August.

“There was a deterrent effect on going to work because we could easily receive a nice check all the while we were at home. But it will end in the end, ”he added. “And some people who currently prefer to stay home and receive a check from the federal government are returning to work.”

Within Liberal ranks, there seems to be little or no appetite for extending the expensive program.

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In their campaign platform and in media events after the election, the Liberal Party has instead focused on promises to increase business support, such as extending the Canada Recovery Hiring Program and creating targeted assistance to sectors particularly hard hit by COVID-19, such as tourism or arts and events. .

“It comes down to… the promise we made at the beginning of this pandemic to have the backs of Canadians as much as it took as long as it took. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do to make sure our economy bounces back, to make sure companies can thrive quickly again, ”Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday.

The Liberal Party has also taken the first steps towards a reform of the employment insurance program, which has not seen a comprehensive review for over 20 years. The ultimate goal is ultimately to “improve access to EI by examining systemic gaps revealed by COVID-19” as well as building a program that is “more responsive” to Canadian needs.

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But the decision to phase out CRB may not be entirely up to them either. If Trudeau wants to push for new COIVD-19 business assistance programs and packages, his minority government will have to find another party to support the legislation, which inevitably means concessions as well.

Canada Recovery Benefit has been blamed for labor shortages across Canada.
Canada Recovery Benefit has been blamed for labor shortages across Canada. Photo by Peter J. Thompson / National Post

If this party ends up being NDP, it’s very likely that CRB will be extended – and is likely to remain at the current $ 1,200 per share. Month.

“We will see the support continue,” NDP leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters on Thursday. “For Alberta and Saskatchewan, it’s the worst it’s ever been. So in the worst it has ever been, it would be irresponsible and wrong to cut in on helping people. So definitely we will see a broad continued support. ”

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But Singh said he was ready to make some concessions regarding financial assistance to COVID-19, specifically who should-and should not-be eligible for them.

“The only tailoring of the support we imagine is that the support should go to people … and to small businesses. They have been hardest hit. We will not continue to see the support for the big companies that have been able to get through this time, and they are doing really well, ”said Singh.

On the other hand, if the Liberal Party ends up successfully negotiating with the Bloc Québécois, it is almost certain that the CRB will be put to bed forever as long as the government commits to targeted support for people and businesses hardest hit. COVID-19.

“We are in favor of a suspension of the CRB and we do not believe it should be extended beyond October 23,” Bloc Québécoi pandemic program critic Nathalie Sinclair Desgagné said in an interview. “Except in sectors where the economy has not restarted, namely tourism and the arts.”

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“What we want to see is a thorough reform of employment insurance. The reason CERB and CRB were introduced was because the EI system could not support the massive and sudden job losses a year and a half ago. ”

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has not yet expressed a specific position on the CRB, but he reiterated during the campaign that his party wanted to “settle emergency spending responsibly” while focusing on aid to specific sectors.

But another piece of the CRB puzzle is the Delta variant-driven fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that is tearing through Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In Alberta, Prime Minister Jason Kenney has had to reverse the course of most of his promises to keep the province completely open and free of health measures, as cases of the Delta variant fill ICUs and push the health system to the brink.

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In a speech to CBC News on Friday, an intensive care specialist in Saskatchewan said the province was forced to cancel 200 surgeries a day to ensure hospitals had room to take care of the increase in COVID-19 patients.

Since his re-election, Trudeau has repeatedly promised not to give up support for these provinces.

“I made a simple promise to the Canadians at the beginning of this pandemic that we would have our backs for as long as it took, no matter what. And that continues to be the case in Alberta and Saskatchewan and anywhere, where people are still struggling with the dire effects of this pandemic, “Trudeau said on September 28.

Thus, many Liberals are at odds with the idea of ​​eliminating CRBs at a time when some Canadians may find themselves in need of support if their province decides to reintroduce lockdowns.

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This is where the possibility of extending the program one more month to November 20 becomes appealing, say liberal sources, namely because it would not require any legislative changes or votes in the House of Commons, which does not yet have a return date.

It would allow the federal government to see how the situation develops and if the “positive” trends in case numbers, hospitalizations and Alberta’s overall COVID-19 positivity rate seen this week continue.

A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland did not respond to questions about the government’s plans for the CRB or whether it could be replaced by more targeted programs.

– With further reporting by Bianca Bharti

• Email: cnardi@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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