Dan Albas

COLUMN: Federal government changes benefit plan

Canada Emergency Response Benefit will come to an end in September

I am writing this week’s report from Ottawa as this is the week the House of Commons special COVID-19 Committee was scheduled to sit and we would have the opportunity to hold the government to account.

Unfortunately, despite promising that he would not prorogue the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did precisely that and this week’s sitting was adjourned.

Worse is the fact that the house does not sit again until the end of September.

Why is this a problem?

Last week the Prime Minister announced that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) would be coming to an end in September and that the regular EI system will have three new benefits.

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For instance, for those currently on CERB who are not EI eligible and cannot find work, they could apply for a $400 per week benefit, or $500 per week if they have dependents.

While these new benefits must be debated and approved before they can be delivered, the government’s estimates these changes will cost Canadian taxpayers $37 billion.

Despite this announcement, there are still many unanswered questions.

One example is many new and expecting parents have been sidelined by COVID-19 and unable to access parental leave.

This has left many without any parental supports during the pandemic.

Despite parliament passing legislation that would allow this issue to be fixed by the minister responsible, it has taken months of questioning by opposition members like myself, with government promising but yet failing to fix the problem.

Now, as part of this announcement, those seeking parental leave will only need 120 insurable hours instead of 600 hours, which should take effect at the end of September.

While the government has said this will be retroactive, this change comes very late.

There are also questions raised about new eligibility requirements.

In the case of an individual who only works full time for three weeks and accumulates 120 hours, they could potentially be eligible for six and a half months of EI under one of the new programs.

How sustainable this is, in relation to the current EI premiums paid by workers, is an unanswered but important question.

In fact, as the opposition shadow critic for this portfolio, I have repeatedly asked for the status of the EI account, however the minister responsible refuses to provide an answer.

This is deeply concerning as the EI account belongs to workers.

There is no reason for the minister to refuse to tell Canadians workers, who pay EI premiums, what the status of the EI account is.

It has generally been my experience that when this Liberal government refuses to disclose information it is because that information often does not reflect well on the government’s management of your money.

This leads to my question this week: Do you believe it is acceptable for this Liberal government to refuse to publicly post the current status of Canada’s EI account?

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola. This riding includes the communities of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland, Keremeos, Princeton, Merritt and Logan Lake.

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