Do you need help?

As I write this, we have just finished a special, all-night session of Parliament, passing Bill C-13  — An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19.

Despite some initial challenges and delays, it was reassuring to see that we were able to reach consensus.

As much as I would like to share the contents of this bill with you, it is far more important to share the program that was announced today enabled by the passing of measures in C-13.

This program is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

Last week, the Prime Minister announced two COVID-19 Employment Insurance (EI)-like programs:

  • The Emergency Care Benefit
  • The Emergency Support Benefit.

The fact that there were two programs was complicated and also required more administration.

It also became evident that, despite the best intentions of these programs to help people most in need, they were creating many gaps that would result in Canadians not getting the help they needed, at a critical time.

As a result, these programs have now been rolled into a single Canada Emergency Response Benefit program (CERB) that has significantly increased criteria to help eliminate the gaps from the previously announced programs.

CERB is a taxable benefit that can provide $2,000 a month, for up to four months, to workers who lose their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CERB is intended to cover citizens who have:

”lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, as well as working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures.”

This program applies to wage earners, as well as contract workers and self-employed individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI).

CERB will also apply to:

“workers who are still employed, but are not receiving income because of disruptions to their work situation due to COVID-19.”

The details of exactly how that will work in practice are as yet undefined.

Once the online application portal is open through a "My CRA" or "My Service CANADA" account, and a yet to determined toll free number, the intent is that eligible applicants would begin to receive their CERB payments within 10 days of application.

A CERB payment would be made to applicants every four weeks.

My thoughts on this?

I commend the federal government for recognizing the programs they announced last week were not the response that Canadians needed and for coming back with a simplified, comprehensive and, I hope, an effective solution.

However, the greatest challenge that remains is the capacity of government to deliver this program to Canadians most in need, in a timely manner.

As many will know, close to one million Canadians have applied for EI benefits — most applying due to layoffs.

This is the largest week of unemployment in Canadian history.

As of Monday, 143,000 of these EI claims have been processed, also the most ever in a single week.

The challenge is, at that current pace, it will be close to six weeks before all the current claims can be processed.

This does also not take into account the increasing layoffs that are occurring daily.

As the Official Opposition, we are continuing to raise the need to increase capacity to deliver these much-needed services and also to raise concerns if there are those who are still falling through the cracks.

My question this week:

  • Do you know someone who is falling through the cracks and needs help?

Virus problem is spreading

When I first wrote about COVID-19 three weeks ago, there were 33 confirmed cases in Canada:

  • 20 in Ontario
  • 12 in British Columbia
  • One in Quebec.

Last week, those numbers had increased to 93 confirmed cases in Canada:

  • 36 in Ontario
  • 39 in British Columbia
  • Four in Quebec
  • 14 in Alberta.

One death as a result of the disease had also been recorded in B.C.

This week, there are 701 confirmed cases in Canada:

  • 212 in Ontario
  • 231 in B.C.
  • 97 in Alberta
  • 94 in Quebec
  • 12 in Manitoba
  • The rest in other parts of Canada.

There have now been seven COVID-19 deaths in B.C.

One of the health challenges is, for a variety of different reasons, the tests for the virus are all at maximum capacity.

This means that as more capacity is added to increase the tests, numbers may continue to rise substantially.

At the same time, B.C. has declared a state of emergency with Vancouver also proposing similar measures.

A state of emergency is called to allow authorities to have more abilities to fight the spread of the virus.

This week in Ottawa, the Prime Minister announced up to $87 billion in financial assistance to help mitigate the financial impacts that COVID-19 will inflict upon Canadians.

The measures are vast, but include temporarily increasing the Canada Child Benefit and GST credits,
EI entitlements for those who would not normally qualify and a labour payroll subsidy of 10% to small business owners.

Other measures include deferring the due date for individuals on personal income taxes. The return filing due date will be deferred until June 1.

In addition, there will be a reduction in the required minimum withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs) by 25% for 2020.

The government also proposed two new benefits.

First, the Emergency Care Benefit, which will allow for people directly impacted by COVID-19 to receive up to $900 every two weeks for a maximum of 15 weeks.

This is to support workers, including the self employed, who find themselves in quarantine, looking after a family member such as an elderly parent or those parents with children requiring care due to school closures and are unable to earn employment income irrespective if they qualify for EI or not.

The second is the Emergency Support Benefit and is for Canadians who lose their job or face reduced hours and are not eligible for EI.

Unfortunately, we do not know more, other than they have proposed $5 billion to fund this new benefit and at this time I cannot provide constituents more details.

Both of these new benefits will be available for application only through the internet via a CRA My Account, My Service Canada Account or through a yet to be disclosed toll free number.

This approach may pose positives and negatives.

The Prime Minister has suggested Canadians stay home wherever possible in order to reduce exposure to the virus.

But on the other hand, I am already hearing frustrations that the toll-free numbers for existing programs often result with citizens unable to get through.

While online access works for many Canadians, rural areas lack online access making this option potentially unworkable for some.

Lastly, is speed and responsiveness.

These new benefits will be open for application in April and people are concerned with whether they will qualify or if the payments are issued quickly for those wrestling with rent, grocery and medicine bills.

This is only a partial summary of the many measures put forward.

I will give credit to the government for making efforts to have a comprehensive financial response.

My question this week is:

  • Will these proposed measures help you?

World faces a pandemic

It has been seven days since my report on the COVID-19 virus. 

Since then, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the virus outbreak is now a pandemic. 

What does a pandemic virus mean?

A new virus is often described in three ways. 

  • Outbreak, which is summarized as an unusual but small virus. 
  • Epidemic, where the virus is growing larger and is spreading. 
  • Pandemic applies when the virus has a worldwide impact and is considered out of control.

In terms of numbers, last week there were 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada with 20 in Ontario, 12 in British Columbia and one in Quebec. 

As of Wednesday, there were 93 confirmed cases, with 36 in Ontario, 39 in British Columbia, four in Quebec and 14 in Alberta. 

There has also been the first COVID-19 related death confirmed — in a North Vancouver care home. 

Some more positive news, of the 36 confirmed cases in Ontario, five have now recovered.

From a global perspective, last week’s numbers showed that the virus had infected close to 90,000 people in 60 countries and killed more than 3,000 people.

As of this week, there have now been nearly 120,000 people in 115 countries infected and more than 4,000 people have died as a result of the virus.

Fortunately, it has also been stated that more than 60,000 people have recovered.

What has been the response of the federal government? 

The Prime Minister recently announced $1 billion in funding related to the COVID-19 virus. 

The majority of the funding will be distributed as follows: 

  • $500 million to provinces and territories
  • $275 million in research
  • $100 million in additional public health response, including funding for Indigenous Services Canada 
  • $50 million in international aid.

The remaining funds will be spent in areas such as:

  • Communications and public education
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Repatriation of Canadians
  • Work sharing and changes to the EI sickness benefits program, intended to waive the usual one-week waiting period to obtain EI sickness benefits. 

There is also a government general information line at 1-833-784-4397 for Canadians who have any immediate questions about COVID-19.

For clarification purposes, here some measures that other countries are undertaking to further contain the virus that are not being taken in Canada.

Measures such as vigorous screening processes upon entry, mandatory quarantine for those who do enter from high risk countries or potentially stopping incoming and outgoing flights from high-risk areas.

I mention that because there has been some confusion as to what screening efforts exist, or do not exist, in Canada.

My question this week:

  • Do you think the federal government is doing enough to help prevent the spread of COVID–19 in Canada?

Should you have the right to know if COVID-19 is in your town?

Current state of COVID-19

Although the House of Commons is not sitting this week, the prime minister announced that he is assembling a “COVID-19” cabinet committee to help co-ordinate the response of the federal government to this emerging health threat.

If you are unaware, “COVID-19” is the official name that the World Health Organization (WHO) has used to define the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has also been declared as a public health emergency.

Here in Canada, there have been 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 20 in Ontario, 12 in British Columbia, and one in Quebec. 

South of the border, in Washington State, there have been 28 confirmed cases and nine deaths reported as a result of the COVID-19 virus at the time of writing my weekly report. 

New cases are also being reported in other states, including California and New York.

To date the virus has infected close to 90,000 people in 60 countries and killed more than 3,000 people, the majority in China. 

Our Canadian Chief Public Health Officer has acknowledged that Canada may not be able to contain and limit the virus if it continues to spread around the world. 

There is also a government general information line at 1-833-784-4397 for Canadians who have any immediate questions about COVID-19.

In response to the economic impact from the virus outbreak, the Bank of Canada announced it is cutting the key interest rate by half a percentage point, lowering it to 1.25%.

Last week federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu warned people should consider stockpiling enough food and medicine in case of a potential outbreak of the COVID-19.

Many criticized this warning, suggesting it was unnecessary given the low chance of infection here in Canada.

The public health officer has also stated that governments, businesses and individuals should prepare for an outbreak or pandemic.  

As a result, provincial health officials are actively monitoring for COVID-19 cases in communities across Canada.

Our public health officer has also asked that travellers arriving from Iran to self-isolate for two weeks to help prevent potential infections.  

In turn, Global Affairs Canada is currently advising citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Iran, Northern Italy, and to exercise a high degree of caution if travelling to Japan.

Locally, the Interior Health Authority has confirmed one case of COVID-19 has occurred somewhere within the Interior Health region but refuses to reveal the area where that case has been confirmed.

On this point, I have heard some concerns expressed from the public that it should be possible to reveal the location of the community in question without releasing the name of the patient.

My question this week: 

Do you feel that you have the right to know if a COVID-19 infection has been confirmed within your community?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.

More Dan in Ottawa articles

About the Author

Dan Albas, Conservative member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, is the shadow minister of innovation, science, economic development and internal trade, and sits on the standing committee on finance.

Before entering public life, Dan was the owner of Kick City Martial Arts, responsible for training hundreds of men, women and youth to bring out their best.

In British Columbia, Dan has been consistently one of the lowest spending MPs on office and administration related costs despite operating two offices to better serve local constituents.

Dan is consistently recognized as one of Canada’s top 10 most active members of Parliament on Twitter (@danalbas) and continues to write a weekly column published in many local newspapers and on this website.

He can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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