New CERB-style benefits

New and Amended Federal Programs

Earlier this month, the government introduced new CERB-style benefits for Canadians not eligible for Employment Insurance.

  • The new Canada Recovery Benefit is for the self-employed or those not eligible for EI and cannot resume work;
  • The new Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit is for those ill or who must self-isolate for reasons related to COVID-19;
  • The new Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit is for those unable to work because they are caring for a child, dependent or family member because schools or daycares are closed due to COVID-19.

Benefits are in effect until Sept. 25, 2021. There is far too much to include (a 37-page bill) in this column, so please reach out if you need assistance accessing these benefits.

We’ve known about the expiration of existing government programs for months, and we could have properly scrutinized options and heard from people over the summer, but the Trudeau government instead decided to shutdown Parliament through prorogation to escape difficult political circumstances.

Once the bill was tabled, the Official Opposition proposed we work over the weekend to properly review and debate the legislation to get it right. We also proposed a committee study.

This would have allowed more accountability with ministers having to answer detailed questions and allowed affected stakeholders and citizens the opportunity to bring their voices and ideas forth.

Bill amendments often come out of detailed committee work. However, our proposal was voted down, and there were only 4.5 hours of debate and a forced vote on this over $50-billion legislation.

On Oct. 9, the government made changes to the Commercial Rent Assistance Program, taking our recommendations into account and allowing tenants to directly apply. This program for businesses, charities, and non-profits, is available on a sliding scale.

They also announced expansion of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy until June 2021 and a top up to the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA). For those who were already applicable for CEBA, a further $20,000 loan will now be available, of which $10,000 would be forgivable if paid back by Dec. 31, 2022.

We are awaiting the details of these programs to see if they need to come to Parliament to be voted on.

While in Ottawa, it was an honour to stand up for Kelowna-Lake Country many times with either statements, questions, or at debate. Here are some of the pressing issues I highlighted:

  • How the lack of COVID-19 rapid testing in Canada, which exists in other developed countries, has affected our residents and businesses with forced shutdowns
  • Mortgage deferrals coming due
  • The ongoing closure of a section of the Okanagan Rail Trail which involves an Addition to Reserve to be completed by the federal government
  • Ongoing softwood lumber job losses due to government inaction and the U.S. appeal of a ruling by the World Trade Organization
  • Pressing the government to work on a trade deal with the United Kingdom, as the December 31st deadline is rapidly approaching
  • The need for wage subsidy clarity so businesses can plan ahead
  • How the Commercial Rent Assistance program is still not working for many businesses
  • Supporting Bill C-3, the Judges Act and the Criminal Code first introduced by former Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, which will require judges to participate in continuing sexual assault law education and training 
  • The lack of substance in the Speech from the Throne
  • The government not planting one tree from a promise they made to plant two billion trees

Please reach out if you need any assistance or have thoughts about various programs. 250-470-5075, [email protected]

Cut, paste Throne Speech

Thoughts on the Speech from the Throne

With children returning to school, I can appreciate that this has been a difficult time for families figuring out new schedules and uncertainties.

Many residents are also reaching out to our office as different tax and payment deferrals start coming due and federal programs change.

In my next update, I’ll go into more detail about possible EI program changes working their way through the legislative process in Ottawa. 

Before recently heading back to Ottawa for a couple of weeks, I endeavoured to meet (safely) with as many people in the community as possible who wanted to connect.

We also set up a virtual roundtable meeting with local business leaders who rely on international trade. I wanted to see if there were any time sensitive or emerging issues that are a priority for them — specifically around my new Shadow Ministry portfolio of Export Promotion and International Trade.

Even with short notice, there was great attendance and I want to thank all those who participated, and the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission for co-ordinating.

There were many issues and suggestions that they brought forth which will be useful in my work on Parliament Hill.

Much of what we heard in the “new” Speech from the Throne on Sept. 23 sounded like it was cut and pasted from the last one ten months ago.

When you add statements made by the government over the last few months, there is nothing new that we hadn’t heard before.

The prorogation of Parliament and the cancellation of all scheduled committees to achieve, as the Prime Minister noted, a “relaunching of the economy" Throne Speech, seems more like a cover the government used to distract from uncomfortable political circumstances with the WE Scandal investigations.

Planting two billion trees was in the last Throne Speech. Planting two billion trees is in this Throne Speech. Yet, no trees have been planted.

What a lost opportunity to plant trees this summer and fulfil this initiative, when people were looking for work, and they could have been safely outdoors. 

What was not said in the Throne Speech speaks volumes:

  • Unity
  • Sovereignty
  • Freedoms.

These are important values that I hear are top of mind for people and it is unfortunate that these do not seem to be priorities for the government. 

The Throne Speech states, “the government will also continue to address the opioid epidemic tearing through communities.” It is not explained what this means. 

“Addressing this” in the manner they have been focusing on over the past five years has not led to a reduction in overdoses, which are up substantially, including in our community and in B.C. 

Small businesses are mentioned, but there is nothing new or hopeful to grasp onto. There is no inspirational “relaunching the economy” plan.

It’s simply a listing of existing programs, many of which don’t work for small business owners who still do not meet the requirements of the programs. 

The speech also mentions creating one million jobs. However, the facts are that two million people lost their jobs at the height of the pandemic, and one million people are still out of work.

Hundreds of thousands of workers lost their jobs before the pandemic in the resource sectors due to government policies — with many more to come if nothing changes.

Other G7 countries have the same challenges with COVID-19, and yet we have the highest unemployment rate.

If the government creates stability and certainty, businesses and workers can have hope.  

Please reach out any time. Stay safe.

CERB concerns growing

Parliament resumes, CERB Issues, and senior opportunities

Parliament is finally resuming Sept. 23 with the Speech from the Throne, where the government will unveil their priorities and vision for the upcoming session.

After debating, MPs will vote on the speech, which is considered a confidence vote – parliamentarians will have to deliberate whether they support the vision the government laid out.

Constituents have reached out to me asking:

“If people are at work in every industry and kids are at school, why can’t MPs respect physical distancing guidelines and be in the House of Commons?”

The last time Parliament sat in its full form with its usual powers was March 13.

There have been a handful of times when Parliament was recalled to pass legislation on the various federal programs that have rolled out over the past months, and I’ve been back and forth from Ottawa to participate in the limited way that was available to us.

With the prorogation of Parliament this summer, all scheduled sittings and committee meetings were cancelled. As we prepare for the return of the House of Commons, MPs are waiting to see what format will be set to continue our work in Ottawa.

Our MP office is getting many calls regarding concerns about the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which was made available to those who lost their jobs or were unable to work due to COVID-19.

There are two challenges that we are hearing from many residents right now.

First, some constituents think they owe money back to the government, but actually do not. They are sending money back only to find out they shouldn’t have.

The second challenge is that the CRA is sending letters to some individuals saying that they were never applicable for CERB, and that they need to pay it all back.

A key issue from the onset with CERB was that there was no involvement from existing employers (such as with EI, where an employer sends in a ROE), and no checks and balances were in place at the time of application.

For example, there are people who applied and met the 2019 income thresholds, only to find out now that they actually did not meet the specific employment requirements.

Individuals in situations similar to above who have spent that money are now trying to figure out what to do.

At the same time, I am hearing from employers who have followed all safety protocols, are open and functioning, but are still having difficulty getting their employees back to work or filling open employment positions.

If you are involved with a seniors group, there is a special grant being made available to local organizations to submit for federal funding for community projects that support seniors.

As well, Veterans Affairs Canada’s Second World War Tribute has produced a certificate of recognition and commemorative lapel pin to recognize any living Canadian Second War Veteran. This coincides with the 75th anniversary of the end of the war.

Either the veteran, or others, can apply on behalf of the veteran. For both these initiatives, please call me at
250-470-5075 or email [email protected] and we’ll send you the online links and phone numbers with information on how to apply.

Stay well. 


COVID business challenges

We are now entering month seven since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in Canada.

Many individuals, businesses and industry associations are reaching out to our office, concerned that the pandemic recovery programs are nearing their end.

This has been further exacerbated because our economy is not rebounding to pre-pandemic levels.

Compared to earlier in the pandemic, I’ve seen many groups put time and effort into coming up with well-thought out recommendations and ideas for their industry and re-starting our economy.

I have spoken with many small businesses who have been able to “get by” during the last six months, but are concerned with the slower winter months approaching.

We must have a comprehensive economic recovery plan so businesses can plan and invest in order to keep themselves sustainable and give their employees certainty. 

The government announced applications for the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) will be extended from Aug.31 to Oct. 31.

The government said it is working closely with financial institutions to make CEBA available to those with qualifying payroll or non-deferrable expenses that have been unable to apply due to not operating from a business account.

The process business owners have to go through to apply has not yet been defined, but please keep an eye out if this change will be beneficial to you.

In April, the Official Opposition proposed making it easier to access the CEBA by removing the business account requirement and expanding the eligibility criteria to include revenue decline.

I have heard of many flaws in the application process and know business owners waiting extended periods to find out if they have been approved, even though they understand they meet all the requirements. 

I’ve heard a lot about this issue from small business owners from a number of industries; they couldn’t apply for CEBA because of the type of bank account they have.

I questioned the minister responsible for Small Business early this spring, and at the time she was unaware of the issue. I am glad to hear the government will finally address this. 

The government also announced the Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) is extending through June 2021.

This program is administered by the Export Development Canada (EDC) and Business Development Bank (BDC).

Local business owners are frustrated with the rules the federal government put in place and the onerous process they have go through to apply.  

Another point of frustration I hear regarding government programs is with the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) for small business owners, which has restrictive eligibility.

The Conservative Official Opposition wrote again to the minister responsible for Small Business on Aug. 31 underscoring the need to ease the requirements for CECRA and to simplify the process.

We also asked to provide clear timelines for when businesses with personal banking accounts will finally be able to apply for CEBA.

It is imperative that small business owners have certainty, so they know how to budget and plan. 

I thank you for reaching out to me and our office; this is how I get to hear and understand what is important to you during this unusual time.   

Stay safe and be sure to reach out if you have any thoughts on federal government programs, on economic recovery, or if you need assistance with any federal programs: 250-470-5075, [email protected].

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About the Author

Tracy Gray, MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, is the Official Opposition’s Shadow Minister for Export Promotion and International Trade.

She also serves on the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, and is a member of the National Caucus Committees Credit Union Caucus, Wine Caucus, and Aviation Caucus.

Gray, who has won the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the year, and Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award, worked for 27 years in the B.C. beverage industry.

She founded and owned Discover Wines VQA Wine Stores, which included the No. 1 wine store in B.C. for 13 years. She has been involved in small businesses in different sectors — financing, importing, oil and gas services and a technology start-up — and is among the “100 New Woman Pioneers in B.C."

Gray was a Kelowna city councillor for the 2014 term, on the Passenger Transportation Board 2010-2012, and elected to the board of Prospera Credit Union for 10 years.

In addition, she served on the Okanagan Film Commission, Clubhouse Childcare Society, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Okanagan Regional Library as a Trustee and was chair of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

She volunteers extensively in the community and welcomes connecting with residents.

She can be reached at 250-470-5075, and [email protected]

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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