Get ready to pay a pandemic premium

In a sneaky move, the Trudeau government has proposed a revised Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) just after they prorogued Parliament. Now the opposition has no opportunity to debate the proposal until after the Speech from the Throne on September 23. It gives the government time to run the plan up the flagpole and see who salutes it.

A $2000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit  image: THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

Conservatives say that while the conversion of CERB to EI is an improvement because it provides incentives for the jobless to accept work, it delays the democratic process. MPs Dan Albas and Pierre Poilievre say the delay in debating the legislation is unacceptable.

“It is unacceptable that the Trudeau government announced these changes days after locking out MPs and shutting down Parliament,” they said in a joint statement.

The revised CERB hands a lifeline to those who have been surviving on it. It extends existing benefits of $500/week until September 26.

The problem with CERB, as some see it, is that the unemployed don’t have to look for work. That’s a disincentive say employers in the service sector: workers would rather stay at home and collect CERB than go to work. “CERB is definitely an issue,” B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association president Ian Tostenson told iNFOnews.ca. “We’re hearing things like, ‘Why would I come back to work? I’m making a couple of thousand bucks a month.’ (June 26, 2020).”

B.C.’s restaurant sector has been hit hard: about 100,000 of the province’s 190,000 food and beverage workers were unemployed.

After September 26, when CERB ends, the jobless will have three options to choose from.

If they choose EI, they will have to look for work. Changes to EI mean that they will get a minimum of $400/week. Before the changes, there was no minimum EI and the average was just $312/week. That’s an improvement but some jobless might complain that it’s not as good as CERB.

Gig workers and the self-employed are not eligible for EI. Instead, another program will provide $400 a week for up to 26 weeks. If their annual net income exceeds $38,000, then 50 percent of that benefit will be clawed back.

For those who become ill from contracting COVID-19, or for those who must self-isolate, they can receive $500 a week for up to two weeks. That will be a help. Former University of Ottawa Professor Miles Corak says: “If you get COVID – and trust me, I did – it’s something that lasts longer than two weeks and is quite debilitating,”

Some say the new benefits are too generous, others say they are too frugal –the hallmark of a Canadian compromise.

But where will the money for these programs come from? For those of us who can afford to pay more taxes, it’s what we can do to support fellow Canadians.

And the cost of running the service sector is going to become more expensive. Workers returning to work can reasonably expect to be paid more, given the increased risk they encounter. Restaurants can’t hold as many customers and revenues will decline if nothing is done. The increased costs will have to be passed on to customers.

More taxes and higher costs will result in a pandemic premium. I’ll happily pay it -that’s the price of living in a civil society.