NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says it is irresponsible and wrong-headed for the Liberal government to draft a bill that would fine or imprison people who made fraudulent claims under the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
Singh says a bill the Liberals are proposing would hurt the very people that the CERB was designed to help — vulnerable people who have faced financial hardship because of COVID-19.
He also says it was hypocritical for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take a knee on Parliament Hill during Friday’s nationwide anti-racism demonstrations while such a bill was being drafted.
He says the NDP was given a copy of the draft bill on the weekend by the Liberals, ahead of a sitting of the House of Commons tomorrow, and his party can’t support it as is.
Singh says new criminal penalties will hit poor and racialized people harder, and that the tax system should be used to recover funds that should not have been paid, rather than fining or jailing people during a pandemic.
Singh says all parties previously agreed that people should not be unduly penalized if they applied for benefits in good faith.
“They’re effectively opening up the floodgates to retroactively charging people just for applying … That is the opposite of what we should be doing during a pandemic,” he said Tuesday.
“I am outraged at the Liberal government that Prime Minister Trudeau can take a knee on one day while at the same time the Liberal government is drafting a bill that’s going to penalize potentially people who applied in good faith but maybe didn’t meet a certain criteria. That is wrong.”
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre wouldn’t comment on the legislation that has yet to be tabled in the House of Commons, or on whether the Tories support extending the CERB.
He said federal program should focus on encouraging people to get back to work.
“There’s no way you can replace the workforce with a government program,” Poilievre said, in an appearance with the Conservative Treasury Board critic Tim Uppal.
“That’s why the economy needs to open up and people need to have the opportunity to go back to their jobs, to earn a paycheque.”
The most recent federal figures show 8.41 million people have applied for the CERB, with $43.51 billion in payments as of June 4.
The figures surpassed anything the government originally expected, which is why the Finance Department recently updated its spending projections to put a $60-billion price tag on the measure, up from $35 billion.
At the same time, the government is revising downward how much it will spend on a wage subsidy program to $45 billion from $73 billion.
All the spending, and changes in plans, require a thorough review by the federal auditor general, Poilievre said. The Tories are calling on the government to increase the auditor general’s budget by about $10.8 million.
The watchdog has said that’s roughly what it needs to review COVID-19 and infrastructure spending without having other work fall by the wayside.
The Canadian Press
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