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Liberals try to make the poor pay

John Bell

December 17, 2020

In the lead-up to Christmas, in the midst of a second-wave COVID-19 lockdown, the federal Liberal government is attacking workers who received CERB in error.

The mistakes were not examples of fraud, as the right-wing would have it. The problem began with confusion over the terms of eligibility for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit posted by the government.

The initial published information said only that applicants had to have earned a minimum of $5,000 in the previous 12 months. It did not stipulate whether the amount referred to gross or net income, a crucial difference especially in the case of self-employed workers.

Only two weeks later did the government publish a clarification that would have made tens of thousands of Canadian workers ineligible for CERB. They changed the rules in mid-game.

Now more than 440,000 people have been sent letters from the Canadian Revenue Agency telling them they may have to repay the whole of their benefits.

The minister responsible for the screw-up, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, shares their pain. “Of course I feel bad, we all feel bad.”

But she and the government are not willing to share the expense and forgive the good-faith errors, as proposed by the NDP and Greens. “Certainly that isn’t–right now–the plan.”

The difference between how the Liberals treat self-employed gig workers and big corporations reveals a big difference.

The federal government spent at least $240 billion in 8 months for COVID relief, but the lion’s share of that went to big business in the form of a wage subsidy program. As the name implies, the money was intended to go to businesses to keep workers on the payroll. But–unlike the CERB clawback–the Liberals have been less than diligent about keeping track of that dough.

Sure enough, a CBC investigation found that billions of that money have been used to buy back corporate stock, and to pay juicy executive bonuses.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has refused to release the data about which corporations received how much COVID cash. But she did offer a vague finger wag: “I want to emphasize ... for any companies that may be listening, that the wage subsidy must be used to pay workers.”

We certainly hope those corporations are listening….

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