The federal government may extend the emergency response benefit being paid to millions of Canadians, lay off public service workers, and raise taxes to further respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Small Business Minister Mary Ng told HuffPost Canada during a livestream Q&A session that they were “digging into” many possibilities when it comes to pandemic support programs.
Hosted by Ottawa bureau chief Althia Raj, the session answered HuffPost readers’ questions about the help Canadians can receive from their government.
With the first wave of people who began collecting the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in March expecting to see their payments end in early July, many want to know what happens after that.
Qualtrough said a decision on extending the CERB will be announced “in the weeks to come.”
The program was designed to help people who lost income due to the pandemic, providing them $2,000 monthly for up to four months. Currently, people can apply retroactively until Oct. 3.
“We don’t want to disincentivize work, we’re not telling people to stay home, we are telling people to go back to work,” she said. “A reality is, though, a lot of the jobs that existed in March don’t exist anymore. We’re working through that right now.”
Asked whether Canadians can expect tax hikes to pay for all the spending — a deficit now pegged at $112.7 billion — Ng sidestepped the question, saying that the government has promised to be transparent about what they’re spending on and why.
In response to another reader’s question, Qualtrough acknowledged public sector cuts are possible as demand for different government services change. She said, for example, passport officers have been shifted to work on CERB and Employment Insurance files.
“We are trying desperately to not have to lay anybody off and that hasn’t been the case, but I can’t guarantee that there aren’t some jobs that obviously … are very seasonal that might be impacted,” she told Raj.
Announcement expected for people with disabilities
HuffPost received many questions from people with disabilities, like Kirsty from North Vancouver, B.C., who have faced increased costs like pharmacy fees and grocery delivery but at the same time have not received any emergency relief, such as top-ups that have been announced for parents or seniors.
Qualtrough, whose cabinet portfolio also includes disability inclusion, noted that it is National Accessibility Week, and replied: “I can’t scoop my boss, the prime minister — all I’ll say ... is wait till the end of the week and Kirsty and many like her will be happy.”
Watch the video replay above for the full Q&A session.
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