House Call with Carol Hughes

Parliament sets its course as economic relief measures

As the pandemic stretches out and Canadians carry on with their efforts to limit the ravages of COVID-19, Parliament has developed a plan to get back to work. This will allow for necessary legislation to be developed and maintains a level of transparency and accountability that the institution delivers. The resumption was mandated by the agreement all parties struck five weeks ago and will feature one physical and two virtual question and answer sessions a week. This ensures the participation of more MPs, especially those who don’t live near the national capital.

New Democrats welcomed the agreement which allows us to focus on helping more people as quickly as possible. The wage subsidy and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) programs are only in place because Parliament was able to meet in person and act quickly. That said, we understand that we need to keep working to make sure everyone across the country can get the help they need. That will mean making some of the relief programs less complicated.

Among the items Parliament will be dealing with shortly are the announcements made this week with respect to students and the charitable sector. Both represent groups whose concerns had not been addressed by other relief measures.

While the situation for both was grim, charities, non-profits and community organizations are performing important work helping Canadians right now and have been, in many instances, struggling for resources to maintain those efforts. The $350 million fund announced this week will flow from the Emergency Community Support Fund and will go directly to smaller independent front-line organizations or to larger national groups, such as United Way Canada, that will deliver the funding to local groups quickly. The money will allow Canada’s non-profit and community organizations to continue to support people across the country. While this is a step in the right direction, the government still needs to allow more non-profits and charities to have access to the wage subsidy by removing the 30 percent loss in revenue criteria for them.

Despite the announcement, the government still needs to make the CERB universal and increase its capacity to support more people in a quicker fashion so that these organizations aren’t so strained trying to help everyone in need. Had they done that from the start they also wouldn’t have had to create another mechanism to help students in need. Despite that oversight, the announcement this week will help students who have been waiting for a signal their concerns would be addressed in this crisis. Unfortunately, the government has come up with another program that is complicated and delivers less than the CERB. On top of that, with its late start date (May 1) many students are already behind on important things like rent.

Although there was good progress on some fronts this week, there are still a lot of gaping holes to be addressed. One of those is the plight of sole-proprietor businesses who don’t meet the criteria for assistance being offered for either payroll assistance or low cost loans. In this part of Ontario, we have a lot of mom and pop businesses and their survival is no less critical than it is for small businesses that meet existing criteria. I am hopeful that the government will continue to listen to NDP MPs who are asking them to find a mechanism to help these businesses now that the concerns of our bigger employers have been addressed.