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PM open to extending pandemic response benefit, defends bill to pursue fraudsters

Last Updated Jun 9, 2020 at 5:51 pm PDT

FILE - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau steps out of Rideau Cottage for a daily briefing with the media in Ottawa, Friday May 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Justin Trudeau defends federal government's plan to pursue fraudsters who take advantage of CERB

Justin Trudeau says government aid programs are open to change as the pandemic, economic reopening evolve

PM also not ruling out extending the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit beyond the four-month claiming period

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the federal government’s plan Tuesday to pursue fraudsters who take advantage of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, and remained open to extending the aid program.

“Obviously, as the economy starts to reopen, there will be more and more people going back to work. More and more companies will choose to take the wage subsidy, and therefore people will be leaving the CERB to get onto that because people can start working and be connected to a job, even while they get income support,” he said.

Trudeau said all of the government’s aid programs are open to change as the pandemic and economic reopening evolve. But, he noted, with more than three million Canadians still out of work due to COVID-19, the government will consider all options to help them, including getting back to work.

“It is going to be a while before we get enough jobs to consider the things are back to normal, so we’re looking very carefully at how we will move forward with the package of measures that we’ve put forward in a way that makes sense to both encourage people to get back to work, encourage companies to get going again, while at the same time, supporting and protecting those people who cannot work because of the pandemic.”

The prime minister also defended his government’s draft legislation to introduce fines or jail time for people who fraudulently claim the benefit.

“This legislation will aim to provide direct support to people with disabilities, support more workers through the wage subsidy and ensure that Canadians who aren’t able to meet certain judicial timelines, such as bankruptcy, aren’t unfairly punished,” he said.

“We will also strive to make CERB payments more flexible, while making sure that those who knowingly and wrongfully claim the CERB face consequences.”

Trudeau added the aim of the draft bill is not to target people who make honest mistakes.

“But unfortunately, in every situation, there are few criminals who will deliberately try to take advantage,” he said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, however, is opposed to the legislation that would fine or imprison people who made fraudulent claims under the benefit program, linking the punishments to systemic racism.

“If this law is passed, there will more Black, more indigenous, more racialized people, poorer people that are going to be ones who get criminalized and end up in jail,” Singh said.

He added his party was only given a copy of the draft bill on the weekend by the Liberals, ahead of a sitting of the House of Commons Wednesday, and his party can’t support it as is.

Talks with opposition parties continue, Trudeau said.

“And I fully expect us to be able to work well with the opposition to deliver this important support to Canadians,” he added.

Recent federal figures indicate 8.37 million people applied for the CERB, with $43.18 billion in payments made as of June 2.

Trudeau was also asked about when the federal government will be providing a fiscal update.

“We will continue to be open and transparent about all sorts of things in terms of what we’re doing and how much we’re spending and what our path looks like, what our expectations for that spending in the coming week looks like,” he said.

“But a fiscal update that talks about what our projected revenues or expenditures could be six months from now or a year from now would be incredibly unreliable because we just don’t know what the impact of this pandemic is on the sum total of the Canadian economy because we are suspended right now.”