By Nikki Jamieson
Alta Newspaper Group – Coaldale
Two Conservative MPs say more needs to be done federally to get Canadians back to work.
Hosted by James Cumming, Edmonton-Centre MP, and featuring the Hon. Pierre Poilievre, Carleton MP and Shadow Minister of Finance, the Zoom call discussion last week had the two members of the official opposition talk about the fiscal snapshot released earlier this month and the country’s fiscal outlook.
Poilievre noted that back in March, governments across the country began closing down the provinces as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. With provinces and their economies now reopening, Poilievre says the Conservatives are looking to get people back to work and improve government programs to “undo the damage and improve the outcomes”.
Touching on the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) — which provides $2,000 a month to employed and self-employed Canadians who are directly affected by COVID-19 — Poilievre said the issue is that it is only for those who earn less than $1,000 a month, and people haven’t been coming back to work or are only wanting to earn up to $999 for fear of losing it.
“James (Cumming) and I have proposed that the government remove that $1,000 cap, and that anyone who earns over that cap, would lose 50 cents of their CERB, collected back at tax time, for every dollar of earned income. So if you earn $1,001, you would lose 50 cents of your CERB,” said Poilievre. “This would ensure that people are always better off earning another dollar, taking another shift.”
“I know many of you (listening) may say well that’s a whole lot of spending, and it may not be perfect, but we didn’t design the program. We’re trying to design something that will get you off the government payroll and back onto your employer’s payroll, and that was the intent of that,” said Cumming.
Another program, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy —which is a subsidy of 75 per cent of employee wages up to $850 per week per worker for business that have lost at least 30 per cent of their revenue for up to 24 weeks, retroactive from March 15, 2020, to August 29, 2020 — has the same problem according to Poilievre. If a business recovers its revenues, they lose the subsidy, and he said the subsidy should be scaled down as a business recovers lost revenues, instead of cutting it off at a certain mark.
The federal government has introduced legislation to extend the wage subsidy program through to the end of December, and to allow businesses with less than 30 per cent revenue loss to apply for it in a limited way.
However, Poilievre says the new formula is “a cobweb of complexity that will entrap small businesses”, and they will be looking to simplify the formula for it.
The federal government had provided a fiscal update earlier this month, which finance minister Bill Morneau called a snapshot.
Poilievre said they never had a snapshot in Parliament before, and compared it to a quick photograph or a selfie.
“This was kind of like an economic selfie, and it wasn’t pretty,” said Poilievre. “If you’re doing a selfie you should Photoshop it, you’re as ugly as this particular selfie, it needs Photoshopping, and let me tell you how ugly it is; the deficit is projected to be $343 billion.”
That number was far beyond anything the Conservatives thought in their strategy room prior to the last election. Noting that during the global recession, between 2008-12, they added about $115 billion in debt, Poilievre said that this government is adding four times that in a year, and they plan on running steep deficits.
“We are witnessing staggering increases in our debt levels. The only way to tackle this massive debt, after COVID is done, is to slow the growth of government spending, bring in the pay as you go rule, which requires that every new dollar of unbudgeted spending is met with a dollar of savings, and to unleash the wealth-generating power of free enterprise,” said Poilievre.
“The finance minister got up and was quite proud and was able to say ‘look, we’ve outspent everyone in the G7’. Well, that would be a wonderful thing if you’ve got outcomes that you expect for that level of spending,” said Cumming. “For me, the frustration is that with all the programs and everything they’ve designed and spending that kind of money, we are leading the G7 in unemployment, and to me, that is a catastrophe. We’re not getting the outcomes that we should be getting.”
Cumming said the snapshot only showed the programs the money has been spent on, and provided nothing on what the future would look like.
“We’re still advocating that it should be a proper update, and we should see some format of a budget, and we should also see an economic recovery plan,” said Cumming. “The core issue is we should have some sort of a road map, so that businesses and citizens have some level of certainty.”
Cumming and Poilievre have proposed the government fast-track approval for all $20 billion of national resource projects awaiting environmental approval at the federal level, and want the government to quickly define and get approval for an energy corridor. The tax system should also be reformed to “award rather than punish risk-taking and work.