Alistair MacGregor column: Working to fill gaps in COVID safety net

There is no playbook for what we are going through

By Alistair MacGregor

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, my office has heard from numerous constituents about the profound struggles they have encountered. We have heard from local business owners, who are watching years of hard work come undone; from families, fighting hard to keep their children healthy while still working to pay bills as frontline employees; from students, entering a job market with few prospects and no safety net; and from seniors, struggling to even pay for basic groceries. We have heard your stories, and we are doing more than just listening. We are fighting for you.

On April 11, New Democrats worked alongside other MPs to pass an emergency motion in the House of Commons. We successfully pushed for the Liberal government to address the gaps in the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Too many Canadians are not receiving the support they need to survive through this crisis, and it was critical that our caucus respond to their need. Our motion to address this lack of support passed successfully, but work remains to be done. We cannot afford to leave anybody behind.

There is no playbook for what we are going through, forcing the federal government to create programs and services that are unprecedented. Unfortunately, the programs have been overly complicated, full of delays, and we continue to hear from people who are falling through the cracks. For example, some seniors now face going without the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) — a critical loss of income — because they have lost access to tax clinics. Students are due to receive $750 a month less than CERB recipients, but they are still paying the same bills and having to save for their education. Rent is still due, and grocery costs are rising. It was for these reasons that my NDP colleagues and I had initially proposed a universal benefit for everyone while we figured our way through this crisis.

Yet while students, seniors, and others fall through the cracks, companies that use tax havens to hide their revenue haven’t been excluded from the possibility of government bail-outs, as France, Poland, and Denmark have done. If companies utilize offshore tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of Canadian taxes, they should be fully disqualified from receiving public funds for support. Furthermore, we must ensure that these public funds are never used for executive compensation or stock buy-backs.

Our work is far from finished, and we need proper oversight and accountability of government support measures to ensure that Canadians get the help they need. We have fought hard, and succeeded, in increasing the business wage subsidy and expanding the eligibility of the CERB.

I am deeply grateful to the people of Cowichan-Malahat-Langford for their resilience during these trying times, and I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that our riding, and all Canadians, make it through this crisis stronger than ever. Canadians and small businesses need the assurance that the federal government will be there to help them weather this storm and bounce back from it with resiliency and strength.

Alistair MacGregor is the MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford and the federal NDP’s Critic for Agriculture and Agri-food, Rural Economic Development, and the Deputy Critic for Justice.

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