Manitoba

Premier Brian Pallister calls on federal government to redesign CERB program

Premier Brian Pallister is again criticizing the Canadian emergency response benefit, calling on the federal government to change the way it works so it doesn’t penalize Canadians who want to return to work. 

Pallister argues that the current CERB rules disqualify workers who earn more than $1,000 a month

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister will hold a news conference Tuesday morning. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Premier Brian Pallister is again criticizing the Canadian emergency response benefit (CERB), calling on the federal government to make changes to ensure it doesn't penalize Canadians who want to return to work. 

At a news conference Tuesday, Pallister argued that the current CERB rules disqualify workers who earn more than $1,000 a month. 

"What it means is a person who is approaching getting that $1,000 is going to be discouraged from getting $1,001. And for this reason the program needs to be redesigned," he said.

"It needs to be redesigned so that people aren't penalized for working and for wanting to support their families without having to be dependent on the CERB."

He argues that the federal government should consider a phased reduction of the benefit as workers return to their previous or new jobs. 

Pallister said he met with representatives from numerous national organizations and think tanks, including the Conference Board of Canada, the Parliamentary Budget Office and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to discuss the country and Manitoba's economic recovery. 

He said the recurring theme emerged that we must move to recovery as a country. 

While the CERB was essential at the beginning of the pandemic, Pallister argued that it's less essential now as the economy begins to reopen and people head back to work. 

In June, Pallister announced that the province would pay residents up to $2,000 if they go back to work and stop collecting federal COVID-19 benefits. 

Pallister said the goal of that program was not to criticize people who were using federal benefits, but to help people "so they wouldn't be shocked on their cash flow if they go back to working more hours." 

Since it was announced, 2,500 people have applied for the Manitoba program, Pallister said. 

By comparison, more than 246,000 Manitobans have taken advantage of Canada's emergency benefit payments during the pandemic, according to the latest statistics from the federal government, as of June 28. 

Pallister said his government is forming a task force aimed at restarting the province's economy, that will head to Ottawa in the coming weeks for some face-to-face meetings with the federal government. 

"Virtual meetings are useful but they're no substitute in my mind — not a complete substitute anyway — for in-person meetings, and that's why we want to see these meetings happen," he said. 

Pallister commended the federal government for extending its wage subsidy program until December, but said it should have been announced earlier in order to help employers.

The program covers 75 per cent of wages, up to a weekly maximum of $847, for workers at eligible companies and non-profits affected by the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not time to roll back CERB: Opposition

Official Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said now is not the time to change the CERB program, saying that many Manitobans are still struggling to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

Kinew said if anything, the CERB should continue as long as people have to live with restrictions in place, pointing out a second COVID-19 wave would impact the economy.

"I don't want to see a second lockdown happen, but as long as the experts are saying that that's a possibility, we need to have programs like the CERB and the wage subsidy continue to provide security and peace of mind for Manitobans," he said.

"A lot of hard-working people out there … had to turn to the CERB because the government shut down the economy for public health reasons. There's no shame in that."

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