PEI

CERB clawback leaves some with no income for half of June, says P.E.I. Opposition

P.E.I.’s Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker said a federal clawback of Canada emergency response benefits will leave some Islanders without a source of income for the second half of June. But he also said the CERB could provide the basis for the basic income guarantee pilot program his party has been calling for.

But Greens say CERB could also become the basis for a basic income pilot for P.E.I.

This month, the federal government has reduced some Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) payments, for those who received an extra payment when the program began. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

P.E.I.'s Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker says federal clawbacks of payments under the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) program will leave some Islanders with no income for the latter part of June.

But after raising that concern in the provincial legislature Thursday, he went on to suggest the CERB could transition into a basic income guarantee pilot project for the Island, something the Green Party has been pushing for.

Some Canadians have been advised by email their CERB payments normally $2,000 per month will be reduced by as much as $1,000, with no payments sent for the latter part of June.

A spokesperson for federal Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said those who were also eligible for employment insurance received two payments when the CERB program began. 

As CERB was being rolled out, Qualtrough said the double deposits were not a mistake and that adjustments would be made through the course of the program.

Recipients did nothing wrong, says Opposition

"I need to be clear," said Bevan-Baker bringing the issue up before the P.E.I. Legislature, "nobody who received these benefits did anything wrong at all. Those affected received absolutely no warning about this."

As a result of the reduction in payments, Bevan-Baker said some would be "left with no source of income whatsoever for the second half of June," and asked the provincial government if it had any plans to step in with supplementary payments of its own.

"I will commit to making a call to the finance minister today, in Ottawa, to Bill Morneau to find out what the details are," replied P.E.I.'s Finance Minister Darlene Compton.

P.E.I.'s Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker says the CERB is 'essentially' a basic income guarantee. An all-party committee of the P.E.I. Legislature has been developing a costed plan for a basic income pilot for the province. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

From expressing concern about the CERB clawback, Bevan-Baker proceeded to sing the praises of the funding program — calling it the most expensive but also the most effective government response to the financial crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's provided means for millions of Canadians and thousands of Islanders to have sufficient funds to manage to keep going financially through all of the disruptions," he said.

Could CERB become a basic income pilot for P.E.I.?

Noting efforts on P.E.I. to try to establish a basic income guarantee, Bevan-Baker noted that's "essentially what CERB is," and asked the premier if he'd discussed with Ottawa the possibility of turning the CERB into a basic income pilot program for P.E.I.

Premier Dennis King said CERB could be a component, or perhaps a precursor, to a basic income guarantee on P.E.I., but that he hadn't had the chance yet to talk about that with Ottawa.

"I am very open to the concept," of a basic income guarantee, King said. 

Premier Dennis King said he is 'open to the concept' of a basic income, but that the province also has to get more people into the workforce. (Government of P.E.I.)

"I think the conversation has to be around how we continue to bring people to the workforce who are able to be in the workforce … but at the same time, being there for individuals more wholesomely than we have been in the past with some of our social programs."

Even pre-COVID, King said P.E.I.'s labour force was "undersubscribed."

A special committee of the P.E.I. Legislature was tasked in 2019 with coming up with a costed plan for a basic income pilot on P.E.I.

In 2016, MLAs from all parties voted unanimously in support of a motion to pursue a basic income pilot with the federal government, but the initiative has never gone forward, with the previous provincial government pointing to a lack of an offer of financial support from Ottawa.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Kathleen Harris

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