Students, opposition parties 'shocked' by P.E.I. premier's comments on COVID-19 aid
'We are paying people so they can actually eat and pay their rent while their workplaces are closed'
UPEI's student union is expressing disappointment with comments Premier Dennis King made regarding the Canada emergency student benefit (CESB).
In a letter to the premier, the UPEI Student Union says any suggestion the CESB will disincentivize students from going back to work is "inaccurate." The union writes that the benefit pays the equivalent of about $8.33 an hour, which is below minimum wage.
"This statement has come across as a shock, as well as being removed from the realities faced by students during this challenging time," states the letter dated May 1.
UPEI President Emma Drake declined to comment further, saying the union's perspective on this matter was outlined in the letter.
Last week, King said he was calling for changes to both the CESB and the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) to provide incentives to get people back in the labour force.
The CERB provides $2,000 per month to eligible Canadians who've lost their jobs or had hours reduced. The CESB provides $1,250 per month to students without work.
'I was genuinely shocked'
King said he raised the issue with the prime minister — that the programs meant to help Canadians who find themselves out of work because of COVID-19 may be providing incentives for them not to return to work.
"I don't think anyone wants to see people paid to stay home while we have vacancies for those who are trying to get their businesses off the ground in difficult circumstances," King said last week.
Hannah Bell, Green MLA for Charlottetown-Belvedere and member of the Official Opposition, took to Twitter to express her concerns about the premier's comments.
In an interview with CBC News, Bell said people want to get back to normal and get back to work, but they can only do that when it is safe to do so. She described the premier's comments as "disrespectful."
"I was genuinely shocked," said Bell.
"We are not paying people to stay home because they have nothing better to do. We are paying people so they can actually eat and pay their rent while their workplaces are closed. Nobody is getting rich on $2,000 a month."
'It's not very much money'
Heath MacDonald, Liberal MLA for Cornwall-Meadowbank, said now is not the time for the premier to be raising the issue of reducing benefits or tying them to a plan to return to work.
He said federal aid is important for people to put food on the table.
We have seen numerous students in turmoil at the sudden risk of losing aid they had been relying on.— Emma Drake, UPEI Student Union
"In time, as we move forward and see how things are going to unfold, then a discussion should, yes, at some point in time take place, but right now I don't believe that is appropriate," said MacDonald.
"If you look at what the students are receiving, I mean it's not very much money."
CBC News reached out to the premier's office, but has not yet received a follow-up response.
'May cause significant harm'
Last week King said he'd like to see federal government work with the private sector and others so they could put money in the hands of students, but at the same time have students fill the jobs that they used to fill in the past.
In its letter to the premier the student union said realistically there will not be enough jobs this summer for students, especially on Prince Edward Island, which relies on the tourism and hospitality industries for many student jobs.
"We understand that this is a time of quick action and analysis, but believe that uninformed statements, such as this, may cause significant harm," said the letter signed by Emma Drake and Sweta Daboo, members of the student union executive.
"Today, we have seen numerous students in turmoil at the sudden risk of losing aid they had been relying on until they could find employment, and being placed in a vulnerable position."
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