OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government is planning to “clean up after the fact” if the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is distributed too widely.
Trudeau made the comment during a Tuesday special committee on COVID-19, after Conservative MP Dan Albas pressed the prime minister repeatedly on the issues first reported in a National Post article, which wrote that public servants were being advised to continue processing claim payments in cases where possible abuse was detected.
The office of Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough confirmed to CTVNews.ca that a guidance document was given to bureaucrats in terms of how to triage claims, but they explained that instances of abuse were still being flagged and pursued.
“The CERB has front end safeguards that include attesting to the eligibility criteria and providing a valid SIN…and additional safeguards in the backend. As previously stated, this allows payments to be made quickly and efficiently to eligible Canadians while ensuring that any payments made to ineligible persons will have to be repaid in full,” said Ashley Michnowski, a spokesperson for Qualtrough.
“Both departments will continue to conduct file reviews and investigations to identify and address cases of error, fraud, and abuse.”
Amid repeated questioning from Albas about the issue, Trudeau explained that the government has been focused on “helping as many people as possible as quickly as possible,”
“That has meant that, yes, there will be things we need to clean up after the fact and work to fix. But getting that help into Canadians’ pockets during this pandemic was our priority,” Trudeau said.
He made the point more than once.
“Our focus was getting help out to people when they needed it, as quickly as possible and cleaning it up afterwards,” Trudeau said in response to another question from Albas.
Then, after another question, Trudeau said “we knew that there would be a need to clean up after the fact, to go after fraudulent cases and we will do that.”
As of May 10, the government has received over 11 million applications for the CERB, with almost eight million of those being unique applicants. Over 11 million applications have been processed and over $30 billion in CERB benefits have been paid out.
Meanwhile Canadians who are depending on the financial aid are wondering what’s going to happen when the clock runs out on the four month benefit. The program is available until Oct. 3 — though many Canadians started their four months of aid in March — and provides successful applicants with $2,000 a month for up to four months.
When pressed on May 6 on whether the program will continue, Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos would not confirm whether Canadians will receive more aid if the physical distancing measures continue beyond the date that the CERB dries up.
“We obviously knew from the start that we needed to implement the Canada Emergency Response Benefit quickly in order to make sure that Canadians could stay healthy while being able to put food on the table, so 7.5 million Canadians have received supports from the CERB and we’ll continue to be there for Canadians,” Duclos replied.
Meanwhile, the federal debt is climbing amid these emergency economic measures. The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) has warned that the federal debt could reach $1 trillion within the fiscal year, and noted that his $252-billion projection for the federal deficit is “very optimistic.”
As these fiscal questions continue, the government has also said it has no timeline for the federal budget and Trudeau would not commit to provide a fiscal update anytime soon. This, despite calls from the PBO to provide one.
“A budget is usually something that projects what’s going to happen in the Canadian economy for the next 12 months, and right now we’re having a lot of difficulty establishing with any certainty what’s going to happen in the next 12 weeks,” Trudeau said, speaking from the front steps of Rideau Cottage on Wednesday.
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