Vancouver East NDP MP and Elmwood-Transcona NDP MP Daniel Blaikie wrote the following open letter to the minister of public services and procurement and the minister of national revenue.
The Hon. Carla Qualtrough Minister of Public Services and Procurement
The Hon. Diane Leboughillier, Minister of National Revenue
December 17, 2020
Minister Lebouthillier and Minister Qualtrough,
Re: Open letter concerning your government’s decision to claw back CERB payments that went out to Canadians in need
As you know, the NDP requested an emergency debate on Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) clawbacks on December 10, 2020. While the request for a debate was dismissed, the problem persists.
Over the last few weeks over 400,000 Canadians have been shocked and distressed to receive letters from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) requiring that they pay back their CERB benefits in full by the end of the year. We have heard some people “owe” up to $16,000 and the deadline is only two weeks away.
We have heard that the CRA will apply taxes to any amounts not repaid by December 31, 2020 and that there is no plan for debt forgiveness or long-term repayment plans. Adding insult to injury, many of these cases stem from a failure by your government to clearly stipulate whether gross or net income would determine eligibility.
Worse yet are stories about youth who aged out of foster care during the pandemic, were encouraged to apply for the CERB and are now being asked to repay the benefit. Having had their CERB applications approved by the federal government, these youth did not apply for other social assistance benefits they might otherwise have applied for and for which they cannot apply retroactively.
While Canadians living pay cheque to pay cheque would struggle to repay these amounts in the best of times, we know that youth aging out of foster care are even less likely to be able to do that. They face a high risk of experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, violence and trauma.
We also know that, as a result of long-standing systemic racism, Indigenous youth represent a disproportionately high percentage of this population.
Demanding that they repay this money when we know they do not have the resources is wrong.
In addition to children aging out of foster care, there are many other Canadians who were already living on the margins with very low or no incomes at all that applied for and were granted the CERB. They did this at the behest people like MP Adam Vaughan, a Parliamentary Secretary in your government, who posted on social media telling people to apply for CERB if they needed financial assistance, even if they were not sure they were eligible.
The government was clear that those who needed help should apply without fear of repercussion. The House of Commons passed a motion unanimously in support of not penalizing people in need who applied in good faith. The pandemic is not over and many Canadians are still struggling, including many who applied for CERB in a time of desperate need.
We note with interest and disdain that corporate recipients of government benefits who paid out dividends to their shareholders, despite claiming financial hardship, are not being pursued by your government. The individual Canadians in trying circumstances who are being pursued for this repayment deserve an answer as to why the government has suddenly changed course, choosing to persecute them while transferring wealth to corporate shareholders without consequence.
Our understanding of the purpose behind the CERB was to help financially distressed Canadians avoid bankruptcy during the pandemic, not to simply delay it. We call on you to put a halt to these demands for repayment.
We look forward to hearing your answer promptly.
Jenny Kwan, MP for Vancouver East
Daniel Blaikie, MP for Elmwood—Transcona (NDP Critic for Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion)