Feds will 'be there for Canadians' as CERB end date looms for thousands: Duclos

As the end date for thousands of Canadians who’ve been receiving financial aid from the start draws closer and the death toll from COVID-19 continues to climb, Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos says the government "will continue to be there for Canadians."

Canada, as of Wednesday, has registered more than 62,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 4,000 deaths from the disease. While provinces have started to roll out tentative reopening plans, there is no clear indication that most Canadians will be back to work anytime soon.

The government introduced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, designed to help people who lost income due to COVID-19. The program is available until Oct. 3 and provides successful applicants with $2,000 a month for up to four months.

The benefit is already halfway through its four-month period for the thousands of Canadians whosigned up to receive the benefit when it was first introduced.

When pressed on whether the government would extend the CERB beyond the four-month timeline during a Wednesday press conference, Duclos would not definitively commit to an extension, but he didn’t rule it out.

"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.

As of May 5, there were more than 7.5 million unique applicants for the assistance program and the government had received more than 11 million total applications. More than $28 billion has been paid through the program.

A recent Nanos Research poll, commissioned by CTV News, found that 60 per cent of respondents believe "somewhat more" financial aid is required before Canada can return to normal. The poll surveyed 1,049 adults in late April and had a margin of error of ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

While questions remain regarding what will happen to the aid once the four-month period dries up, politicians are currently busying themselves debating how to improve the existing program.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has called on the government to drop all criteria for the CERB in order to allow all Canadians to qualify, citing concerns about those who might fall through the cracks of the current program. The government has responded to this criticism by insisting the slew of changes it has introduced to financial aid programs allow them to quickly fill any cracks that appear.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has also criticized the program, saying the current iteration could deter Canadians from returning to work. He called instead for the benefit to be expanded to allow those returning to work to continue qualifying for a portion of the CERB, even once they make over $1,000 per month — the current cut-off for CERB eligibility.

"Conservatives are calling on the government to make the CERB more generous and more flexible so that no one is worse off going back to work or picking up a shift," Scheer said in a tweet on Wednesday.

However, in order to return to work, Canadians will need their employers to still exist — and many small businesses are struggling amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The government has put in place programs to try to keep small businesses afloat as physical distancing measures remain, and so far hundreds of thousands have applied for the financial assistance.

Speaking during his Wednesday press conference, Duclos said 545,000 businesses have received loans of up to $40,000 while 110,000 have applied for the wage subsidy program.

Those programs also have end dates, as rent costs chew up the loan and the wage subsidy program is slated to end on June 6.

The government has yet to confirm whether those programs will also be extended.

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