Canada Emergency Response Benefit: Addressing Asymmetries for Phase II

This memo was sent to Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office on Monday June 15, 2020.

It makes three recommendations to change the rules to be clear and symmetrical for Phase II of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.

  • From July 5 to October 25, 2020 (16 weeks), CERB becomes available to eligible workers in two-week periods.
  • CERB eligibility be extended, i.e. would not exclude workers who had been in receipt of CERB prior to July 5, 2020 and exhausted the initial 16 week maximum.
  • Add a qualifying condition for eligibility for CERB that permits attestation by the worker that they “did not refuse suitable work unless it was for a reasonable cause”. This serves as a caution without going the ‘law and order’ penalties route, highly problematic at any time but especially during a pandemic.

On July 4, 2020 about two million people are likely to run out of income support – currently available to them through the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) – and find themselves still without paid work, but ineligible for income support. A small minority of these people may be eligible for provincial social assistance.

CERB was introduced to help people stay at home to contain the spread of COVID-19. While re-opening the economy has begun gingerly in many regions of the Canadian economy, we are not yet finished fighting the pandemic, and nowhere is this more true than in Canada’s two largest cities.

Bill C-17 is the draft bill for what the Government of Canada thinks should happen next. It introduces a new phase of benefits, offering $1,000 every two weeks for eligible recipients, running from July 5 to October 3, 2020. It also introduces new conditions for eligibility, turning largely on a worker’s refusal to accept work. This Phase II approach to CERB effectively creates a regime of rights and responsibilities which places the entire burden of “re-opening the economy” on workers, and none on jurisdictions responsible for transit and childcare, or the employers who have not made workplaces safe to return to, or who have significantly cut pre-COVID pay and hours. Losing eligibility for income support when a worker’s safety and livelihood is at risk is not good policy, creating new power imbalances in the workplace by giving a disentitlement “whip” to employers.

This four-page memo raises additional issues that also need to be tackles. It was prepared in consultation with Laurell Ritchie, Mary Gellatly and Colette Murphy.

You can find my previous memo from April 3, 2020 on Canada Emergency Response Benefit eligibility issues and solutions here.