It was a busy and at times controversial week in Ottawa for legislators involved in the emergency debate on COVID-19 relief measures in the House of Commons.
But like most of her fellow MPs, Rosemarie Falk was not there.
She was at home in Battlefords-Lloydminster, following the social-distancing measures put in place in the Commons for that debate. It was a limited group of MPs who took part and vote on the package that was approved Wednesday, with Andrew Scheer there representing Saskatchewan for the Conservatives.
Falk has kept in touch with developments and said she was on a caucus conference call on Wednesday.
“It’s a moving, fluid piece,” said Falk, with “everything changing rapidly. Something that’s relevant right now might not be relevant in an hour or two.”
The debate on relief measures proved to be unexpectedly contentious.
“Speaking as Conservatives we definitely agree with getting support to Canadians as soon as possible,” said Falk. “There were aspects we didn’t agree with that actually weren’t helping Canadians right this minute.”
The Conservatives balked at some of the measures included in the draft bill, including unlimited spending powers for the ministers and the ability to tax Canadians without Parliament’s approval.
Falk said the Conservatives as well as the NDP felt those measures should have been debated in another bill, separate from the one with the relief measures.
“We were absolutely against it because of the partisan measures that were put in there,” said Falk of the original bill.
What ended up happening was a suspension of the sitting, followed by a full day of behind-the-scenes negotiations Tuesday.
The House finally passed the bill with all-party approval Wednesday, with the contentious spending and tax powers removed. Falk said they had received the revised copy of the bill at around 1 AM in the morning on Wednesday.
Now that the legislation is through Parliament, here are a few of the items from the relief package that Falk highlighted in speaking to the News-Optimist:
Increasing the Canada Child Benefit by $300 a child
Boosting the Special Business Services Tax Credit payment — single individuals would receive close to $400 and couples $600.
Government is allowing later filing for taxes by June 1 2020, and any new income tax balances or instalments that are due can be deferred to Aug. 31.
Falk also pointed to the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB for short. It is a taxable benefit of $2,000 a month for up to four months.
People who can access this are: workers who have to stop working due to COVID-19 and do not have access to paid leave of other income support; workers who are sick, quarantined or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19; working parents who have to stay home because daycare or schools aren’t running; workers who still have their employment but are not being paid because there is currently not sufficient work; and wage earners and self-employed individuals including contract workers who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance. This will be available in early April and can be applied for online.
There were also measures for business, although Falk said the Conservatives “wish there was something more in the Liberals’ financial relief package for small business.”
What is included are wage subsidies for small business equal to 10 percent of remuneration paid during that period, with a maximum subsidy of $1375 per employee and $25,000 per employer.
For farmers, the relief is increased credit available to farmers through Farm Credit Canada.
The government is also providing a new Indigenous Community Support Fund, which is $305 million to address the immediate needs in Indigenous and Métis communities.
As for what the Conservatives will be looking for in the future Falk said they will be looking closely at relief measures.
“We believe and know that Canadians need relief now,” said Falk. “Everybody is being affected by this in a different way, whether it is small business owners having to close up shop temporarily, laid off workers... even health care workers who don’t have that option to stay home because they need to be there on the front lines. We need to make sure Canadians are getting the help they need.”
Falk adds that “we have to make the assumption that this is the first package that’s going to be rolled out.” She notes a million people have claimed EI, “which is unprecedented.”
“It’s just so rapidly changing,” said Falk of the situation.
Fall acknowledged that there is a general mood of angst from constituents about the whole COVID-19 situation within her riding.
“We were already struggling with market access, Carbon Tax,” said Falk. “I understand the frustration and angst there was before but now I would say there’s a new level, just because there’s uncertainty right now in every area.”
She also urges people with any questions to call her office and they will try and get them the help they need. Falk also said constituents might be affected in a way the government is unaware of and said “please bring that to my attention.”
Her office is currently doing all their work by phone at 306-825-5005 and email at email@example.com. Falk also says that if people are having trouble getting through to Service Canada, to contact their office and they will try and help.
Falk said systems are overloaded right now and things are taking a little longer, but “we are doing as much as we can for people.”