Dan Albas

COLUMN: Confusion surrounds CERB clawback

Initial payment is now described as an advance

Some citizens currently receiving the CERB benefit were shocked and alarmed to receive news this week that they “will not receive a payment when you complete your next report.”

The reason?

“When you first applied for the CERB, you received two payments; a payment of $2,000 as well as a payment following your initial report. This $2,000 was an advance on four weeks of the CERB, which was issued in order to get money in your pocket as quickly as possible.”

The communication from the Trudeau government then goes on to say, “Because of this advance, you will not receive not receive a payment when you complete your next report”.

In other words, because the initial CERB payment was deemed to be an ‘advance,’ it is now being fully clawed back.

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For many citizens, who were completely unaware that this initial $2,000 was considered to be an advance, they are now seriously adversely impacted having had no prior warning this situation was going to occur.

According to the Liberal government, when people submitted their first reports, they were told in advance that this would occur and how this would happen.

As the opposition shadow minister with the critic portfolio for this file, I feel that it is important that we refer back to media reports on April 8, 2020.

In particular Global News reported the headline “Did you get 2 CERB payments? It’s not a mistake, Minister says”.

The article further quotes that, “Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos clarified during a press conference on Wednesday. The second deposit is a retroactive payment.”

For many Canadians who heard the president of the Treasury Board declare this $2,000 was a “retroactive payment” and relied on that in good faith, they are shocked and confused to be told the payment was actually an “advance” and will be now clawed back.

Aside from the confusion created on part of the government, I also question the government’s logic on this.

If the intent was to “advance” funds “in order to get money in your pocket as quickly as possible,” this raises an important question.

We can assume the intent to rush the payment was to avoid placing people into dire financial circumstances.

So how does fully clawing back an entire CERB payment, with no advance notice, not end up putting citizens into a dire financial situation now?

All of this confusion occurred because the Liberal government did not clarify that this was not a “retroactive payment” but rather an advance.

The Prime Minister has had many morning appearances outside of his cottage where this could have easily been clarified.

It has not been.

This follows a trend.

For example, when the CERB program was first announced by the Minister of Employment, Ms. Qualtrough said in the House of Commons that the benefit was non-taxable.

We now know it is taxable.

Similarly, the Prime Minister provided erroneous information regarding student eligibility on the CERB program that to this day not been clarified.

All of these communication errors could result in citizens having support funds “clawed back” unexpectedly.

My question this week: Does the Prime Minister have an obligation to correct and clarify inaccurate information that Canadians rely on?

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola. This riding includes the communities of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland, Keremeos, Princeton, Merritt and Logan Lake.

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