Madam Speaker, for the past several months, we have been living through an unprecedented crisis, the likes of which we have never seen at any time in our history.
In the throne speech, the government announced the implementation of three new benefits to replace the Canada emergency response benefit or CERB. They are the Canada recovery benefit or CRB, the Canada recovery sickness benefit or CRSB and the Canada recovery caregiving benefit or CRCB. I am going to speak about these three benefits.
With the historic changes that have been made to make employment insurance more flexible, most of the people who until just recently were receiving the CERB will now be able to receive EI benefits. However, even with the more flexible criteria, some 900,000 people will be left without an income once the CERB comes to an end. The CRB is made for those people and that is good news.
This spring and summer, I toured my riding of Beauport—Limoilou. Organizations and businesses alike feared that the CERB would stop all of a sudden. I met with representatives of the Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Québec, the Jeune chambre de commerce de Québec, the Regroupement des gens d'affaires de Beauport and the Société de développement commercial 3e Avenue de Limoilou.
Business people all lamented that the CERB and the benefit for students, the CESB, were not flexible from the outset, like EI. In their initial form, the CERB and the CESB put businesses—dozens, if not hundreds of them in my riding, and likely in most ridings—in the position of having to single-handedly prop themselves up by replacing employees who did not show up for work.
That was one negative impact we called out from the start. Those businesses are winded, exhausted and at their wits’ end. If they do not make it, our entire economic recovery is at stake. We do not talk about it enough, or say it loudly enough, often enough.
Two questions remain for these business people. Why was the CERB not flexible from the outset? Also, what was keeping the CERB from being flexible and having the same rules that have been applied to EI for years?
Despite these legitimate questions, both business people and organizations are pleased to see that the CERB will not end suddenly. Quebeckers are happy, too. Many of them came to me and asked what they would do if their sector did not resume and the CERB ended. How were they going to put food on the table? How were they going to keep a roof over their heads. They are relieved.
I would, however, give a word of warning to my constituents. In 2021, they will have to pay a lot of taxes, an arm and a leg. Not only is CERB taxable, but the taxman will charge them 50¢ for every dollar they earn over $38,000. As a result, they will have to plan ahead. They will have to do some calculations to ensure that they will be able to afford to pay what they owe the government when they file their income tax returns.
I do not know many people who can afford to wake up one morning and write the government a cheque for thousands of dollars. People need to plan ahead. In Quebec, a person earning the average wage and receiving the maximum amount allowed under the CERB will have to write a cheque for roughly $5,000 to $6,000 next April. People need to mark my words and plan ahead.
I often think out loud, so here are my reflections. I am not interested in nitpicking; I want solutions. Could claimants have declared their income every week, every two weeks or once a month, and could the infamous 50¢ over a certain amount be taken directly off their cheque, instead of pushing the deadline back to April of next year?
To what extent will today's assistance become tomorrow's economic and financial nightmare?
The Canada recovery sickness benefit will provide real relief to anyone who has to self-isolate for 14 days either as a preventive measure or if they test positive. This benefit responds to concerns I have heard from many people. People have asked me what would happen if they had to self-isolate again since they cannot afford to be without any income or lose their job. This benefit responds to their concerns, and it is a good measure.
I have another question. If people have to self-isolate twice over the next few months, can they receive this benefit twice or are they eligible only once? Are people eligible every time they have to self-isolate, or is it a one-time measure?
The third CERB replacement measure responds to the concerns of parents, whose child might be sent home from school at any time. I will speak for a mother I spoke with over the phone a couple of weeks ago. Her 15-year old daughter was suddenly sent home to self-isolate because the entire class was in isolation after someone tested positive. She told me that according to the government, she had to leave her sick daughters home alone for two weeks because they are teenagers. She added that this was not about a cold, and if one of her daughters' condition started quickly deteriorating while she was gone, the government would put her between a rock and a hard place because her daughters are over 11. She would have to choose between taking care of her sick daughters and working to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
That woman, that mother, is right to ask questions. Every child is different and every person reacts differently to the illness. It is not for the government to decide whether a child is able to stay home alone to take care of themselves. It is up to the parents. Let's expand the measure to youth 16 and under and give the parents the right to assume their responsibilities and make their own decisions.
To summarize, the amounts proposed will benefit many Quebeckers and Canadians. However, I would like to make two suggestions. First, we have to come up with measures that will not put people in a financial stranglehold come next April. I will give an example to explain my second recommendation.
Imagine a parent whose 14-year-old tests positive. In the morning, the parent goes out and leaves their child with some acetaminophen, a glass of water, some soup and an emergency phone number. Everything is there. At noon, the parent calls, no one picks up, and they decide to call later as their child might still be sleeping. When they calls again, there is still no answer. Concerned, the parent rushes home and finds that their child is in respiratory distress.
No one wants that to happen, but if parents cannot stay home with their teenager, this could happen. Let us extend the benefit to adolescents as well. That is the least we can do.