Question Period: Canada Emergency Response Benefit

By: The Hon. Brian Francis

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National War Memorial, Ottawa

Hon. Brian Francis: Honourable senators, this question is for Senator Gold. Analysis from The Canadian Press shows that a disproportionate number of First Nations people who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit got letters from the Canada Revenue Agency questioning their eligibility and warning that they may have to pay some of the money back. Some of the applicants worked on-reserve during the pandemic and earned tax-exempt employment income under section 87 of the Indian Act. As you know, First Nations experienced the highest low-income rates in the country due to overrepresentation in precarious and low-wage employment, and this population was hardest hit during the pandemic. Many are still struggling to meet their basic needs.

Senator Gold, back in 2020, the federal government acknowledged that unclear messaging on the eligibility requirements contributed to widespread confusion. Why is the federal government allocating so many resources to tracking and penalizing First Nations who face high levels of poverty, homelessness and other inequities rather than assuming responsibility for administrative errors?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question. As the government has acknowledged on many occasions, and I will do so again, the government is aware that some aspects of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit program ended up causing unintended and negative consequences to those who received it. I was not aware of — so thank you for pointing out — the disproportionate impact on Indigenous communities and recipients. The government has been working and will continue to work with those who are experiencing such difficulties in an effort to make ends meet. I will certainly take these concerns back to the government and hope for an answer in due course as to what other measures may be taken or contemplated.

Senator Francis: Senator Gold, I am very concerned about the impact of repayments on First Nations living paycheque to paycheque, or worse. Can you please provide us with disaggregated data on the number of First Nations and other Indigenous people who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and how many received repayment letters? With regard to what the repayment process will look like, can you also provide us with a detailed explanation of the consequences of non-repayment? Is there discretion to cancel or waive penalties or interest for First Nations and others with an income below the poverty level?

Senator Gold: I will certainly add those questions to my inquiry and I will get back to you as soon as I get an answer.

 

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