Question Period: Canada Emergency Response Benefit

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate. Further to Senator Martin’s questions, Senator Gold, we all have seen cases where CRA is asking for full repayment of CERB by December 31. It involves self-employed individuals whose work has been, or continues to be limited, or completely ceased because of COVID. Many represent the lowest-paid people in this country: the working poor.

I too am told that the “net versus gross” did not appear on the application form. I’ve been receiving myriad messages expressing heartbreaking situations. One came from a 77-year-old self-employed man without a pension, who obviously continues to have very little income, as the pandemic continues to curtail his ability to work. He told me, “My government has gone from benefactor to Grinch in one fast train ride.”

Senator, for those affected by this, who earnestly applied and were encouraged to do so, is the government considering their plight? Is the government considering these cases in light of the confusion some have experienced with their CERB applications?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question. Of course the government is considering this. Everything that the government did in each of its programs was to benefit Canadians. The last thing that this government intends to do is to punish Canadians who acted in good faith. That said, as I said in response to Senator Martin’s question, I will certainly look into it to make sure that I have a proper grasp of the details before I finalize a response here in this chamber.

I do need to remind the chamber that what is being described in the letters is that recipients are being advised that there may be a requirement to pay amounts received. It has suspended collections activity on any new debt during the crisis, and it will only resume collections when it is responsible to do so, and that’s in general, and in particular with regard to CERB payments.

I also advise that the government has been making every effort to work with taxpayers to resolve their debt and to do so in an appropriate and compassionate way. The government encourages recipients to contact the agency to develop a suitable arrangement based upon their ability to pay, if indeed repayment is required.

Senator Bovey: Thank you for that, senator. I am aware of people selling cars and remortgaging their houses to try to deal with this.

The Minister of National Revenue has the authority to cancel or waive penalties or interest under taxpayer relief provisions, and the criteria for granting such relief, according to the CRA website, include extraordinary circumstances, actions of the CRA, inability to pay or financial hardship, or other circumstances.

As I have said, we are still dealing with COVID-19 across the country and the situation for many of these people in my province is dire as we are still under lockdown and will be into January.

Canadians were told that such misunderstandings made in good faith would be rectified at income tax time, which is March and April 2021, not Christmas 2020. Will the minister use her authority to grant some relief to those who realistically cannot generate such income in several weeks, especially in parts of the country where COVID-19 remains rampant?

Senator Gold: Again, thank you for your question. I will make inquiries and do my best to get an answer in a timely fashion.

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