By Jensen, Randy on March 21, 2020.
Lethbridge West MLA and Opposition finance critic Shannon Phillips says the Alberta government needs to be doing significantly more to help families and small businesses weather the COVID-19 crisis.
Phillips says the provincial government’s program to pay those waiting for EI benefits $573 a week while waiting for the federal dollars to come is a good first step, but more needs to be done.
“The details on the $573 payment must be weekly,” Phillips says, “must be in multiple instalments and must be retroactive to when people started self-isolating more than a week ago.”
“It also does not appear that payment is being offered to people who have taken time off to care for their children,” she adds. “That’s a problem. Once the federal backstop comes into effect, I think the Alberta government needs to provide additional income top-ups. I think we should be matching the federal government’s increase of $300 per child to the Canada Child Benefit. Alberta could provide $300 more through our child benefit, and we should because people can’t work now with their children at home.”
Phillips says the Kenney government is also thin on details on what, if anything, it plans to do for the self-employed and small business owners.
“The federal government has a good plan to provide payroll subsidy to small businesses, and I have asked the Alberta finance minister to match the 10 per cent payroll subsidy being provided by the federal government.
“I said to the finance minister directly, I think we should be at least as good as Justin Trudeau to our small business and I got no response.”
The government has also been largely silent on the issue of eviction protection, says Phillips.
“The other piece where I wish Jason Kenney had taken our advice is around eviction protection for both individual renters and also small business,” she confirms. “I am really worried about this. There are policy tools they could be using, and, so far, literally Jason Kenney’s answer to this is that he ‘hopes it doesn’t happen to people.’ That is not good enough.”
While the Kenney government did temporarily suspend planned cuts and changes to health-care funding in the province while in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis, Phillips says it is still failing Albertans on this front.
“The $500 million in ‘extra’ money they put into the health-care system is still not funding us from last year for population growth and inflation,” she explains. “It doesn’t keep up with our growth and our demand in the health-care system, even absent a pandemic. Albertans need to understand that É That extra money they were bragging about and congratulating themselves on works out to about $114 per each Albertan, which is barely enough to pay for a single COVID-19 test.”
Phillips says Albertans have a right to expect more from their provincial government than they have received thus far in the face of a public health crisis which will continue for months to come.
“If Alberta gets further measures for working-class families, for parents, for people at home, for rental protections, those kinds of things, it will be because Albertans were very loud in asking for them. Now is not the time to not engage as citizens. Now more than ever, it is important we hold the government to account, because that is what they are there for. We are all getting a lesson in what government is really for, which is first and foremost for our health and safety. And now is the time to be asking for those things, and to be active citizens.”
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