Postmedia published a CPC MP’s misplaced CERB rage

Last week, Postmedia ran an article that claimed over 800,000 people claimed the CERB but weren’t eligible for it.

Last week, Postmedia ran an article across several of their properties, including the Toronto Sun, that claimed over 800,000 people claimed the Canada Emergency Response Benefit who weren’t eligible for it.

The article was based on a paywalled post on the Blacklock’s Reporter, an independent news source that focuses on the federal government.

In the cited post, Blacklock’s included this image, taken of information that, according to Postmedia, was tabled in the House of Commons as part of an inquiry of ministry.

That 823,580 is what the conservatives—and MPs Kelly McCauley and Pierre Poilievre in particular—are all up in arms about. Here’s how Postmedia framed it:

CRA’s own records — filed in an inquiry of ministry tabled in the House of Commons — show 823,850 people who didn’t file a tax return in the past year received $2,000 monthly CERB cheques at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $1.7 billion, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.

Here’s the thing though. You didn’t need to file a tax return to get a CERB cheque. In fact, let’s list all the eligibility requirements:

  • Didn’t apply for, nor receive, CERB or EI benefits from Service Canada for the same eligibility period
  • Didn’t quit your job voluntarily
  • Resided in Canada and were at least 15 years old
  • Earned at least $5,000 (before taxes) in 2019 or the last 12 months
  • And then a few more requirements about reduction in work hours directly because of COVID-19

Absolutely nothing in there about needing to file your tax return first.

So it seems an odd thing for Postmedia—and Blacklock’s—to highlight: if you didn’t need to file a tax return to get CERB, why point out that some people who got CERB didn’t file?

Besides, even though the deadline to file was extended to 1 June 2020, there was no penalty if you filed after that, as long as you filed before 30 September. So not filing by 23 September 2020 doesn’t mean they had no income.

Which brings us to a Postmedia quote from McCauley:

“This is a huge amount. People were losing their homes and really needed help, but claims were made by others who were either ineligible or didn’t really need it. I want the government to do a proper, transparent audit of this. We just owe it to taxpayers.”

First, I already explained why the claim that they were ineligible is erroneous. I mean, technically, there might have been eligibility issues with these applicants, but that’s not indicated in the data presented.

Second, how does McCauley know they didn’t need it? Because they didn’t file a 2019 tax return? How is that indicative of need? How does not filing a tax return for 2019 show that you don’t need an emergency benefit in 2020?

The federal government approved paying CERB to unemployed tax filers who made at least $5,000 in 2019.

This is partially true. They also approved paying it to tax filers who made at least $5,000 in 2020. And, as I pointed out above, even those who weren’t tax filers.

The CRA didn’t explain how non-tax filers could have claimed the benefit.

Why would they? They didn’t manage CERB; Service Canada did. Even so, there was no requirement in the application to have had filed a tax return before being able to claim. CRA—or even Service Canada—doesn’t really need to explain it. It’s pretty clear already, if you’re familiar with the requirements.

The CERB program was first budgeted at $24 billion, but by the time it expired Oct. 3, payments exceeded $81 billion.

Great! That’s $81 billion that consumers subsequently spent in the economy. I wonder what the economic recovery would’ve been like this summer and autumn with $81 billion less circulating in the economy.

More than 14,000 people in the top income tax bracket — earning $210,371 or more in 2019 — filed for CERB, saying they were without income.

Just to be clear, $210,371 is a lot more than I make, but that’s only 0.26% of all CERB applicants. Over 70% made less than $48,000 in 2019. That works out to about $22.90 an hour. And that’s at the top of the range; some people applying would’ve made less than that.

Frankly, if we had a UBI, people making over $200,000 a year would get it. And it would tie up a lot less time in House of Commons debates.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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