Bill Morneau resigned as Minister of Finance on Monday.
I enjoyed my interactions with the former minister—he was approachable and often crossed the aisle to chat with me when I had a question or comment on financial issues affecting my constituents. Rumour has it that he was at odds with the rest of the cabinet when it came to the overall course of pandemic recovery, with Morneau recommending caution and others wanting to seize the moment and bring in more meaningful changes to support Canadians and the development of a fairer, greener economy.
If that’s the case, perhaps it is for the best that he has stepped down, since we are at a critical time in pandemic planning in many ways.
But there are immediate issues that make this change of Finance Ministers badly timed.
In the next two weeks, we are facing the end of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. This is a huge issue that will affect millions of unemployed Canadians. The government plans to shift people off CERB and back on to Employment Insurance, but that will leave 60 percent of unemployed Canadians without any supports.
These self-employed Canadians, many working in the “gig economy”, are ineligible for EI and have always led a precarious financial existence that was hit hard by the pandemic. We hear of rumoured plans to create a parallel program to help these workers, but details have not been presented.
This is why it is concerning that the Minister of Finance has resigned at this critical moment.
We have only days to make these changes and millions of Canadians have not heard concrete plans from the government on how they will be able to pay the rent or put food on their tables.
On top of this, the government apparently plans to prorogue parliament for a “summer reset.”
While some of these CERB/EI changes might be able to be made through changes to regulations, it would be better to have legislation brought before the House of Commons, as has been happening all spring and summer for COVID-related changes.
For instance, we recently debated and passed legislation that, among other things, provided long-overdue supports for people with disabilities. We could do this again for legislation needed to protect and support unemployed Canadians, yet the government seems to be leaving this to the last moment and with prorogation may miss the chance entirely.
The NDP believes this is the moment to make consequential changes to our social support systems and efforts to tackle climate change. The pandemic has exposed serious weaknesses in both these broad issues.
The failings of EI have prompted serious conversations on all sides of the political spectrum about a guaranteed annual income. Such a program would ensure that Canadians would not live below the poverty line, whether or not they qualified for EI or any other government supports.
My colleague Leah Gazan, MP for Winnipeg Centre, has put forward a motion to create a guaranteed annual income program in Canada, and my colleague Peter Julian, the MP for New Westminster-Burnaby, has tabled a motion for a Green New Deal in Canada.
I have joined many other MPs in supporting their efforts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging for all of us to get together to discuss important issues.
I plan to do my annual “Ride the Riding” event from August 24 to 30th and have made sure that the cafes and restaurants scheduled for meetings have outdoor spaces where we can keep our proper distance.
I would welcome cyclists to join me on the trails as well.
Watch the news in print and online for itinerary details in the coming days!
Richard Cannings is MP for the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding.