North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney has been working on a number of files as her riding has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blaney said right now, one of the items her office is working on is the business wage subsidy program. She said the House of Commons is going to be called back to deal with it, but so far, there is no date. She said the parties are trying to figure out the mechanics of recalling parliament.
“What we are focusing on, of course, is making sure we are timely in when we meet, but we are also taking the opportunity to have a thoughtful look at the legislation,” said Blaney. “The government is currently in the process of writing the legislation.”
She said the last time the parties met in the house, they were given the legislation on a Sunday evening and MPs had to be in the house on the Tuesday morning to do the work.
“The negotiations did not end until quite late at night; this time, we’re trying to stop that,” said Blaney. “We are still looking at having a smaller parliament. I am back in British Columbia so I will not be sitting in the house next time, but we are still looking at having about 32 members in the house. We have to respect public health and the requirements there. We are trying to do that in the most thoughtful way we can.”
The government is literally writing the legislation right now, said Blaney.
“Our offices have reached out to many local businesses across the riding to identify any foreseeable gaps,” she added. “We haven’t seen any legislation but based on the information we have received from the government, we are asking for businesses to give us feedback. Once we get the legislation, I want to have a pretty comprehensive understanding of what the challenges are for my riding so I can bring that forward for the negotiation process with the government.”
Blaney said the prime minister had announced a $100 million program for food banks, especially for rural, remote and indigenous communities across Canada. She said one of the things heard locally and nationally is that food banks are struggling to get the food they need. Demand is increasing at the same time as donations are going down, she added.
“We’re happy to see this money and know it will take a little while to flow into our communities,” said Blaney. “I encourage those who can to donate what they can to our food banks.”
She said the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is going to start being implemented on April 6. She said registrants are being requested to apply based on the month they were born so the system is not overwhelmed.
“We are definitely hearing, based on the information we have coming from the government, there are going to be gaps,” said Blaney. “Some people who desperately need the money will not be eligible for one reason or another. We are encouraging the government to look at a model that is more like a universal model where we just get money out to people and at the end of the tax year people who should not receive that much money have to pay that money back and those who need it actually get it.”
Blaney said this is a once a month payment of $2,000, which is different than usual payment methods.
She said her offices remain closed to the public but all of her team members are working from home and very busy.
“We are encouraging people to leave messages and emails,” said Blaney. “We are getting back to people as quickly as possible. We are triaging. We have some people who are in significant crisis and other people who have serious issues, where it may be a couple of days before we can get back.
“Things are changing so quickly and we are answering all of the questions we can. We are working really hard with the government to get clarity. I’m meeting daily with heads of department to deal with issues as they arise and of course, spending time on the phone with ministers and parliamentary secretaries about issues that impact the riding specifically,” said Blaney.
She is still in self-quarantine until the second week of April after having flown from Ottawa to the riding and stopping in several airports along the way.
“I spend a lot of hours on the phone,” said Blaney.