Cowichan-Malahat-Langford Member of Parliament Alistair MacGregor held a Q&A on the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 in a livestream on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon.
Constituents have a lot of questions about some of the government’s initiatives, and MacGregor did his best to respond.
“What I’m finding from my constituency office is that we’re getting a lot of requests for information,” he said. “And that information is very much evolving on a daily basis.”
Help is on the way, MacGregor emphasized, although it may take some time to roll out.
“These are very much unprecedented times,” he said. “And it’s important that in this time of uncertainty and high anxiety that our federal government is there to act as an economic backstop to really provide that reassurance that we’re gonna get through this together and we’re gonna put in place programs that are going to meet the needs of people who are very much suffering right now.”
The New Democrats pressured the federal government to include several details in the Canada Emergency Response Benefit program, MacGregor noted, including increasing the wage subsidy to 75 per cent.
“Frankly speaking, when the government came out with an initial proposal of 10 per cent, that wasn’t going to cut it,” he said. “The economic crisis is so severe that just doing a 10 per cent wage subsidy, many small businesses, that wasn’t really going to add any value to them maintaining their operations. We want to see small businesses weather the storm, we want to see employees go back to their jobs, we want to make it as easy as possible for small businesses to keep their employees during this time, but also we want to make sure that when we get through this they can bounce back because they very much are the lifeblood of many of our small communities throughout the riding of Cowichan-Malahat-Langford.”
The CERB is scheduled to roll out on April 6, and MacGregor vowed to keep his constituents updated through the process.
“The wage subsidy and the CERB are still lacking in a lot of details,” he said. “You have to understand that the information that we’re getting on these two programs … on how to apply, what the conditions are, these seem to be evolving on a daily basis, sometimes an hourly basis. I sometimes feel like sort of an air-traffic controller with the information; it’s coming out at the rate of a firehose, and what I’m trying to do as your Member of Parliament is to try and get that information and disseminate that in an easily digestible format.”
Applications for the programs are not done through the MPs’ offices, but MacGregor said his office will provide information about how to apply, and help reach out to Service Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency. The office is not open for walk-ins right now, but MacGregor’s staff are checking phone messages and email frequently
The CERB is a step in the right direction, but MacGregor thinks more needs to be done, including action on mortgages and interest rates, particularly with credit cards.
“To the government’s credit, they’re trying their best. Of course there is always room for improvement, and as your Member of Parliament, I’ll be listening closesly to the feedback I receive from the small business owners in this riding, from the constituents in this riding, about what’s working, what’s not, and I’ll be sure to convey that message, not only to my caucus colleagues because we’re talking to each other quite frequently, but also on the daily government technical briefings that I’m getting on these programs, your feedback will be really important to make sure that these programs are doing what they’re supposed to.”
He also urged constituents to remain hopeful.
“These times are unprecedented. It’s important that we try to look out for each other, that we maintain some optimism in getting through this, and just know that from our frontline healthcare workers to our muncipalities, our local government, First Nations, all the amazing volunteers who work for our community organizations, we’re all trying to pull together and work as best as we can through this.”