Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once again cautioned the federal government will be going after those who “knowingly and willfully” have made false claims for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
“We’re not looking at punishing people who just made honest mistakes,” the prime minister said during a Tuesday (June 9) media briefing.
Trudeau had repeatedly warned Canadians against claiming the CERB if they did not qualify since he introduced the initiative nearly three months ago.
But over the weekend the federal Liberals shared draft legislation with opposition parties that would specifically punish who’ve made false claims.
Trudeau said the legislation is targeted at “deliberate fraudsters” — not those who may have mistakenly made use of both the CERB and the federal government’s 75% wage subsidy.
He said the latter group will simply be required to repay the amount of the CERB.
The prime minister would not commit to extending the program beyond its 16-week shelf life.
Instead, he said announcements would be made in the coming weeks outlining how the government will support Canadians who’ve not yet returned to work even as parts of the economy restart.
Trudeau said the federal government’s main concern when the CERB was introduced was ensuring money would be delivered to Canadians as quickly as possible to help with their bills if they lost their job as a result of the pandemic.
He said the government knew it would need to implement measures after the program launched to correct mistakes made in avoiding onerous background checks into applicants.
Earlier in the briefing, Trudeau urged organizations to consider how to transition their employees from the CERB to the wage subsidy.
The wage subsidy, which has faced criticisms for onerous requirements from applicants, has so far attracted 327,690 applications as of June 1.
The government had anticipated 1 million applications.
The prime minister was also pressed on why the government has not unveiled a fiscal update amid unprecedented government spending aimed at boosting the economy during the pandemic.
Trudeau described a potential fiscal update as “an exercise in invention and imagination” if the economy is, for the most part, “frozen or in a coma.”
“We’ve been tallying up the costs and the expenses and the investments that we’ve been making to support Canadians through this,” he said.
“To know what’s going to happen when it [the economy] restarts is extremely uncertain.”
The prime minister said the government would continue to be open and transparent about its spending during the present crisis.
“But a fiscal update that talks about what our projected revenues or expenditures could be six months from now or a year from now would be incredibly unreliable because we just don’t know what the impact of this pandemic is on the sum total of the Canadian economy because we are suspended right now,” Trudeau said.