Commentary,  COVID,  Income Security

Federal Government Should Pay CERB-Like Benefits to Workers Affected by Ottawa Protest

The federal government should extend emergency income supports to workers who were prevented from working as a result of the 3-week occupation of downtown Ottawa by “freedom convoy” protestors, the Centre for Future Work’s Director Jim Stanford has urged. He called on the federal government to offer benefits similar to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to workers who lost significant hours of work and pay because of the occupation. 

“CERB and its successor benefits were designed to support Canadians who could not work because of lockdowns and other public health measures intended to fight the pandemic,” Stanford reasoned. “This was definitely a lockdown, although not one implemented by the government. Thousands of workers lost hours and income due to the actions of anti-vax occupiers, and those losses are clearly an indirect consequence of the pandemic.”

“The government has offered up to $20 million in support to small businesses in Ottawa affected by the occupation. Equivalent support must also be provided to affected workers.”

Stanford suggested the benefits should be offered at the same rate ($500 per week) and the same qualifying conditions as the former CERB (recipients must have earned at least $5000 in the previous 12 months, and less than $1000 per two week period while receiving the benefit).

Stanford estimated this special program would cost less than $7 million, to provide up to three weeks’ benefit to an estimated 5000 affected workers (after deduction of 10% income tax). That is less than half the potential cost of the supports to Ottawa small business being offered through the Federal Economic Development Agency.

The program could also be extended to those (including thousands of truckers) who lost income as a result of border blockades in Windsor, Ont., and Coutts, Alta.

“Contrary to the rhetoric of the occupiers, this protest was never about supporting workers affected by public health measures. Instead, thousands of workers lost time and income they could not afford because of these blockades. They are workers who followed public health guidelines. Their losses were due to the pandemic, and they should now be supported as other Canadians were.”

Jim Stanford is Economist and Director of the Centre for Future Work. He divides his time between Sydney, Australia and Vancouver, Canada. Jim is one of Canada’s best-known economic commentators. He served for over 20 years as Economist and Director of Policy with Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector trade union.