Trudeau says feds chose speed over scrutiny in sending benefit cheques
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government made a clear choice to forgo extensive oversight for those requesting funds through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and other financial aid programs amid the pandemic.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Trudeau said in order to get money to struggling Canadians as quickly as possible, there was no instruction to the public service to wait for security checks, or "we’d still be waiting to get those cheques out."
"We needed to help them rapidly and efficiently. That means to get the CERB, people needed to simply fill out an attestation to make commitments that they were in a situation that they deserved to get the CERB. Of course there’s going to be a few people that misrepresent themselves and try to defraud the situation," said Trudeau.
This comes amid reports, first published in the National Post, of fraudulent claims for government aid and instruction by the government of bureaucrats issuing the funds to ignore warnings or red flags of individuals not meeting necessary criteria.
A spokesperson for the office of the minister of employment, workforce development and disability Inclusion told CTV News that bureaucrats sifting through claims were provided with a guidance document on how to triage claims.
"We have been clear that a streamlined process was created to get the Canada Emergency Response Benefit into the hands of Canadians who needed it quickly. The CERB has front-end safeguards that include attesting to the eligibility criteria and providing a valid SIN, and additional safeguards in the backend," reads a statement from Ashley Michnowski.
She noted the CRA and Service Canada have tools in places to monitor and identify cases of fraud and that in many cases applicants were denied if found to be abusing the system.
"Both departments will continue to conduct file reviews and investigations to identify and address cases of error, fraud, and abuse. We remain committed to supporting workers during these difficult times by delivering the CERB to eligible Canadians," said Michnowski.
In response alerts of fraud, the CRA is taking additional steps to safeguard the application process. They’ll require more detailed information about an applicant’s previous and current employment status and whether they’ve earned any income during the pandemic. The agency will also implement a stricter alert system to flag suspicious or unusual claims.
Trudeau said on Thursday these measures would be put in place over the coming months. The CERB runs up to 16 weeks for recipients or up to four pay periods.
When the prime minister has fielded questions about the fraudulent claims throughout the week from both reporters and opposition MPs, he has insisted the government’s priority is to get support to Canadians as quickly as possible and that a “clean up” of any errors can take place later.
The government has also been pressed to release a federal budget, or at the very least provide a fiscal update, to paint a picture of Canada’s economic standing. They have yet to attach a total price tag to the host of programs and packages aimed at those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"A budget is usually something that projects what's going to happen in the Canadian economy for the next 12 months, and right now we're having a lot of difficulty establishing with any certainty what's going to happen in the next 12 weeks," said Trudeau on Wednesday.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau appeared before a virtual gathering of the House of Commons finance committee Thursday afternoon where he faced a grilling from MPs, namely Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre.
The Ottawa-based MP asked Morneau how many cases of fraud had been detected and paid out by the government.
"Clearly what we’ve been trying to achieve is a program that can help the broadest number of Canadians possible," he said. "We’ll have an approach to audit, and people who are fraudulent will be dealt with in a timely fashion."
He also asked the minister whether there’d be an economic update before Canada Day and how much the federal deficit has ballooned since the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.
"We are providing significant information to this committee, and as the situation gets more stable we will be providing more," said Morneau.