Critics pan Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit as insufficient

As advocates cite gaps and inefficiencies in federal pay coverage, calls for provincially provided sick leave grow

Critics pan Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit as insufficient

Since the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) was launched in September, it has paid out a reported $271.4 million to a total of 318,110 people. But even with that wide scope and scale of support, critics say the program is falling short.

The CRSB, which is extended to Canadians who were forced to miss work because they had to self-isolate, pays out $450 after taxes per week for up to two weeks. But Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, said paid sick leave mandated at the provincial level is a better policy as it would be applied automatically to a worker’s paycheque.

“The federal paid sick leave benefit is very cumbersome and workers — they have to apply for it,” Coates told CBC News. “They have to know how to apply for it, have the ability to apply for it and they also have to wait.”

Another shortcoming of the CRSB, she said, is that workers who are able to come in for part of a week end up losing their right to collect the benefit. In other words, they effectively do not get income assistance for that time of the week during which they could not make it to work.

Coates said the OFL is asking for seven permanent sick days in an Ontario, including an additional 14 days during a pandemic.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who played a key role in convincing the Liberal government to adopt the sickness benefit, said the federal program must be made “more accessible, easier to get access to, and also cover people even better.”

Adding to the inefficiency of the benefit, a loophole in the policy allows returning travellers to collect up to $1,000 from the benefit as they miss work due to quarantine requirements. Conservative MP Peter Kent pointed to the CRSB loophole as a consequence of the Liberals’ rush to get the legislation through Parliament.

In a statement to CBC News, the office of Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said the program is designed to be flexible as the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) adopts a broad view of the eligibility criteria, which include:

  • Being unable to work at least half of their scheduled shifts because they are sick with COVID-19;
  • Needing to self-isolate due to potential exposure; or
  • Having an underlying health condition that elevates the risks they face if they catch the virus.

“[The Canada recovery sickness benefit] is an important part of our COVID-19 response to support Canadians and stop the spread of the virus,” the office’s statement read.

Despite that reportedly relaxed view, the number of people who’ve been approved to receive the benefit has dropped from 67,000 in September to just 20,000 in the first week of January – even as COVID-19 case counts went up sharply during that time.

Randy Robinson, Ontario director at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), said that for those who can access the federal benefit, the amount received adds up to less than the income they’d normally receive. “The sickness recovery benefit represents a pay cut,” he said. “Kudos to the federal government for taking a run at this … but it's really the responsibility of the provinces.”

CFIB President Dan Kelly agreed that providing sick time is a necessary measure of relief during a pandemic. However, he maintained the shortfall should be paid for by the government, and that the current CRSB amount is enough.

“To impose the costs on small firms at this stage would be really challenging, of course, because most small firms are desperately hanging to say stay on,” Kelly told CBC News.


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