The federal minister in charge of helping the unemployed says unemployed Canadians who refuse to get vaccinated may be locked out of benefits as long as public health concerns remain a priority.
Liberals have added conditions to a series of benefit payments, saying none can go to workers who lose jobs or hours because they have refused to get vaccinated.
The rules do not apply to those who have a medical exemption.
Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough says the decision was partly an economic one to ensure that workplaces were not closed due to an outbreak and also to encourage more eligible Canadians to get vaccinated.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Qualtrough says the rules are likely to be upheld as long as public health remains a top political priority.
The latest round of government benefits for the hardest hit workers is scheduled to last until early May, though liberals have the power to extend aid into the summer if necessary.
“As the collective public health of Canadians is put in jeopardy, and our economy is threatened, we will have to keep public health policy a priority in our employment and economic decision-making,” said Qualtrough.
“And I don’t know how long it will be.”
Qualtrough began as Minister of Employment shortly after the October 2019 federal elections, and entered the record at a time when the country had a historically low unemployment rate.
The pandemic changed everything from March and April 2020 when the first wave shut down much of the economy. Three million jobs were lost during those two months, while almost the same number had their hours cut.
Vaccination rules for COVID benefits will remain for the foreseeable future, says Minister @CQualtro. #CDNPoli # Covid19
In May, the unemployment rate hit an all-time high of 13.7 percent when the government shut down the employment insurance system in favor of pandemic benefits like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and its successor, the Canada Recovery Benefit. Canada.
Federal aid was renewed again in December. Now it is more aimed at the most affected sectors and includes a benefit of $ 300 a week for workers who are subject to a lockdown.
The legislation that created the benefit says a lockdown is when a public health authority has ordered nonessential businesses to close and nonessential workers stay home. However, the wording of the law allows the cabinet to decide which region is blocked from qualifying for aid.
Qualtrough said the latest twist on pandemic aid was conceived in the fall when Liberals sought to create an insurance policy against whatever twist the pandemic throws at the country.
“We knew we had to make sure that if something like Omicron happened, we still needed a tool to help Canadians who would lose their jobs or face reduced hours,” he said.
“But we knew that the economy in September 2021 looked very different than it did in September 2020. Therefore, we could not continue with comprehensive measures that would perhaps discourage work or not encourage maximum participation in the workforce.” .
Last month, the unemployment rate reached 6 percent, or 0.3 percentage points above the level recorded just before the pandemic in February 2020. And the proportion of working-age Canadians with a job reached its lowest point. high.
Looking back at the start of the pandemic, Qualtrough said the government wanted to focus spending on unemployed workers rather than providing income support for everyone in the country, some of whom, like older people, were still getting their benefits. usual despite the recession.
As the employment minister who oversees the best and worst labor markets, Qualtrough says she has been frustrated by the limits in the government’s toolbox to help the worst-hit workers.
He pointed to outdated systems that need to be updated as an example, and the rules in the system that meant some people weren’t covered by all the moves the government made.
“There were people who didn’t benefit the way they would have if we had followed the … broad, but shallower model of helping everyone,” he said.
“I don’t think I would change it. I think we made the best decision for the people who were the hardest hit, certainly at the time.”
This Canadian Press report was first published on December 30, 2021.