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“We have a ways to go before returning to low unemployment rates.,”: Federal Employment Minister

Balancing the pandemic benefits while also driving down the unemployment rate is the task facing Federal Minister of Employment Carla Qualtrough.

At the peak of it all, the jobless rate in Canada reached 13.7% in May but dropped to nearly 11% in July.

Prince George’s jobless rate ballooned to 11.8% in May before declining by two points last month.

Qualtrough told Vista Radio while the country is headed in the right direction a lot of work still needs to be done.

“We’ve got a long way to go in getting back to pre-COVID unemployment rates. We have had some success as a country in getting people back to work, at its highest, there were about 8.5 million people on the CERB and now there is between four and four and a half million.”

“We know the unemployment rate has come down but it’s still very, very high. Part of getting people into the EI system is to work while on claim, working sharing arrangements, and the training through EI.”

Earlier this year, the BC Government announced temporary pandemic pay, which supported eligible employees that delivered in-person, front-line care in health, social services, and corrections during the 16-week period of March 15th to July 4th.

Workers will receive a lump-sum payment equivalent to about $4 per hour for straight-time hours worked, which should be paid out in the fall.

When asked if this might be extended, Qualtrough added they remain in discussions with the province.

“Most of the emergency measures put in place were to run until the end of September now we are working with the provinces as we’ve extended the wage subsidy, the CERB and created some new benefits. Pandemic pay or the essential worker top-up is a key component of that and we are working with the provinces to see what comes next.”

As for the CERB, some modifications have been made to assist sectors like construction to attract more workers.

Qualtrough stated Ottawa removed the requirement that you could only earn $1000 in order to be eligible for the benefit.

“That threshold doesn’t exist anymore and what we have now is kind of a working while on claim model where you can earn more than a thousand dollars and still get this benefit but at tax time, depending on what your annual income is it will be phased out.”

“You can work when you are on EI but at some point, we take 50 cents of every dollar until you reach the amount you got on your EI benefit and then it goes away – that’s what we are doing here.”

One question that is still on the minds of Canadians is how will people be paying for all of these benefit programs in the future, with some believing it will come in the form of tax hikes.

However, Qualtrough stated that won’t be the case.

“The Prime Minister has said it won’t be done through tax hikes and we are going to look at how we can do that in a responsible way. The reality is that people have to pay their mortgages and pay their bills and we didn’t want people losing their homes during a pandemic because we asked them to stop working. We didn’t want bankruptcies and we wanted to help as many people as possible so we were all best positioned to recover.”

“Canadians are justified in knowing what the plan is and we’re going to lay that plan on September 23rd and share our vision for building back better.”

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