Senator Pat Duncan was one of 13 senators who participated in a study on the federal government’s response to COVID-19 and the only one from the territories. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)

North heard ‘very clearly’ in report on Canada’s COVID-19 financial response, Yukon senator says

Canada’s Standing Senate Committee on National Finance has released an interim report on the federal government’s response to COVID-19, calling for more transparency on how financial decisions are made and better support for more Canadians.

COVID-19: Relief in times of crisis contains 16 recommendations including returning to “traditional procedures for approval by Parliament of government spending in order to provide appropriate oversight of government expenditures,” extending the eligibility for businesses that can apply to the Canada Emergency Business Account, modifying the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) so the amount given to applicants is geared to their incomes, and enhancing data collected by Statistics Canada to include more details on region, race, ethnicity and gender.

Yukon senator Pat Duncan was one of 13 senators who participated in the study and the only one from the territories.

She highlighted in an interview July 16 two recommendations that she said would be key to the Yukon, adding that “the North was heard, and very clearly, in this report.”

Recommendation nine, Duncan noted, is a call for the federal government to work with the territories to “ensure that northern airlines have sufficient financial support and access to gateway routes.”

Air North president Joe Sparling was the only Yukoner to make a presentation to the Senate in the lead-up to its report, she said, and “very ably presented the case for the northern air carriers.”

Duncan also took note of recommendation three, which suggests that the federal government, along with provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments, “give full, fair and priority consideration to a basic income guarantee.”

Duncan, separate from the interim report, has been working with other senators to push the federal government to introduce a universal basic income, and said she was “pleased” it also made it into the report.

She added that implementing a basic income was also among the recommendations made by a panel earlier this year that had reviewed the Yukon’s health and social services and programs.

“I’m really interested in this program and the impact it could have and the change it could bring, so I’ll be interested in following that,” she said.

She confirmed that the “haste and trying to deal with emergency situations and provide funding to folks,” resulting in “people falling between the cracks” is an issue that’s affected governments across the country.

“People, businesses, there are situations that fall between the cracks when programs are put forward as quickly as they have been,” she said.

“… And of course there’s also the concern of overseeing the transparency and accountability of government programs.”

She said she supported the recommendation for more in-depth collection of data by Statistics Canada, particularly on who is receiving the different forms of relief being offered by governments as it would help to identify Canadians who aren’t being supported.

“(There’s) this need to ensure our programs are reaching individuals, and again, no one is left out … For example, we’ve heard recently in a number of national news stories and reports that women may be the last to return to the workforce because of the childcare responsibilities and education and home responsibilities. You’re hearing those concerns, that marginalized individuals were not able to access CERB, so to find out … who’s fallen between the cracks and where programs have missed out and people have been forgotten, we’re looking to Stats Can to provide more information,” she explained.

Duncan encouraged Yukoners to read the report and watch other committee hearings.

The full interim report is available online here.

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