NOTES/QUOTES #16: Epic pandemic partying, prohibition not solution, cracking eco-nuts
Free money? Yay! … er, nay.
The Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) is supposed to be for people who have lost income directly due to the COVID-19 shutdown of the economy.
The CERB provides $2,000 a month for four months and is easy to receive. Basically, you just affirm you meet these qualifications:
- Residing in Canada, who are at least 15 years old;
- Who have stopped working because of reasons related to COVID-19 or are eligible for
- Employment Insurance regular or sickness benefits or have exhausted their Employment Insurance regular benefits or Employment Insurance fishing benefits between Dec. 29, 2019 and Oct. 3, 2020;
- Who had employment and/or self-employment income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of their application; and,
- Who have not quit their job voluntarily.
The feds received some nine million applications as of April 21, paying out $21.3 billion.
Now a hastily complied program such as this is ripe for abuse. The government itself states the money — which will be counted as taxable income on next year’s returns — could be clawed back in a later audit of the program.
The CERB is a temporary stop-gap for those affected by pandemic closures and slowdowns, and is aimed at getting money out quickly — to those who need it. It’s a blunt instrument, not accounting for pre-pandemic incomes, cost of living quirks across various regions and isn’t supposed to fully cover all costs.
I mean, $2,000 a month can easily go for rent and power for a modest apartment in Yellowknife. It won’t help make up for lost pension investments. It won’t allow people to pay off pre-pandemic debts. Combined with other sources of income — maybe employment insurance? — it can help folks get by until the economy opens up again.
Which can’t come soon enough.
But the CERB is also causing problems in some sectors.
In a report on the program, the NWT Disabilities Council says some residents ended up in “unstable housing where there was heavy alcohol and drug consumption.”
That’s too bad, as the program was largely a success, with the quarantined folks drinking less, eschewing hard drugs and generally getting their health and lives on track.
The CERB has also caused problems in Fort Providence, which is struggling with COVID-19 locked-down folks gathering together — illegally, right now — for boozy house parties.
Hamlet councillor Linda Croft told News/North excessive drinking has been a problem — and she blames it on the community being awash with cash from the federal government.
“I do know that there was a lot of money in town and a lot of partying going on,” she said. “… with large sums of money coming in from CERB payments and things like that, you can’t do anything. So what do you do with the money?”
That money is supposed to be for people who need it to survive. Not to have epic pandemic parties.
Deh Gah Got’ie First Nation Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge also told News/North one of the big problems has been the influx of CERB money.
“There has been a big gush of federal and territorial governments’ money coming into the community,” he is quoted as saying. “The RCMP were complaining, (not long ago) that the ATMs could not keep up in this community. Drug dealers and bootleggers know when the town is flush with cash. They know.”
This is clearly an unintended consequence of a hastily arranged federal program.
I hope some of those folks misusing the CERB money won’t be caught shortchanged if the Canada Revenue Agency comes calling, looking for its money back.
That could mean a serious drop in an expected tax return next spring — or even require paying money back — which could place people in legal jeopardy.
Not to mention the health concerns of excessive drinking and drugging right now. Oh, and the ignoring of the COVID-19 regulations regarding gatherings and house visits.
I’m less concerned with the latter, as we do not have community spread of the novel coronavirus in the NWT.
ERASMUS MAKES AN ERROR
Now, I like Roy Erasmus. He’s a smart guy who knows how to tailor his writing for the audience he hopes to reach. He’s also a self-confessed recovering alcoholic and I have a great respect for folks who have managed to beat the bottle and moved towards successfully living one day at a time.
I used to edit his When the Heart Says No column in News/North when I was working there years ago. He knows of what he speaks. Usually.
But he flubbed a bit in his May 4 column, entitled: “People drinking more during COVID-19”
He argued that all liquor stores should be closed during the COVID-19 situation.
“Liquor stores stay open. People are drinking more. Family violence is up. Not cool,” he wrote. “The GNWT has refused to close liquor stores indicating many people would go into withdrawals and it could overwhelm the NWT health care system. Eschia! To appease Indigenous leaders, they did reduce liquor store hours and the amount of booze a person can buy each day. Yay … that’s a good start.
“I get that our health care system needs to be ready to manage a potential outbreak of COVID-19 cases. But look at the potential damage from continuing to sell booze.”
He concludes: “And of course, if they shut down the liquor stores, there won’t be any house parties and all the associated problems mentioned earlier. Yay. Yahoo. Right on.”
The GNWT did respond to Indigenous leaders’ demands to shut down liquor stores by slapping a $200 daily purchase maximum by an individual. Of course, that doesn’t really do a lot to curb over-drinking, but is could put the cork into some casual bootleggers’ business plans.
I just don’t see why everyone in the NWT needs to have a legal service — deemed essential by the GNWT — taken away from them because of issues that could be better dealt with in communities, by Indigenous leaders, or by the law.
But then Erasmus makes the case for Managed Alcohol Programs (MAPs), obviously without knowing one had been in operation in Yellowknife for the month of May and is now continuing at the Arnica Inn, now under the control of Yellowknife Women’s Society.
He wrote: “Managed alcohol programs (MAPs) could be a solution to the concern that banning liquor sales could cause so many people to go into withdrawals that our health care system would be overwhelmed.
“Apparently, MAPs was a suggestion for the NWT in the past. I think we have a unique opportunity now to try something different and see if it works.”
Well, he’s spot on there. It has worked.
Now should have Erasmus done a bit of research before he wrote his column, as there have been several stories about the MAP at the Day Shelter/Sobering Centre? Yes.
Should his editor have caught that problem and flagged it for Erasmus, to prevent him from being embarrassed and News/North presenting unclear and confusing information for readers? Yes.
A NOTE FROM THE BLOGGER
Readers of my blog might notice I have critiqued a few columns in recent Northern News Services publications. I am not just picking on NNSL, my former employer, as I am not a disgruntled former employee. In fact, I’m actually gruntled about being offered the opportunity to move to Yellowknife and explore northern journalism by the management at NNSL.
And I applaud NNSL for being the only media outlet that provides regular editorials and commentary along with its news, sports and other coverage. That being said, by doing so, it opens itself up to opinions on published commentary from the public. And on this website and in this blog, that’s me.
To prove that I’m not just picking on NNSL, below I’ll offer my thoughts on an opinion piece on the CBC North website. CBC does publish the occasional bit of local news analysis, along with opinions from outside sources. Such as a recent piece containing some hilariously unfeasible thoughts from local eco-activist Thomas Gagnon-van Leeuwen.
GREEN DREAMS A NIGHTMARE
I’m not going to waste too much time on this April 28 piece, entitled: “NWT mines are COVID-19 time bombs — let’s put people over profit.”
The headline indicates this is an ideologically driven person, who doesn’t quite realize how integral mining is to the North.
And sure enough, Thomas Gagnon-van Leeuwen is described as an organizer with Our Time Yellowknife, “the local chapter of a grassroots, youth-led climate justice movement for a Green New Deal in Canada.”
In fact, I really shouldn’t read these types of columns, as they just drive my rage meter to 11 and sacrifice any grace I might have for the rest of the day.
Gagnon-van Leeuwen describes the remaining NWT mines still in operation as “ticking time bombs that risk causing a COVID-19 outbreak.”
Clearly, he doesn’t understand the intense safety protocols that surround the entire mining industry, which have only been enhanced since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Canada.
“The pandemic is a wake-up call: we need a new economy that puts people over profit. For the past year, I have been organizing with Our Time Yellowknife to promote just this. It’s called the Green New Deal,” stated Gagnon-van Leeuwen.
“It would create thousands of good jobs to tackle the existential threat of climate breakdown. This could include addressing the NWT’s dire housing crisis and investing in child care and healing programs, which are low-carbon sectors. It would uphold Indigenous rights and leave no one behind.”
Fooey. Who would pay for all of this? Nothing short of billions of dollars in federal government investment would finance what I’ve read that’s included in concepts of a Green New Deal.
And until advocates include nuclear power generation along with micro-grids, solar, wind and wood pellets, I won’t take them seriously.
Thankfully, CBC North did post a “counter op-ed” on May 5 by Mike Vaydik — entitled “NWT diamond mines have earned our confidence and support in time of COVID-19 crisis” — whose bio states has worked in mineral and petroleum exploration and as the manager of the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines from 1996 to 2010.
“I believe that the northern diamond mines are uniquely situated, resourced and motivated to manage those risks as demonstrated by their award-winning workplace safety record. I trust they are responding to the challenges of COVID-19 just as effectively,” stated Vaydik.
“The diamond mines, according to the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, have paid over $400 million in what I call ‘bonus’ taxes to the NWT government since they opened. These are fuel and property tax, for which they get no services.
“I’m no health expert, but Dr. Kami Kandola, our chief public health officer, is. She says that the mines have measures in place to protect their workers and the rest of us.”
Exactly. Many on the left are trying to use the pandemic as an excuse to re-imagine society in their vision. This is not the time to push fantastical economic and societal experiments.
Our ways of living are very fragile now. The best we can hope for is to return — safely — to something akin to what we had.