A University of Ottawa student who owes the federal government $12,000 is blaming the big bill on bad information he received when applying for Canada’s emergency pandemic benefits.
Alex Coucopoulos, a third-year student, lost both his part-time job and a summer co-op position with Global Affairs Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When he inquired about applying for the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB), he was told by a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) agent that as long as he’d made more than $5,000 in 2019, he would qualify.
Later, when the Canadian emergency student benefit (CESB) became available, Coucopoulos said he checked back in with the CRA to see if he should switch streams and was told CERB remained the better option.
Based application on gross income, not net
Now Coucopoulos is among the tens of thousands of Canadians who’ve received letters stating they may never have been eligible for the CERB benefits they received.
He told CBC News he figured he met the threshold since his gross income for 2019 was above $5,000, as the CRA agent told him.
Eligibility is, in fact, based on net income.
“I called them and I made sure that I [did] the work that I need to do to make sure I’m eligible for it,” Coucopoulos said.
The CRA’s letter advises Coucopoulos to repay the $12,000 in benefits he received by the end of December, although it notes he may have made an “honest mistake” and says no penalties or interest would be charged if he missed that date.
The federal government has acknowledged that it provided unclear instructions when the CERB program was being rolled out, including the information provided to call centre agents.
Coucopoulos said when he called CRA about the letter, he was told he should have applied for the student benefits program instead. He said he asked if he could pay the difference between the two programs — which would save him about $5,000 — but was denied.
Coucopoulos said the government’s acknowledgment just adds to his frustration.
“I’m trying to own up to it and say that I’ll pay the difference. I’m expecting the government — who, you know, supposedly is supposed to help people that need their help — to own up to their mistake too.”
Taxpayers federation say it’s unfair
The Canadian Taxpayer Federation has been outspoken about the need for the government to crack down on fraud in the benefits, but said this situation is a fine line to walk.
“On the one hand, we don’t want to see people who deliberately defraud the system get off the hook,” said Aaron Wudrick, the federation’s federal director.
“But on the other hand, if people didn’t mean to, you know, I don’t think that they should be treated the same way.”
In a year-end interview with CBC, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government would work with people who’d received overpayment letters on a case-by-case basis, but wouldn’t commit to cancelling the repayments outright.
“You don’t have to repay during Christmas,” Trudeau said. “You don’t have to think about Jan. 1 as any deadline, and we’re going to work over the coming weeks and months to make sure that there’s a path forward that makes sense.”
Ottawa Morning5:47CRA warns Ottawa student may have to repay CERB money
Canada reports 146 more COVID-19 deaths as feds approve rapid PCR test – Global News
Another 5,124 cases of COVID-19 were identified in Canada Saturday as the federal government approved its first domestically-produced rapid PCR coronavirus test.
Saturday’s data pushed the national caseload to 742,531, of which over 658,000 patients have since recovered. Another 146 deaths were reported by provincial health jurisdictions as well, with the country’s death toll standing at 18,974.
The new cases paint a limited snapshot of the virus’ spread across the country however, as provinces like B.C. and P.E.I., as well as all the territories do not report new COVID-19 data on the weekend.
The rapid test, according to its developer Spartan Bioscience, is an on-site “point-of-care” kit made to be administered by health-care professionals.
A press release Saturday from the the company said that it was the first “truly mobile, rapid PCR test for COVID-19 for the Canadian market.”
Health Canada’s approval of the test also comes amid further warnings from the country’s top doctor, who said that the virus continued to strain health-care systems despite a decline in average daily case counts from several hard-hit areas.
“As severe outcomes lag behind increased disease activity, we can expect to see ongoing heavy impacts on our healthcare system and health workforce for weeks to come,” said Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam in her Saturday statement.
“This situation continues to burden local healthcare resources, particularly in areas where infection rates are highest.”
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Tam also made a plea to Canadians to continue to follow more stringent and consistent efforts to “sustain a downward trend” in new case counts, as well as to potentially prevent the creation of new virus variants.
“Unless we continue the hard work to suppress COVID-19 activity across Canada, there is a risk that more transmissible virus variants could take hold or even replace less transmissible variants, which could result in a significant and difficult to control acceleration of spread,” wrote Tam.
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Tam’s warning comes as health officials in Ontario confirmed Saturday that the new U.K. coronavirus variant, which is believed to be more contagious, was found at an outbreak in a long-term care home in Barrie.
Ontario registered another 2,359 coronavirus infections on Saturday, as well as 52 more deaths. The province has now overtaken Quebec with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a total caseload of 252,585.
Quebec reported another 1,685 cases on Saturday, raising its total caseload to 252,176. The province, which announced another 76 fatalities, still maintains the highest number of COVID-19-related deaths with a total of 9,437.
Alberta added another 573 cases on Saturday, pushing its total infections to 120,330. Another 13 deaths were recorded in the province.
Saskatchewan added another 274 cases and three more deaths, while Manitoba recorded 216 more cases and three deaths as well.
In Atlantic Canada, only New Brunswick reported new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, with an additional 17.
Worldwide, cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise with a total of 98,529,000 infections so far, according to Johns Hopkins University. A total of 2,115,124 people have since died from contracting the virus, with the U.S., Brazil and India continuing to lead in both cases and deaths.
— with files from Global News’ Hannah Jackson
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
MPs clash over pandemic response as Parliament resumes Monday – CBC.ca
Members of Parliament continue to clash over the federal government’s COVID-19 response as the House of Commons is set to reconvene on Monday for the first time this year.
In a panel interview on CBC Radio’s The House, Conservative MP Michael Chong and Liberal MP Arif Virani offered duelling analogies to describe Canada’s pandemic response, days before deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to drop dramatically over the next four weeks.
“It’s like saying that I have negotiated a contract with six fire departments to respond to my fire, but they won’t respond for six hours when I do have a fire. And my neighbour has negotiated one contract with a single fire department to respond in five minutes,” Chong told host Chris Hall.
“Personally, I’ll take the single contract with the fire department that responds in five minutes because that is going to save my house. We are the country that’s negotiated the contract with six fire departments … that’s the problem here.”
Canada has signed agreements to receive the vaccine from seven companies, including Pfizer and Moderna. Candidates from the remaining suppliers have yet to receive the regulatory green light from Health Canada, though Virani said the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson products are “on the precipice of hopeful approvals.”
“A different analogy would be, with respect to firefighting, about … how much water do you use on the fire? And we’ve been criticized, including by [Chong’s] party, for putting too much water on the fires in terms of the spending that we’ve been doing,” Virani said.
“But our position is clear. We will remain constant in having Canadians’ backs for as long as it takes to weather this pandemic, including running deficits to do so.”
CBC News: The House12:33The pandemic, Parliament and a possible election
Looking ahead to federal budget
In December, the House of Commons rose for a six-week break without deciding how Parliament should safely resume in the new year. It remains to be seen whether MPs will meet virtually with no members physically present in the Commons or whether they’ll continue to follow the hybrid model put in place last year.
“We have been having discussions with the other parties about the return of Parliament on Monday. Those discussions have been constructive,” read a statement from the office of Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez.
But when Parliament does resume — amid soaring COVID-19 caseloads in parts of the country — it also comes as Ottawa prepares for its first federal budget in two years.
“We need to see some action from this government,” NDP deputy House leader Heather McPherson told The House in the same interview. “I mean, we have seen things like child care, we have seen things like pharmacare, over and over and over again in these Liberal throne speeches. But we haven’t seen the action taken.”
McPherson said a child-care strategy will be critical for economic recovery from the pandemic, on top of additional support for small businesses. When Parliament returns, she said the NDP will also be pushing the Liberal government on ending clawbacks of the Canada emergency response benefit and calling for expanded access to paid sick leave.
“If [the Liberals] continue to help deliver for Canadians, then we’ll continue to work with them,” she said.
Conservatives, Liberals lay out priorities
Chong said that the Opposition will be zeroing in on vaccine procurement and improving the pace of Canada’s rollout, among other priorities.
“We’re looking for two measures in the upcoming budget that we believe are really important, one of which the government has indicated it’s supportive of, and that is the changes to the Canada Child Benefit that would help Canadian families, particularly working women and single mothers,” the Conservative foreign affairs critic said.
The party is also looking for additional measures to help small businesses buffeted by a second wave of pandemic restrictions.
Virani said he was “keen” to hear the ideas proposed by his colleagues and laid out some priorities of his own, including immediately working to close a loophole in the federal sickness benefit that allows Canadians quarantining after personal travel to claim sick pay.
Virani, who is also the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, said the new Biden administration in the United States also changes what’s on the government’s to-do list.
“We’ve now got a co-operative administration that understands the importance of greening the planet,” Virani said, “as well as working on issues that are germane to both of our nations.”
That includes a rise in systemic discrimination and online hate — the latter of which Virani says he’s been tackling with Justice Minister David Lametti.
“We’re looking for progress on a number of files, but it starts with the pandemic and addressing the pandemic,” he said.
Spartan Bioscience says Health Canada approves rapid COVID-19 test – CBC.ca
Ottawa-based company Spartan Bioscience has received Health Canada approval for its made-in-Canada rapid COVID-19 test, authorizing the sale of the device.
“Spartan’s test is the first truly mobile, rapid PCR test for COVID-19 for the Canadian market,” a news release from the company states. “The Spartan COVID-19 system offers the speed and ease of use of a rapid test, while using the technology of lab-based COVID-19 testing solutions.”
Health Canada originally provided regulatory approval for the company’s device in April 2020 — with the federal government ordering 40,000 tests monthly. At the time, the portable test was being called a “game changer” by health officials because it could deliver on-location results within 60 minutes.
The federal agency restricted the device to research use in May, however, after finding problems with the test that made it unreliable. Approval was granted on Friday after the company conducted clinical trials based on a new device design, Health Canada spokesperson Natalie Mohamed told CBC News in an email.
“The Spartan Bioscience test is a point-of-care molecular test,” Mohamed wrote. “This new device meets Health Canada’s requirements for safety and effectiveness.”
WATCH | Health Canada approves Canadian-made rapid COVID-19 testing system:
New swab, upgrades to chemistry kit
Dr. James Spiegelman, a co-founder of the company who also practises internal medicine at Humber River Regional Hospital in Toronto, said the problems stemmed from the efficacy of the swabs used to collect tissue samples, not the machine itself.
Spartan originally used a proprietary cheek swab that it developed for other DNA diagnostics, he said, but it became clear that the swab wasn’t collecting enough genetic material to produce consistent, reliable results.
The company now uses standard nasopharyngeal swabs to collect tissue from the nose.
“We found that that provides the best sample for increased sensitivity of the test,” Spiegelman said.
Spiegelman said the company also made improvements to the sample processing kit so that it no longer needs to be shipped and stored at frozen temperatures but can be stored at room temperature.
With the Spartan test, a trained health-care professional swabs the nose of the person being tested, places the swab into a processing kit that generates a chain reaction and then puts that kit into the cube-shaped device, which takes about 50 minutes to analyze and produce results.
Spiegelman said the test could be used to provide quick and accurate COVID-19 diagnostics everywhere from hospitals and workplaces to pharmacies and remote communities.
“I think [Spartan’s rapid test] will really help alleviate and give us a tool in our toolbox to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
Rapid tests already in use across Canada
Rapid diagnostic tests are already in use in many settings across Canada to test for COVID-19, including in homeless shelters, long-term care homes and remote communities. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that the federal government had distributed more than 14 million to the provinces and territories.
“Hopefully we see these integrated into work environments, especially work environments where we know they’re at greater risk for outbreaks,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who is also a member of the Ontario COVID-19 vaccine task force.
“I think you could think about certainly integrating them into certain schools or certain school settings, rural, remote, underserviced locations. There’s a lot of places where rapid tests would be extremely helpful.”
Spartan Bioscience CEO Roger Eacock said the company currently has the manufacturing capacity to produce 60,000 of the tests per week, but the company plans to ramp that up to 200,000 per week in the future.
Eacock said the company already has deals with the federal government and several provinces, as well as some airlines and resource companies, and that shipments are expected to begin in the coming week.
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