How much would it have cost the government to check every CERB application?

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-05-14 17:44


I hope I won’t use it all and then more members can ask questions.

I’m not sure which officials I need to ask this, but it’s following up on this general conversation we’ve been having about getting things out quickly versus full controls and rigour. What I wanted to suggest, because it’s been missing in this conversation, is that part of the reason for speed is flattening the curve. People won’t stay home and stay away from work if they’re not financially secure and don’t see some aid coming. There’s the connection between getting CERB out quickly, getting it to everyone who needs it quickly, and not necessarily being concerned at the front end with making sure that everybody is “eligible”. I wouldn’t call it all fraud. I certainly agree with the chair that there are lots of circumstances here where there could be confusion.

What I wanted to ask officials was, to get a sense of if the instructions had been other than what they were, if the instructions had been, “Don’t approve anyone until you’ve checked, you’ve gone back into their background, and you know that this is someone who deserves the benefit.” What would that have cost the Government of Canada? Did we have the capacity to do that?

We’ve heard from witnesses that it would have significantly delayed when people got their money, for which I think there would have been a public health impact. This is a public policy issue at a very high level. I just wonder, is there any estimate of what it would have cost the Government of Canada to have staff checking all the applications?

Frank Vermaeten
2020-05-14 17:46

I’m happy to respond from our perspective.

I want to clarify that there are certainly upfront checks that are done. For example, we check that the social insurance number is valid, that the person is of legitimate age to be able to receive this and that there’s no double-dipping with respect to the various programs. Certainly there is upfront verification. I just wanted to assure you that it’s not without that.

With respect to creating a system where individuals would have to prove that, in fact, they have no income, I can’t tell you what the cost would be, but I can tell you it would be an extremely lengthy process to provide us the information. That they don’t have income is very difficult to prove in real time. I think not only would it have been very costly, but I think most importantly it would also have delayed the ability to get the money out to individuals by weeks, if not months.