I’m not sure what Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s (NTI) top leaders were thinking during their recent annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay this past week when they passed a resolution calling on the federal government to forgive any debts incurred by Inuit who collected the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) when they were ineligible to do so during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The resolution claimed Inuit should not be exposed to undue hardship through their taking of the benefits and that benefits received in error should be forgiven.
The first lesson to be learned here falls on the ears of the Government of Nunavut, which should immediately conduct a quick study as to the time and costs associated with Premier Joe Savikataaq’s countless reminders to Nunavummiut that people claiming CERB benefits who knew they weren’t eligible to receive them will have to pay the benefits back, most likely with interest and penalties attached.
Obviously, Savikataaq’s warnings fell on a number of deaf ears and NTI’s approach to solving the problem is wrong in so many ways, beginning with the message it sends Nunavut youth that it’s OK to accept money earmarked for their fellow Canadians who were left in hard times by Covid-19 and badly needed the CERB payments to keep their own families afloat.
Despite the waste of time Savikataaq’s well-intentioned warnings may have ultimately been, the premier could not have envisioned NTI’s resolution. It encourages Inuit to be dishonest and not claim responsibility for receiving their ill-gotten gains. It also shows a lack of empathy for the all-too-real struggles of their fellow Canadians to put food on their table during these most trying times.
NTI’s contention that all CERB payments received by Inuit were done so in error, and should be forgiven on that reason alone, is outrageous.
You would be hard pressed to find a tiny number of Canadians in any part of this country who did not realize for whom, and to what end, the CERB payments were intended.
Having an organization with the standing of NTI make such a claim during a pandemic, to shield a group of its people who knew what they were doing was wrong and would come with consequences, simply defies description.
The federal government is not in the business of printing free money for anyone in this country to use at their leisure — certainly not for the working class at any time in the history of this country.
CERB can be treated no differently than the consequences that await anyone who cheats on their income tax, employment insurance or any other form of social payment. They are accountable for their own actions and can expect to be financially punished for their indiscretion.
And that’s the way it should be.
There are all sorts of people in this country whose second language is English and/or who did not complete a high level of formal education, yet realized it was wrong to claim money they were not entitled.
There were also numerous Canadians who knew they weren’t eligible for CERB but applied anyway, spending the windfall as it came in and gambling they wouldn’t be caught and forced to pay it back.
Is the same courtesy to be extended to every Canadian who claims they didn’t understand who CERB was intended for, or just those who live within the borders of Nunavut?
It will be hard to watch families struggle to make ends meet — especially those with kids — who rolled the dice on getting away with CERB payments they knew they weren’t entitled to and ended up being caught. But that’s what being held accountable for your actions means.
The rules apply to everyone and it’s time those in this country who would have different rules for different people are stopped in their tracks once and for all.
Few things are as divisive as different rules and standards for different folks depending on the situation. One word used to describe such abuse these days is systemic.
Food for thought!