More oversight needed for pandemic programs: Hoback

NIPAWIN — A local MP is concerned new government programs created to address COVID-19 aren’t getting proper oversight, especially when it comes to the Prairies’ interests.

Randy Hoback, MP for Prince Albert, spoke to members of the Nipawin and District Chamber of Commerce over Zoom on April 29.

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He told them Saskatchewan and Alberta MPs are in a challenging situation right now since there are no Liberal members in either one of those provinces. When the Canadian government goes to make decisions regarding support programs for those impacted by COVID-19, no one is at the table to represent the Prairies.

For many of the programs the government is legislating, Hoback sees the government writing blank cheques with no checks for fraud.

“That isn't how things operate but that's how it's happening right now. And that's creating a lot of concern for us as a party and as representatives of Western Canada.”

Hoback has heard of a lot of frustration regarding changing eligibility requirements for these programs.

As the government works to bring support services to different groups of people, this means a lot of changes to existing programs so more groups are included for funding. This isn’t exactly a bad thing, Hoback said, but it does make it frustrating when trying to advise people on programs that are available.

Many Canadian ridings are seeing the closures of Service Canada offices, he said, which means even more difficulties in people getting a hold of them. This is just adding to the frustration as constituency offices are taking up the slack and connecting people with answers while programs and eligibility continue to change.

“It's been a moving yardstick about everything we do, so any advice we'd give you out of our office this week is accurate as of [that day] because we don't know, nor do they tell us what's coming down the pipeline.”

The reality is that Canada is going to lose some of its small businesses due to the impacts from COVID-19.

“We need to do everything we can to keep you guys healthy and getting through this as best as possible,” Hoback said.

While programs continue to expand and change, Hoback also made mention of a rental program that can help local businesses who are renting their locations.

Terms have not been solidified at this time but Hoback said it sounds like the grant will be split three ways between federal and provincial governments, and the renter. More information should be coming soon.

“What is there is to help alleviate some of the concerns of people not being able to pay their rent yet. We still want to see him in that facility. It's more for industrial rent, from what I understand.”

Ben Pastaruk, president of the board of the Nipawin and district Chamber of Commerce, was happy with the diverse cross section of the community that attended the meeting.

This is strange, undiscovered country, he said. It is essential that local businesses keep in touch with their elected officials whether they are municipal, provincial, or federal.

“This is a very strange territory and nobody really has any idea how to move forward. Our elected officials have the staff and the resources and the support of the government to give that direction.”

Not being able to attend meetings in person, Pastaruk said the transition to live video meetings has been smooth but it does have its challenges. Jumping into the conversation can be difficult but there are ways of adjusting, he said.

“As long as everybody takes their turns and said what they need to say, maybe keep a pen and paper around and write down your thoughts as you go, they work.”

The Nipawin chamber will be having more meetings in the future with all the chamber members receiving invites via email.

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