Alberta’s NDP wants the UCP government to recognize the stress and financial strain of the holiday lockdown.
The NDP have proposed the Holiday Emergency Lifeline Payment program to provide $1,000 to each worker who was laid off, or furloughed, during the second closure while they wait for Employment Insurance or the Canada Recovery Benefit which can take two weeks to arrive.
A second proposed program would provide five mental health therapy sessions through the provincial insurance plan.
“Being in the second lockdown, with the number of people whose employment and employment security is at risk, who are over Christmas are being told they can’t see their families and have to be on their own, we know that there is tremendous potential for emotional stress leading to persistent mental health issues if it’s not properly addressed,” said NDP leader Rachel Notley.
She said addressing the risk of developing persistent mental health, or addictions challenges, as a result of what people are going through right now, is a short-term investment for long-term gain.
Federal relief programs keep roofs over head, but still represent a loss in income for many Albertans, and the Holiday Emergency program would help during this difficult time while also assisting retailers and businesses, she said.
“Let’s face it, that money would be reinvested in our economy.”
Notley said it was good to see the province recently increase relaunch grants to small and medium businesses, and improve eligibility. But the NDP also encourages a zero interest credit program, among other proposals, to support businesses.
“While most businesses are saying they don’t want more debt, we do know that many of them have had to take on very expensive debt. One thing the government could do is help them trade off for lower cost debt.”
She said ultimately the province must stop pitting economic health against the health and safety of Albertans. In putting in place half measures in November to keep the economy open, Alberta had less economic activity than jurisdictions with more restrictions in place.
“We should have been taking more strategic and effective measures to restrict the spread of the virus, and while doing that supporting small and medium-sized businesses through the challenges.”
She said the pandemic has also exposed the need to improve the health and safety of seniors in continuing care. It’s not just an Alberta problem, but other provinces have started investing in continuing care and the front-line health care workforce.
“We now have exploding infections, and in some very tragic cases, fatalities. This is something we need to get a handle on, and it’s very clear as well that privately delivered care in the continuing care sector is more risky to the residents who live there.”
So far Alberta’s acute health care system has been managing COVID-19 challenges with the heroic sacrifices of staff who in the spring were under attack by the UCP government, she said.
“I think everybody working on the front lines really deserves our acknowledgement and debt of gratitude.”
Notley said for the most part Albertans have stepped up to support each other and follow the rules through the pandemic.
“What I know is all Albertans, and the city of Red Deer is a perfect example of it, have a tremendous level of resilience and ultimately optimism. I do think we’re going to come out of this very strong.”