‘They make more on CERB, eating Cheezies’: UCP MLA who said federal program encourages people to stay home, fuels drug use says comments taken out of context

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A UCP MLA who criticized CERB for discouraging people from working and fuelling drug use says the NDP took his comments out of context for political gain.

In a video taken at a recent town hall in Parkland County and released by the NDP on Tuesday, Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland MLA Shane Getson said he has heard from employers that they are having difficulty hiring.

“They can’t hire people. And I’m going, ‘well, why not? Because they make more on CERB, eating Cheezies and watching cartoons, I guess,’” Getson said.

The now phased-out Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program supported 8.8 million Canadians whose work was directly affected by COVID-19 with relief payments of $2,000 each month for up to four months. Of those, 1,062,640 Albertans applied, a quarter of whom were between 25 and 34 years old.

Getson also expressed concern that CERB was exacerbating drug use and addictions issues.

“All of a sudden you have that population that has all that extra cash, and now their addiction levels are going through the roof. And then what? The funny money runs out?” said Getson.

On Tuesday, the NDP released a statement calling for Getson and Premier Jason Kenney to issue a public apology.

“It is absolutely vile that a UCP MLA would make such a baseless and harmful statement about the hardworking people of Alberta who were forced to access emergency support during a global pandemic,” said Christina Gray, NDP labour critic.

In a statement to Postmedia, Getson said the NDP took his his remarks out of context for political gain, and the context was that a local business owner raised concerns about not being able to hire workers despite being able to operate.

“Clearly, the vast majority of recipients of government support truly need it. At the same time, some legitimate concerns have been raised about these programs that cannot be ignored,” he said.

He pointed to a July survey from the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses that showed more than a quarter of small businesses were unable to get employees to return to work, with those employees citing a preference for CERB, followed by concerns for their physical health and childcare.

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