You know how the song goes: “If I had $2,000 dollars (if I had $2,000 dollars). I would buy me some cheezies (some nice, flamin’ hot Cheetos).”
Not quite the Barenaked Ladies 90s hit you remember from back in the day?
In a recently surfaced video, one Alberta MLA suggests that’s how people spent their Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) money.
Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland United Conservative MLA Shane Getson made the comment at a town hall earlier this week. In a video, he’s seen arguing that CERB recipients are unwilling to work because they’ve become dependent on the “funny money” and spend it on drugs, cartoons and, yes, cheezies.
“[Businesses] can’t hire people ... because they’re making more on CERB, eating cheezies and watching cartoons, I guess,” Getson said.
Getson also argues that the CERB has led to more drug use and addiction problems.
“All of a sudden you’ve got that population that has all that extra cash and now their addiction levels are going through the roof,” he said. “And then what? The funny money runs out.”
While opioid deaths have spiked in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no evidence that there is a direct link to the CERB.
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According to Statistics Canada, over one million Albertans applied for and received the CERB over the past six months, which was designed as federal financial support for people whose work was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In April and May of this year, the unemployment rate spiked to 15.5 per cent in the province.
Recipients making under $1,000 a month were eligible for a monthly payment of $2,000 for up to four months. The program ends this week after being extended until the end of September, with CERB-eligible people being transitioned to a new version of Employment Insurance.
The video with Getson’s comments was first shared by Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley. Her party is calling for Getson and Premier Jason Kenney to apologize for the comments.
NDP labour critic Christina Gray called the comments “absolutely vile,” in a statement Tuesday.
“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,” Gray said.
NDP critic for addictions and mental health Heather Sweet said the comments were particularly ignorant of the realities of drug use in the province.
“For an MLA to essentially joke about addictions at this time is beyond the pale,” she said. “It speaks to the lack of compassion this government repeatedly shows when it comes to addressing mental health and addictions in this province.”
Kenney’s issues management director Matt Wolf defended the video in a Twitter thread Tuesday afternoon.
“None of this is to say CERB shouldn’t have been established at all. CERB has been a lifeline to for millions of Canadians,” he wrote. “But it’s also not wrong to question if there may have been some negative effects in a minority of cases.”
Getson is expected address the video later Tuesday afternoon.