Posted on Sep 30, 2020


EDMONTON - Premier Jason Kenney and MLA Shane Getson refuse to apologize for offensive comments directed at over a million Albertans who accessed the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

CERB recipients and the NDP Official Opposition Caucus have been calling for an apology since the video surfaced Tuesday in which UCP MLA for Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland Shane Getson claimed that CERB recipients used the money to purchase “cheezies”, watch “cartoons” and do drugs. Getson said addicts would consider the support to be “funny money” and would use it to purchase drugs. 

After his comments surfaced, Getson issued a public statement in which he doubled down on his comments.

NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray noted the UCP itself accessed a federal wage subsidy program to keep its party office running during the pandemic. 

“The Albertans struggling during this pandemic, who were rightly offended by these hurtful comments, deserve an apology from Jason Kenney and Shane Getson,” said Christina Gray NDP Labour Critic. “The UCP have shown the depth of their hypocrisy with their decision to use a loophole to take taxpayer dollars to finance their debt-ridden party HQ and then choosing to support and actually endorse the public shaming of the one million Albertans who actually needed supports to put food on their tables and keep roofs over their heads during a global pandemic.”

NDP Mental Health and Addictions Critic Heather Sweet said Getson’s comments were horrific, especially in light of new information released last week that showed 449 Albertans have died as a result of opioid addictions in 2020 in Alberta alone.

“People are begging for help from this government and instead they’re being insulted,” Sweet said. “There isn’t a shred of compassion. If Jason Kenney really cared about supporting people struggling with addiction he would apologize and tell this province what exactly Shane Getson is going to do to make amends for his comments.

NDP Women’s Issues Critic Janis Irwin said the pandemic has been particularly hard on women and that she’d been flooded with comments from Albertans who said the pain of their struggles that past eight months was made worse once Getson’s comments were revealed.

“What this MLA said was wrong,” Irwin said. “It was callous and it was cruel. I would welcome him to sit down with some of my constituents to explain himself and truly understand the pain he’s caused.”

On Wednesday, NDP MLAs were joined by numerous CERB recipients to demand a formal apology from both Premier Kenney and Getson. 

Jaime Morrow is a substitute teacher from Lacombe and wasn’t able to work after schools closed in March. Her husband Todd Fink lost his job as an electrician in February.

“The CERB is what kept a roof over my family's head and food in our stomachs for the past six months, as it did for many other Albertans and many other Canadians,” said Morrow, who was also joined Wednesday by her four-year-old daughter Gemma. “This UCP government is completely devoid of empathy. They should (but won't) be ashamed of themselves.”

Maggie Carrier-Smith was due to start a Women’s Building Futures program as the COVID-19 lockdown was put in place. She was left with no option but to turn to CERB to support herself and two young kids.

“I have no family supports in Alberta,” she said. “My family lives in the United States and the border closed. My only option was to access support money. There was nothing lavish about our lifestyle, but it saved us the hardship of traumas that lead to more dependence and expense to the province, which is important for conservatives to keep in mind before they make disparaging comments about citizens.”

Eren Hendersen provides practical support to people with mental health and physical issues, driving them to and from appointments and assisting them in other ways. He also lost his job and turned to CERB. The funding allowed him to purchase medications he relies on. He said Getson’s comments were very harmful 

“I was just absolutely gutted,” Hendersen said. “It’s just insulting beyond compare that he would make these kind of comments for a million Albertans. Many of these people, including myself, would have lost their homes without this funding.”

Eagan Johnston underwent surgery during the pandemic and then relied on CERB during the recovery period.

“I mean did I buy some cheezies as comfort food while I worried about a friend who had COVID-19,” Johnston said. “Did some of that money go to Disney so I could watch something other than the death toll on TV? Of course. But the absolute vast majority of my CERB money went towards vital supports for me while I was unable to work. That money kept me fed, housed and safe while my body was recovering.”

The NDP continues to call on the UCP to issue a formal apology and to commit to steps it will take to support Albertans still struggling to make ends meet during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.