Published:December 10, 2021
-Globe and Mail
A Liberal MP from Alberta is denying an allegation that he offered a member of his community advice on how to cheat the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
George Chahal, who is the MP for Calgary-Skyview, said in a statement that the suggestion of wrongdoing was “fabricated.”
“During the pandemic with an absence of leadership I stepped up to ensure my community had accurate information on vaccines and supports,” Mr. Chahal said.
The allegation originated months ago on a provincewide radio talk show whose host, Shaye Ganam, is an Alberta media personality. It did not attract widespread attention until Thursday, when Conservative MP John Brassard raised it during Question Period.
The day after Mr. Chahal won his riding in the Sept. 20 election, a caller to the radio show who gave his name as “Steve” described an encounter that he said took place before the election, when Mr. Chahal was a Calgary city councillor.
The caller, who said he was a small business owner, claimed that Mr. Chahal had advised him to tell the federal government that he had paid wages to each member of his family. The caller said he followed this advice, even though his children, wife and grandmother didn’t normally work.
By claiming that his family members had lost income during the pandemic, the caller said, he was able to make Canada Emergency Response Benefit claims for each of them. The pandemic-assistance program, better known as CERB, provided monthly $2,000 cheques to Canadians whose livelihoods were devastated by COVID-19. CERB ended in 2020.
The caller said he collected thousands of dollars in benefits and voted for Mr. Chahal in the federal election as a result.
Asked, on the program, what he would do if the Canada Revenue Agency followed up on the situation, the caller said: “Well, I’m sending them straight to George’s office because it was all his idea and everybody in Skyview did it. Everyone 15 years old and older.”
During Thursday’s Question Period, Mr. Brassard asked government members in the House to consider the possibility of a Liberal directing his constituents to “fraudulently claim the CERB.”
In response, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said the government has zero tolerance for fraud.
“We are systematically following up on every active case and every issue that we address through CERB,” the minister told the house.
Her office did not respond Friday to a question about whether it is investigating the radio caller’s case.
Mr. Brassard wrote to the Canada Revenue Agency this week. In his letter, he outlines his concerns about the matter and calls for a probe.
“It is critical to maintaining Canadians’ trust in the fair administration of the benefits programs that any concerns about Mr. Chahal providing inaccurate information which led to the ineligible claims be investigated,” he told the agency.
Breanne Stephenson, a spokesperson for the CRA, declined to comment on the matter. She added that the agency is prohibited from releasing any information on leads it receives or subsequent actions taken.
In a statement Friday, Mr. Brassard said that if the allegations are fabricated, as Mr. Chahal suggests, then that will be proven.
“If shown to be true, he will have to answer for that,” Mr. Brassard added.
Mr. Chahal has previously defended himself against allegations that he interfered with a rival’s election literature, after doorbell-camera footage appeared to show him removing a Conservative candidate’s flyer from a mailbox.