While provincial re-openings continue to dominate Canada’s headlines with respect to COVID-19, the federal government is adjusting their support programs to assist Canadians and small businesses with the transition back to work. Here are some of the government’s recent announcements related to COVID-19:
- Today Prime Minister Trudeau announced plans to extend the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) by two months, though July and August. Providing support of $500 per week, the program has cost the government $43 billion to date. This is in recognition of the challenges many still face in returning to work as businesses gradually reopen in many sectors of the economy. The move also meets a demand by the NDP caucus, who made the CERB extension a condition of their support for passing the supplementary estimates in the House of Commons, which is a confidence measure.
- This move comes on the heels of last week’s failure by the government to secure support from the opposition parties for new penalties for those who abuse the CERB program. While the NDP opposed the measures, the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois tied their support to other demands. The Conservatives maintain that Parliament should resume a normal sitting schedule, while the Bloc demanded an economic update from the government and repayment of the wage subsidy by political parties. The government’s inability to forge a consensus signals a shift back to pre-pandemic political dynamics.
- This coming Friday, the government will start accepting applications for the revamped Canada Emergency Business Account. The program is being expanded to include sole proprietors, farmers, and businesses who use contractors or pay themselves through dividends. The $55 billion program provides qualifying small businesses and not-for-profits with a $40,000 loan, $10,000 of which will be forgiven if paid back by the end of 2022.
- The Prime Minister also formally announced that the Canada-US border will remain closed to non-essential travel for at least another month, until July 21. The government has recently made changes to allow immediate family members to cross the border.
- The Prime Minister also fielded questions about the treatment of Temporary Foreign Workers after two farm workers died from COVID-19 in Ontario over the past month, while another 300 have been infected. In response, Mexico is halting the travel of TFWs to Canada, leaving approximately 5000 jobs in jeopardy.
- Last Friday, the Prime Minister announced that all air travellers would be subject to mandatory temperature checks, to be phased in gradually starting with international travellers to Canada as of June 30, followed by travellers leaving Canada by the end of July, and then by September domestic travellers at major airports. This follows measures earlier this month recommending or requiring masks to be worn by passengers, crew and workers in aviation, marine, rail, public transit, trucking and motorcoach transport.
- Last week, the government announced provincial allocations of $2.2 billion in accelerated gas tax funding to municipalities. While this is not new money and will not address the $10-15 billion in municipal deficits arising from the pandemic, the government has said this measure is just a start and recognizes that more is needed. Around the same time, the Prime Minister announced that the federal government had offered $14 billion to the provinces to pay for COVID-19 restart efforts, including ramped up testing and tracing, paid sick leave, child care and municipal services like transit. This offer was rejected by the provinces as being insufficient and coming with too many strings attached given varying regional needs.
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