Today we are providing you a digest of federal government announcements related to COVID-19 made over the past several days:
Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) update
The first day of the CERB application process appears to have gone smoothly. The government announced today that over 966,000 Canadians have successfully applied for the $2000 per month benefit. Canadians can apply this week based on their birth month (eg. those born in January, February & March applied yesterday), either online or via a toll-free number. It will take 3-5 days to receive payment with direct deposit or 10 days by mail.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that the federal government is looking to fill some of the remaining gaps in income support for workers affected by the pandemic. The government will be providing “top-ups” for those working less than 10 hours or reduced hours or who are continuing to work but earning less than the full amount of the CERB, with details to be announced this week. In addition, the government is working on solutions for college and university students whose summer jobs may now be in jeopardy. Post-secondary students will see their student loan income dry up by the end April, and many may not have earned the $5000 over the past year or calendar year required to qualify for the CERB.
Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy & recalling parliament
Last night, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez announced that the government has shared draft legislation with the opposition to enable the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, in a move he described as “unprecedented.” Typically, opposition parties obtain proposed legislation when it is tabled at first reading. By sharing the draft legislation, the parties can negotiate changes to the legislation in advance, much as they did during the last emergency sitting. It would be political suicide for the opposition parties to oppose the wage subsidy, but they have some leverage to adjust the program or request new measures, as any legislation must be passed by unanimous consent so that it can quickly become law in order to deliver the subsidy in a timely manner.
The Globe and Mail reported today that the draft wage subsidy bill will give businesses more flexibility to measure revenue decline by using January and February as reference periods under certain conditions. The Prime Minister said that the government “will continue to rely on industry feedback and input to refine the legislation,” indicating that the program announced last week may undergo further changes.
The Conservatives have suggested that the government increase the charity tax credit for 2020 and remove the capital gains tax on charitable donations as measures to support the hard-hit charitable sector. They are also calling for “regular accountability and oversight sessions” in the House of Commons, where a reduced number of MPs would sit in-person. The government is proposing another option, by asking the Speaker of the House of Commons to provide advice on how to hold virtual sittings. This would require a change to the rules that govern parliamentary proceedings (the Standing Orders) with support from the opposition parties.
Support for severely impacted sectors
The government is currently preparing a support package for the most severely impacted sectors of the economy, namely aviation, oil & gas, tourism and news media.
Support for vulnerable Canadians
The lockdown measures required to combat the COVID-19 pandemic are especially challenging for vulnerable Canadians. Over the weekend the government announced measures to alleviate these challenges, including:
- $100 million to meet the urgent food needs of the most vulnerable, including northern and Indigenous communities. This will help food banks to buy and deliver provisions.
- $40 million for women’s shelters and sexual assault centres across the country, including up to $26 million to address the immediate needs of around 575 violence against women shelters. Another $10 million will be given to Indigenous Services Canada to support 46 emergency Indigenous women and children’s shelters on reserves and in the Yukon.
- $157 million to support homeless Canadians via the federal government’s Reaching Home program. This funding will help communities buy things like physical barriers for shelters or rent new spaces to keep people safe amid the coronavirus outbreak.
- The GST credit will be increased in April, one month earlier than previously announced. The federal government pledged to double the tax credit for the 2019-20 tax year, providing $400 in financial assistance for single people and $600 for couples. The 11.9 million Canadian families who qualify for the credit got their regular quarterly payment on April 3, with the additional 100 per cent top up coming this week.
Temporary Foreign Workers
Prime Minister Trudeau will have more to say in the coming days on how temporary foreign workers are properly quarantined upon entry to Canada, while assuring farmers and fish processors they will have the support they need this year. However, he also pointed out employers should consider hiring Canadians who are out of work, including students looking for summer jobs.
Canadian Business Resilience Network
The federal government has partnered with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to launch the Canadian Business Resilience Network, which is providing tools and supports to business for health and safety, business continuity and economic recovery efforts.
Military support for remote communities
At the request of the Quebec government, the Canadian Rangers will be supporting Quebec public health officials in Nunavik, with the goal of screening and minimizing spread, by helping to install tents and other infrastructure.
Today, Chief Public Officer Health Dr. Theresa Tam announced Canada’s first case of COVID-19 in an Inuit community, which is a major concern given heightened risk of spread in remote communities where people live in close proximity and health care infrastructure is limited.
Reservists in the Canadian Armed Forces are being offered full-time employment and benefits until the end of the summer to remain on standby, as the government prepares for the possibility of providing military assistance during this pandemic. There are currently 36, 381 reservists in the CAF. An additional 67,492 members make up the rest of Canada’s military forces.
The federal government continues to be pressed on when they will release data modelling for Canada’s projected COVID-19 cases. Ontario released their stark numbers this past Friday, while Quebec and Alberta are releasing their models today.
The Prime Minister has committed to release the data as quickly as possible, but only once the government is confident they have “the most robust model and most accurate projections.”
The Public Service Commission is recruiting volunteers to create a national database which provincial and territorial governments can draw from as needed. Canadians are being asked to volunteer to assist with case tracking and contact tracing; case data collection and reporting; and, health system surge capacity. Volunteers can apply online here until April 24.
Personal Protective Equipment
The Prime Minister announced today that a group of Canadian manufacturers will be working together to manufacture 30,000 ventilators in the coming weeks and months. This agreement was made between Thornhill Medical, CAE, Ventilators for Canadians and StarFish Medical, among others. The government also announced that it had agreements with dozens of Canadian companies to produce medical gowns, hand sanitizer and masks.
With the peak of intensive care unit admissions expected in Ontario and Quebec hospitals around April 18, Canadian officials are working to shore up its supply of PPE for health care workers in order to circumvent feared shortages.
As an immediate stop-gap measure, 500,000 N95 respirator masks will be arriving in Canada today following an agreement made late last night between White House administration and manufacturer 3M. A press statement from 3M released last evening confirmed that Canada would continue to receive supplies. This comes after significant pressure from Canadian officials to allow the flow of PPE and health care workers to continue across the border unimpeded.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand said that 8 million surgical masks were delivered by plane from China today. In total, 75 million N95 masks are on order, with 2.3 million coming by end of week.
The government announced that it has leased a warehouse in China where supplies will be collected and prepared for transport to Canada. It has also signed an agreement with Amazon Canada to manage the distribution of PPE to the provinces and territories, working with Canada Post, Purolator and other local delivery partners.
Finally, Dr. Tam revised the government’s public health guidance to Canadians regarding the wearing of masks in public, advising that wearing non-medical masks can help to protect Canadians in circumstances where social distancing is difficult to maintain, such as shopping in the grocery store or riding public transit. She advised people not to use medical face masks because this gear should be reserved for health-care professionals.
If you have questions, please reach out directly to a member of our federal team: