'An especially tough time': Feds rolling out targeted COVID-19 help for some sectors
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a new range of targeted financial measures to help the energy, arts, culture, and sports sectors particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic that has halted many aspects of Canadian life.
Through new measures aimed at assisting these industries, the federal government says it is providing additional support for some sectors that have fallen through the cracks of current financial assistance programs, with the intent of creating and maintaining jobs.
“Over the past few weeks, the pandemic has created anxiety and uncertainty for all Canadians, but some are going through an especially tough time. COVID-19 has brought many industries to a halt, and workers across the country are struggling as a result,” Trudeau said.
The measures announced Friday include specific steps to get workers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Newfoundland and Labrador back on the job, as well as additional help for rural business owners across the country.
Also Friday, it was announced that Canada and the United States have agreed to extend the current closure of the border to all non-essential travel for at least another month, while negotiations continue whether Parliament will resume.
ENERGY SECTOR MEASURES
Instead of taking on a broader energy industry bailout as some stakeholders had called for, the federal government has announced it is:
- Spending $1.7 billion to clean up orphan and inactive wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and B.C. which the Liberals say will maintain 5,200 jobs in Alberta alone and will allow development on inactive land;
- Establishing a $750 million Emission Reduction Fund, with a focus on methane, to “create and maintain up to 10,000 jobs through pollution reduction efforts,” including $75 million to help the offshore industry cut emissions in Newfoundland and Labrador; and
- Expanding credit support for at-risk medium-sized energy companies, “so they can maintain operations and keep their employees.”
“Right now, workers and families are struggling because of things beyond their control. Both the devastating effects of the pandemic and the price war driven by foreign interests are a challenge,” Trudeau said on Friday. “As a result, companies have had to slow down or pause their operations, leaving too many people out of work.”
Up to $1 billion for the orphan well funding is going to Alberta, up to $400 million is going to Saskatchewan, up to $120 million will go to the government of British Columbia, and $200 million is going to the Alberta Orphan Well Association, which it will have to fully repay.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney offered his thanks to Trudeau for the energy sector help, saying it will be “critical to getting thousands of people in the energy sector back to work immediately.”
Asked why the federal government hasn’t offered a more expansive energy industry bailout, Trudeau pointed to programs already rolled out to help out of work Canadians, including those in the oil and gas sector, like the 75 per cent wage subsidy.
The prime minister said the measures his government announced will also maintain focus on fighting climate change and reducing emissions as the fight against COVID-19 continues.
“We will continue to look at ways we can support important industries in this country,” Trudeau said.
Further elaborating on these initiatives, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan said that liquidity has been a top priority for the oil and gas sector, and that despite the perception of the industry being dominated by massive players, 85 per cent of the workforce are small- and medium-sized enterprises.
RURAL, ARTS AND CULTURE HELP
The new supports for these sectors follow several updates and expansions to direct aid for Canadians as well as fiscal supports for companies.
Trudeau said that his government heard from some in the arts and culture communities that the measures so far didn’t cover them.
In response, the federal government is offering an additional $1.7 billion for targeted measures, including:
- Providing $962 million to help smaller firms with funds through their regional development agencies and to help small businesses in rural areas access aid;
- Spending $250 million to support innovators and other early stage development firms that don’t qualify for the wage subsidy, which will assist 1,000 firms and maintain 10,000 jobs;
- Offering $20 million to support young entrepreneurs across Canada, allowing Futurpreneur Canada to provide payment relief for its clients for up to 12 months; and
- Providing $500 million to Heritage Canada to aid workers in the arts, culture, and sports sectors.
In French, Trudeau said that artists, entertainers and athletes have brought comfort, laughter, and inspiration despite the dire situation the nation is facing and so the Canadian government felt it’s important to be there for them.
“Our main objective today is to make sure that we protect our Main Streets all across the country,” said Minister of Economic Development Melanie Joly. She said the funding for regional development agencies is nearly doubling their budgets.
Speaking to the support for high-skill startups, Industry Minister Navdeep Bains said historically, firms that are just getting off the ground but are innovating prove to, in the end, “become key economic drivers for long-term growth in good-quality jobs for all Canadians.”
To date, more than 7.5 million payments have been made through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and Trudeau said Friday that, going forward, the latest figures on who is claiming this $2,000 a month program will be posted on the government’s open data portal three times a week for researchers and academics to access and use to inform relevant policy work.
SENATE SUSPENDS UNTIL JUNE
As talks continue about whether and how the House of Commons could resume sittings on Monday, the Senate has announced it won’t be resuming its sitting for more than a month.
All four recognized parties need to come to some agreement if the current House suspension, which ends on April 20, is to be extended.
“Right now on the books there is a rule that says that 338 MPs need to get on flights Sunday evening to come back to Ottawa on Monday morning as Parliament is supposed to resume. That is obviously not a good idea, we are not in normal circumstances,” Trudeau said.
The Conservatives would like to resume some form of a pared-down and physically distant in-person sitting with more sanitizer on-hand in the House of Commons chamber for four days a week, the Bloc Quebecois have said they are not in favour of in-person sessions given the current public health guidance, while the New Democrats and Liberals have indicated their desire for something in between.
Until the technical and procedural logistics of a fully virtual parliament can be established and proposed, the federal Liberals are suggesting a hybrid of limited in-person sittings of the House with question and answer periods as the Conservatives are keen for, supplemented by virtual meetings that would eliminate the need for all House administration staff and security to regularly reenter the building.
“Obviously the point of virtual sittings would be to ensure that Canadians who are not within driving distance of Ottawa continue to have their views represented and their concerns heard,” Trudeau said.
The Senate announced Friday that it has decided that it will be extending its adjournment period until June 2, barring any additional urgent recalls needed to pass further emergency legislation. It had initially agreed to suspend until April 21, but had since agreed to allow certain committees conduct teleconference or video conference meetings to study matters related to the COVID-19 crisis.
“This decision was taken as part of the Senate’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The Speaker will continue his consultations with Senate leadership as the situation unfolds,” said Senate Speaker George Furey in a statement.