Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced another update to the massive wage subsidy program, more help for students, and is forecasting that the March job numbers coming out on Thursday will be grim.
In yet another update to the now estimated $73 billion wage subsidy the federal government is in the process of rolling out, Trudeau announced the parameters to qualify are being relaxed.
Previously the government said that businesses would have to show a 30 per cent drop in revenues compared to this time last year, which some start-ups and new businesses would not be able to do.
Now, companies can now compare their lost revenue to the average of what they made in January and February of 2020, and will only need to show a 15 per cent decline in March.
For the months of April and May, businesses will need to demonstrate 30 per cent losses once again. Employers will also be allowed to measure their revenues either based on as they are earned or as they are received.
“Because most of us only felt the impact of COVID-19 halfway through the month,” he said. The subsidy would be on 75 per cent of employees’ salaries, up to $847 a week per employee for 12 weeks, retroactive to March 15, for companies big and small.
Charities are also being granted the ability to choose whether or not to include government revenues in their calculations of lost revenue when applying.
“Our government understands that not all businesses operate the same way… We will keep listening, but we really hope you will use this help from your country and from your fellow citizens to rehire and pay your workers,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau thanked stakeholders for their input in the billions of dollars of aid programs unveiled to date, saying they have helped to “refine” their approaches, making the assistance being offered as inclusive as possible.
Anticipating a second parliamentary recall to pass the expanded wage subsidy, the prime minister said he is calling on the opposition to join them in bringing back the House “as soon as possible” to enact these changes.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that the House leaders from all parties are negotiating right now how Parliament can come back to debate the new bill.
“We very much hope that will happen quickly and we very much hope that legislation will be supported,” she said.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau was less delicate: “From my standpoint, it’s time to get on with it.”
The Conservatives say they are ready to approve the latest measures, but want to see some sort of agreement on increased accountability, allowing for them to questions ministers as the pandemic continues.
At the same time the Conservatives say they’d like to see these relief measures rolling out faster.
“A little less conversation, a little more action,” Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, cautioning that if small businesses don’t receive financial life rafts soon, they may never be able to reopen for business, putting millions out of work.
Facing questions about the rolling updates to the wage subsidy, Trudeau said the government’s focus was on getting both the wage subsidy and Canada Emergency Response Benefit— which offers $2,000 a month for four months for those eligible—out the door as quickly as possible.
"We just needed to get the two big measures that would help millions of Canadians out as quickly as possible, and chose to work on refining them later,” Trudeau said.
Defending the way the wage subsidy has been structured versus sending universal payments that would then be clawed back at tax time for those who don’t need it, Freeland said that the subsidy “helps to retain that crucial link between employers and their job… and it’s going to help businesses remain fully functional and intact.”
Offering further details on the updated aid plans, Morneau said the goal is to help all businesses that are “significantly impacted” by COVID-19.
He also flagged that businesses will have to apply and attest to their revenue drops each month.
For those who are thinking about abusing this system, Morneau highlighted that business owners found to be misusing the funds could face up to five years in prison and heavy fines, like having to pay 225 per cent of what they received.
STUDENT SUMMER JOBS
The government has also announced temporary changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program. Now, employers who hire summer students can apply for a subsidy of up to 100 per cent of the provincial or territorial hourly minimum wage.
This will help create up to 70,000 jobs for Canadians between the ages of 15 and 30, and will help give them work experience and an income despite the current economic situation.
The time frame for the job placements are also being extended until the end of February, given some jobs will “start later than usual,” Trudeau said. The student hires can also be employed part-time, given many businesses have had to scale back their operations.
The prime minister said the Liberals are asking MPs across the country to help connect businesses and organizations that are providing critical services with students who can help at this time.
“In this economic climate, it’s hard for people of all ages to find work, but young people are especially vulnerable. They are new to the workforce, so they don’t have a lot of money set aside for this kind of situation,” Trudeau said.
“At the same time, they need work experience to secure their next job and money to cover their living expenses and help with tuition for the rest of year.”
JOB NUMBERS WILL BE 'HARD'
Trudeau continues to say the government will have more to say about further help for Canadians, all of whom have, in some way, been impacted by the virus.
"If you're working less than 10 hours a week, we will be telling you how you can apply for the CERB. If you're a student, for example, on top of the Canada Summer Jobs program that we talked about today, we will bring forward more measures," Trudeau said.
Since mid-March, more than four million Canadians have applied for financial assistance, but there are still many who are having trouble making ends meet and do not qualify for the benefit programs created so far.
Speaking to the full scope of federal aid rolled out so far, from loans to businesses to tax deferrals, Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said the objective is to prevent a recession from “becoming a depression.”
“A recession becomes a depression, when a government doesn't take immediate quick and solid actions in response to a severe economic situation,” Duclos said.
The job numbers for the month of March, when many of the physical distancing measures and states of emergency went into effect, are coming out on Thursday and Trudeau is forecasting a grim picture.
“If our economy is to get through this, we need businesses to survive and workers to get paid. Job numbers for March will be out tomorrow and it’s going to be a hard day for the country,” Trudeau said.
In addition to the look into the current state of the labour force, Statistics Canada says the report will also include people who are employed but are not working right now yet still getting paid, people who worked less than half of their usual hours but are still employed, and people who are unemployed and would like a job but are not actively looking because of the pandemic.
These other categories are being included to show a fuller picture of the impacts of COVID-19.