PM calls for quick Senate passage of COVID-19 aid bill, underlines seriousness of pandemic
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s hoping the latest COVID-19 aid bill –extending the federal wage subsidy and evolving the commercial rent subsidy program—gets a quick passage in the Senate, as calls continue for more federal support for businesses facing a new round of shutdowns amid a still-surging second wave of the pandemic.
Bill C-9 was fast-tracked through the House of Commons the first week of November, and the Senate is currently studying the bill, but still has several legislative stages to still make it through before it becomes law.
Trudeau said he hopes the Senate will pass the bill “shortly,” and noted that some of the business supports within the bill will be retroactive and include additional supports for businesses in regions where forced shutdowns have occurred recently.
Over the last month cases have climbed across the country, taking Canada over the 300,000 case threshold, prompting new questions about whether emergency national measures are needed. Trudeau continues to pledge federal assistance to provinces, who ultimately need to make the calls around public health measures in place in their regions.
“We know that this is extremely difficult on Canadians and on businesses, but the position of the federal government from the beginning has been to make the difficult decisions—by regional authorities, by provincial authorities, by local public health authorities—easier in knowing that businesses that have to close will get strong support,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau’s comments come on the heels of Toronto Mayor John Tory calling for the Senate to speed up its work.
“These businesses need help right now,” he said in a series of tweets. “We cannot afford any further delay.”
“I understand the role of the Senate and think its deliberations can often be useful in the cause of good public policy. But if ever there was a case for sitting late nights and weekends to get this emergency bill passed, this is it,” Tory said.
Jon-Rhys Evenchick, owner of a music venue in Ottawa, has been using the rent subsidy program to stay afloat. He said that he’s currently paying out of pocket 100 per cent of his rent and is concerned about being able to stay open for much longer without the next phase of the subsidy.
“Our margins are razor-thin, so every cent counts,” he said.
Should it pass, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has already flagged that a fix to a section of the bill will be needed to clarify the payment requirements for business owners before applying for the updated rent subsidy.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has raised the issue with Senators as well, and it remains to be seen whether Senators opt to try to amend the bill in the upper chamber instead of waiting for a second bill to make the change. If the Senate amends the bill, it would have to go back to the House for another look.
In the interim, Freeland has told Senators that the government has communicated to the Canada Revenue Agency what the Liberals’ intent of the bill is and anticipates they’ll handle any of these rental applications with that in mind.
Independent Sen. Tony Loffreda, who sits on the Senate National Finance Committee that conducted the pre-study of the bill defended not holding an emergency session to pass C-9 in the week since it passed the House, saying it has spent time considering the scope and implications of the legislation.
“It’s not when it gets done, if it is only a few days later, but that when it does get done, it gets done the proper way,” he said.
In a statement earlier this month announcing the pre-study of C-9 in the Senate, Government Representative Sen. Marc Gold said the study plan “allows in-depth study of the bill while also recognizing the urgency of the legislation for Canadian businesses.”
It’s his expectation that the bill will come to a final vote sometime this week.
PM: COVID-19 ‘INCREDIBLY SERIOUS’ STILL
During his press conference on Tuesday, the prime minister also sought to speak directly to young people about the reality of the role they can play in flattening the second wave of COVID-19.
Citing record-breaking COVID-19 cases, new shutdowns, and the threat of hospitals reaching capacity, Trudeau said everyone needs to double down to get the virus under control, but zeroed in with a message directly to young people.
“This virus may seem like a concern for your grandparents than for you, but even if you’re young and healthy, getting COVID-19 can be incredibly serious. It could leave you with heart and lung issues, or it could cost you your life.”
The prime minister said he isn’t saying this to scare people, but “because we need to be honest with ourselves about what we’re facing.”
He emphasized once again how people need to avoid gatherings, need to wear masks, and keep a physical distance from others not in their household.
Trudeau also encouraged those who do receive positive COVID-19 diagnoses to reach out virtually or by phone to loved ones, as he knows it can be a scary time.
“I remember how we felt after Sophie got her results back in March,” he said.
“There's uncertainty and anxiety, but pulling together and following public health guidelines will get us all through this,” he said, adding that while vaccine news looks promising, an effective and approved candidate could still be months away.
When that time comes, Trudeau said it’s going to be cross-government effort that “may well involve the Canadian Armed Forces.”
As CTVNews.ca reported on Monday, the military is preparing to play a key role.
“Obviously getting those vaccines from an airport tarmac or a port to Canadians right across the country is a significant logistical challenge, one in which the government is focused on and working on ardently,” Trudeau said.
“There are many different vaccines that require different logistical supports from extreme cold storage, to simple refrigeration, to potential room temperature doses as well. These are things that will require a differentiated approach and we're working very carefully and closely with the provinces and other partners to make sure that vulnerable Canadians, get these vaccines on a priority basis.”
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday that the military staff already helping her agency plan are “incredible logisticians” and that provinces are also in the process of deciding where they want their batches of vaccines shipped when they are ready. She said the preparations underway include considering the possibility that all seven vaccine candidates that Canada has bought into could be approved and sent our way over the next year.
“We know that getting vaccines to Canadians is the best way of getting through what is going to be a very difficult winter for us all,” Trudeau said.
With files from CTV News’ Annie Bergeron-Oliver