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A man stands outside closed businesses in Toronto on March 24, 2020.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The federal government is extending the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy for three months – until the end of August – and is broadening the eligibility criteria.

“Business owners, please take confidence from this announcement,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday in his daily news briefing. “You now have some runway to catch your breath as you get restarted, so please, bring back your employees.”

Mr. Trudeau also said Ottawa will work with businesses and labour stakeholders over the next month on any adjustments to the program, which offers eligible employers whose businesses have been affected by the pandemic a subsidy of 75 per cent of employee wages.

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Finance Minister Bill Morneau said he anticipates a greater uptake in the program. He also announced the approval of regulations to extend eligibility to include partnerships that are up to 50-per-cent owned by non-eligible members, Indigenous government-owned corporations carrying on a business, registered amateur athletic associations, registered journalism organizations and non-public colleges and schools, such as arts and driving schools.

The announcement was applauded by organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

“As provinces are only now beginning to allow some small businesses to reopen, we can expect the economic effects of COVID-19 to last for many months,” CFIB president Dan Kelly said in a statement.

The CFIB would also like to see an expansion of the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and a major overhaul of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said it also welcomed the wage-subsidy program extension but would like to see more businesses qualify.

“Unfortunately, uptake for the CEWS is far below original expectations," the organization said. "Many businesses have closed or are not operating at full capacity, which limits the number of applications.”

Mr. Trudeau also said Ottawa is earmarking $450-million for research institutions. Universities and affiliated research institutes have been affected by the pandemic, he said, so Ottawa will provide more temporary wage support.

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The government said the money will allow the institutions to retain research staff who are funded from industry or philanthropic sources and are unable to access the government’s other pandemic support measures.

Ottawa plans to provide up to 75 per cent of wages – just as it does with the CEWS – to a maximum of $847 a week per individual.

Earlier Friday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer urged the government to develop a forward-looking fiscal roadmap. A federal budget has yet to be released this year.

Mr. Scheer also said regular proceedings in the House of Commons should resume on May 25 so MPs can be a voice for their constituents.

In response, Mr. Trudeau said in-person meetings are taking place once a week with a limited number of MPs and virtual sittings are happening twice a week, allowing MPs from every riding to represent their communities.

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