Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will leave his home to attend a cabinet meeting Wednesday after having announced an expansion of the Canada Summer Jobs Program to adapt to the new economic reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a news conference, Mr. Trudeau said he would attend a cabinet meeting “in person” but expected to continue doing most of his work from home. He had been in isolation since mid-March, after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, contracted COVID-19.
He also confirmed changes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), including greater flexibility for employers to access the program.
On summer jobs, Mr. Trudeau announced that companies that did not meet the original deadline of Feb. 28 are now able to apply for funding. He added that Ottawa will extend the program until February, 2021, to reflect the fact many summer jobs will be delayed.
Under the revised program, employers will be able to receive a subsidy worth as much as the minimum wage in their respective province. The government estimates the measure will create as many as 70,000 jobs for Canadians between the ages of 15 and 30 at a cost of $263-million.
“We will now give [Canada Summer Jobs] employers a subsidy of up to 100 per cent to cover the cost of hiring students. We will also extend the time frame for a job placement until the winter because we know that some jobs will start later than usual,” he said. “And because many businesses have had to scale back their operations, they will be able to hire a student part time.”
He warned that employment numbers to be released Thursday will be painful.
“It’s going to be a hard day for the country. We’re facing a unique challenge, but I know that if we pull together, our economy will come roaring back after this crisis,” he said.
He added that more help is coming for Canadians who do not qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which offers $2,000 a month to workers who have lost their jobs or have been forced to stay home for public-health reasons.
He also said new measures are coming for the elderly.
The government is under pressure to provide more relief to self-employed workers, those who have lost most but not all of their income and those who offer home-care services.
“Today, we’re taking a step in the right direction to help young people find work during this difficult time, but I want to be clear that we will do more, just like we will do more for those who need help but are not eligible to receive the benefits we’ve announced so far,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Earlier this week, the government provided opposition parties with a draft bill to implement the new $71-billion wage subsidy program. The parties are in the midst of negotiations over the bill, and a date for Parliament’s return has not yet been announced.
The program will provide a 75-per-cent wage subsidy to eligible employers, up to a maximum benefit of $847 per week per employee.
Employers had expressed concerns that the initial rules were too rigid because they required them to show a 30-per-cent drop in revenue for the months of March, April and May over the same months last year.
As first reported Tuesday by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Trudeau confirmed that the bill proposes several concessions on that front.
Specifically, employers will be able to use January or February as the comparison months under certain conditions. For March, companies will only be required to show a 15-per-cent reduction in revenue. The 30-per-cent rule remains in place for April and May.
Business groups welcomed the revised rules, but some said it would be even better if the government were to remove the revenue-reduction threshold entirely.
The timeline for passing the wage-subsidy bill appears to be connected to opposition-party requests for increased parliamentary scrutiny of the Prime Minister and cabinet.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau is scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Toronto to discuss the wage subsidy.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre declined to comment specifically on the negotiations between the parties, but he said Wednesday that his party supports a return to regular Question Periods in the House of Commons.
The House of Commons sat briefly last month in drastically reduced numbers in order to allow for physical distancing.
Mr. Trudeau said Wednesday that he welcomes parliamentary scrutiny – but it should be done online rather than in person.
“We should look at gathering a virtual parliament. I think it is important that parliamentarians from every corner of the country – not just those within driving distance of Ottawa – should be able to weigh in on the workings of our democracy,” he said.
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