Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is working to address “gaps” in the federal income support programs Ottawa has unveiled in recent weeks.
The government has announced at least $100-billion in direct measures aimed at supporting Canadian workers and businesses while most of the country is asked to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We recognize that any time we’re doing big measures like this, there will be gaps. There will be challenges in implementation and unforeseen consequences,” Mr. Trudeau said during his Sunday news conference. “These are things we are going to be continuing to work on and we will have more to say in the coming days.”
One of those programs, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, will open to applications as of 6 a.m. ET Monday.
The CERB will provide up to $500 per week for 16 weeks to people who have lost all income because of COVID-19.
Government officials continue to work on the details of an even larger program called the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which would give employers funds to cover 75 per cent of wage costs up to a maximum benefit of $847 a week. The government has said it may be another six weeks before that program is open to applications and that Parliament will need to pass related legislation in the coming days.
An informal online survey of small business owners found only about a third of respondents said the proposed new wage subsidy will help them avoid layoffs or prompt them to recall staff.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) will release the survey findings Monday, which are based on responses from more than 8,000 small business owners. The Globe and Mail received an advance copy of the results.
“There’s no question that there will be thousands of firms and hundreds of thousands of employees that will be helped by the wage subsidy,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly. “But it is definitely not the system-wide fix that we need without some changes. It is, for many, too late because they have already taken the actions that they’ve needed to on staffing. For others, it’s too slow because the three to six weeks [before launch] will not deliver the support that they need quickly enough to hang on to workers.”
A similar survey of 651 CEOs by the Council of Canadian Innovators, released Sunday, found 94 per cent said their companies would be ineligible for the wage subsidy because of the program’s criteria.
Conservative MP and finance critic Pierre Poilievre said Sunday that he had not yet received notice of when Parliament will sit to approve the wage subsidy, which he said is in need of adjustments based on business concerns.
“Small businesses are drowning and they desperately need a life raft," he told reporters Sunday in Ottawa.
During his news conference, the Prime Minister acknowledged there may be situations in which workers in essential positions may be questioning whether they should stop working and collect the CERB instead.
“That is why we are working very carefully to ensure that people who are working in essential industries, people who perhaps are facing choices about whether they continue to work or whether they receive the CERB, are able to make the right decision, not just for them, but for our community and our country,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau said his government is working with U.S. officials to resolve issues over cross-border shipments of medical supplies, but signalled a preference for avoiding retaliatory measures.
The United States stopped the export of protective masks Friday from Minnesota-based 3M to Canada.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing to harm your neighbour to succeed,” he said in French. “That’s why we will work together to resolve this difference between friends.”
Werner Antweiler, who teaches international trade at the University of British Columbia, said North American supply chains are too integrated to make retaliation feasible – for either country.
Dr. Antweiler said a potential trade war is especially dangerous when medical supplies are involved and the consequences could affect patient health in both countries.
“There is a very strong case that we need to stand in solidarity with our neighbours in the United States, and that means we should not retaliate in the same foolish way,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau also suggested the government is considering measures to encourage students to take up summer jobs in the agriculture and fishing sectors that are normally filled by temporary foreign workers.
Meanwhile, Canadian reservists will be offered the opportunity to accept full time jobs with the Canadian Forces with the same pay and benefits as regular personnel. The Prime Minister described this as a bolstering of the Canadian Forces in anticipation of extra duties related to COVID-19.
It is not clear when exactly Parliament will be recalled to approve the wage subsidy. Opposition House Leaders wrote to the government Sunday calling for greater use of videoconferencing and other measures that could increase Parliamentary scrutiny of the government.
-With a report from James Keller
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