What’s in the latest COVID-19 response bill passed by the House of Commons?

Bill C-20 contains a revamped approach to COVID-19 financial measures, and also dealt with the delays the pandemic has created in the legal system. Here’s a look at what’s in the bill, which will go to the Senate in the coming days.

Wage subsidy

The program covers up to 75% of employee salaries, and was designed to keep people on the payroll even as business remains sluggish during recovery from the shutdown. The bill extends the program until Nov. 21, with the ability to extend it further by regulation to no later than Dec. 31. It also provides a new calculation for who qualifies. Previously, employers had to show a decline of 30% in revenue due to the pandemic.

Now there are two parts. One, a base subsidy available to all eligible employers, with the subsidy amount varying depending on the scale of revenue decline. Those who lost less than 30% are now eligible. Two, a top-up subsidy of up to an additional 25% for those employers that have been most adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Disability benefits

The bill grants a payment of up to $600 to help cover additional costs incurred by people with disabilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To qualify, someone must either already receive the disability tax credit, the Canada Pension Plan or Quebec Pension Plan disability benefit or be on disability supports provided by Veterans Affairs Canada.  For Canadians who received the one-time seniors payment and who qualify for the disability payment, they will see their seniors payments topped up to reach the $600 maximum.

Justice system

The bill adjusts time limits relating to civil litigation proceedings and other time limits included in federal legislation. For civil litigation, the bill suspends existing time limits under federal laws for starting a legal proceeding or doing something in a legal proceeding. Some examples include suspending the 30-day period to file an appeal of a divorce decision, or an assessment or decision made under the Income Tax Act.

For regulatory matters, the law allows federal ministers to make temporary orders to extend or suspend other time limits identified in specific federal legislation for which they are responsible. For example, there are time limits on how long the government has to perform national security reviews under the Investment Canada Act and now the government can take longer. There is a sunset clause on those measures, meaning the ability to suspend time limits expires at the end of September and no order to suspend time limits can extend past the end of 2020. All temporary orders must also be published on a government website within five days, and be tabled in Parliament.

Source: Toronto Star

Ottawa Proposes Changes to Allow More Businesses to Receive Federal Wage Subsidy

 Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the Liberals are easing eligibility rules for the government’s emergency wage subsidy and changing the amounts businesses can receive. The government had been under pressure to make the subsidy more accessible, specifically by loosening the requirement of a 30% drop in revenues, so more companies under that cut-off can qualify.

Currently, the subsidy covers 75% of wages for businesses or non-profits whose revenue dropped by at least 30% amid the COVID-19 crisis, up to $847 weekly. The proposed legislation would see businesses that have lost less than 30% of their revenue receive a decreased subsidy, and would also add an extra 25% for hardest-hit employers. The program is the heart of the Liberals’ promise to help Canadians get back to work, even if has to be at a slower pace, as the pandemic wanes.

The changes would be effective retroactively as of July 5. The maximum base subsidy would apply to employers that have lost at least 50% of revenue, offering 60% of their employees’ salary, up to $677 per week. This rate will be gradually reduced from 60% for the two periods between July 5 and Aug. 29, to 20% for the period between Oct. 25 and Nov. 21. Employers that have already been receiving the subsidy are guaranteed not to receive a lower rate than they currently have through to Aug. 29. Wage subsidies for furloughed employees will remain the same as before until Aug. 29, at which point the subsidy will be adjusted to align with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and/or employment insurance.

Morneau’s fiscal update in the week of July 6 boosted the budget for the program to $82.3 billion from $45 billion in a sign of impending changes and an extension beyond this summer. Morneau says the program will now end Dec. 19. He’s hoping the extension will give companies confidence to rehire workers, knowing what the rules are and that the program will be around for longer. The most recent federal figures for the program show the government has given almost $20.4 billion in payroll help to about 262,200 companies.

Source: Toronto Star
Source: Financial Post

Ottawa Sending $19b to Provinces for COVID-19 Aid

The federal, provincial and territorial governments have reached a deal on billions of dollars in transfers to continue reopening economies amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said  on July 16. He said the federal government will contribute $19 billion under the “Safe Restart Agreement” to help provinces fund things like child care, contact tracing and personal protective equipment. There is also money to bail out municipal governments that saw soaring expenses and plunging revenues during the pandemic. 

The agreement includes sick leave, fully funded by the federal government. Manitoba’s Brian Pallister said he’s pleased with that provision. In an interview with The Canadian Press he said, “I think the important thing is that, as opposed to some past discussions where premiers were drawn away from supporting other premiers, the premiers stuck together and they stood for what they wanted and largely got it.”

Trudeau said the agreement outlines seven priority areas, with some room for the provinces to apply the money to their particular needs over the next six to eight months. “The provinces agreed to invest in the targeted sectors,” Trudeau said. “There are areas like support for vulnerable people where we will expect the provinces to declare publicly what they will do.” At his side, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland added the agreement includes standards in certain areas, such as COVID-19 testing, in exchange for the federal money.

Of the $19 billion, $4.5 billion is for national purchasing of personal protective equipment by Ottawa plus $3 billion to support provincial purchasing efforts; $4.28 billion is for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing; $2 billion for municipalities; $1.8 billion for transit that the provinces must match; $1.1 billion for temporary income support for sick leave; $740 million to support vulnerable populations and long-term care; $700 million for health-care capacity plus $500 million for mental health; and $625 million for child care.

Trudeau said workers can’t work if their children don’t have safe care, and many can’t get to their jobs if they don’t have access to safe transit systems. “Until we find a vaccine, the daily threat of COVID-19 will not disappear,” he said.

Municipal governments, which deliver many of those services, have been begging for aid for months, warning their finances are careening toward brick walls. Many city revenue streams dried up during the pandemic, as recreational centres and programs closed, and transit riders stopped using buses and trains.

Toronto has reported that it’s facing a $1.35-billion deficit this year. Mayor John Tory said the federal money will help, though how much depends on how the Ontario government allocates it. Transit in Toronto and its suburbs is critical and the systems’ finances have been devastated by the pandemic, he said. Montreal says it has a $500-million shortfall. Halifax expects to be short $85.4 million.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities said it’s encouraged but wants to see the fine print. “We’re optimistic this agreement will recognize the financial crisis municipalities face in this pandemic,” said the federation’s president Bill Karsten, a Halifax councillor. That means emergency funding that’s clearly identified and gets to municipal front lines fast — so we can keep vital services going strong and prepare to drive Canada’s economic recovery.“

“Provinces have borne the full impact of COVID-19 and individuals and businesses across Nova Scotia will feel the impact for months to come,” said Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil. “This funding will help to address those challenges.”

Missing from funding is public education, which is administered by the provinces. Many provinces are struggling with how to reopen schools safely in the fall, and many parents won’t be able to go back to work fully if children aren’t physically in class.

Source: Toronto Star
Source: Toronto Star


Learn more about Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan