PM Trudeau updates wage subsidy and aid for students, will attend cabinet in-person

By | April 8, 2020

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced another update to the massive wage subsidy program, more help for students, and says he’ll be attending this afternoon’s cabinet meeting in person after spending the last month largely in COVID-19 self-isolation.

Previously the government said that businesses would have to show a 30 per cent drop in revenues compared to this time last year, which some start-ups and new businesses would not be able to do, so companies can now compare their lost revenue to what they made in January and February of 2020, and will only need to show a 15 per cent decline in March.

“Because most of us only felt the impact of COVID-19 halfway through the month,” he said. The subsidy would be on 75 per cent of employees’ salaries, up to $847 a week per employee, retroactive to March 15.

Charities are also being granted the ability to choose whether or not to include government revenues in their calculations of lost revenue when applying.

The government has also announced temporary changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program. Now, employers who hire summer students can apply for a subsidy of up to 100 per cent to cover the cost, helping create up to 70,000 jobs for Canadians between the ages of 15 and 30.

The time frame for the job placements are also being extended until the winter, given some jobs will “start later than usual,” Trudeau said. The student hires can also be employed part-time, given many businesses have had to scale back their operations.

The prime minister said the Liberals are asking MPs across the country to help connect businesses and organizations that are providing critical services with students who can help at this time.

Trudeau thanked stakeholders for their input in the billions of dollars of aid programs unveiled to date, saying they have helped to “refine” their approaches, making the assistance being offered as inclusive as possible.

Anticipating a second parliamentary recall to pass the expanded wage subsidy, the prime minister said he is calling on the opposition to join them in bringing back the House “as soon as possible” to enact these changes. 

His meeting with cabinet today will be to “discuss next steps,” Trudeau said. 

“I will continue to work from home day in and day out as we’re asking most Canadians to do, there will be moments for strategic meetings or particular issues where I will go in to the office.” 

This will mark his first known public outing since entering self-isolation in mid-March when his wife Sophie tested positive for COVID-19. 

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve all had to make changes because of this pandemic,” Trudeau said, adding that having to stay indoors and not see loved ones, and adjusting to new work situations has meant big adjustments for everyone.

“What makes this situation so difficult is how quickly it all happened. Through no fault of your own, your whole world has been turned upside down in a matter of weeks and that can create even more uncertainty and even more anxiety,” Trudeau said.

There have been some positive indications that the spread is slowing in some parts of Canada, but with projections from Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta now indicating that there could be hundreds of thousands of cases by summer’s end, any return to normalcy could still be months away.

Trudeau has faced questions about why the federal government has yet to release comprehensive national scenarios on the scale of the virus’ spread.

As CTVNews.ca reported on Wednesday, by mid-February federal scenario planning had begun and it was being used to recommend further measures and to look at the social and economic implications “should the situation continue to evolve.” 

This planning included the Public Health Agency of Canada conducting “advanced thinking and scenario analysis including a pandemic scenario” according to a briefing note labelled “confidential advice” for Health Minister Patty Hajdu to use during a call she held with her provincial counterparts on Feb. 10. It went on to say that Canadian governments “need to be prepared to respond based on the latest scientific evidence.”

These public health scenarios were to be used to “inform response planning, triggers for further measures and potential recommended actions across jurisdictions as the situation evolves,” according to another briefing note for a call nine days later.  

Trudeau continues to say the government will have more to say about further help for Canadians, all of whom have, in some way, been impacted by the virus.

Since mid-March, more than four million Canadians have applied for financial assistance, but there are still many who are having trouble making ends meet and do not qualify for the benefit programs created so far.

The prime minister said at the start of the week that the federal government will soon introduce new measures to make the benefits accessible for those Canadians, such as contract workers and students.

Wednesday afternoon, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Minister Mary Ng, and Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains are set to hold a press conference in Toronto to provide more information about the expanded wage subsidy program.

A total of 17,897 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Canada, and 381 people have died. 

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