Led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, senior cabinet ministers announced that the federal government was temporarily expanding eligibility for key support programs in order to make sure that Canadians are protected and workers and businesses get the help they need to sustain them through new and necessary public health restrictions.
In explaining the temporary expansion of eligibility for key support programs, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland explained that the federal government will be using regulatory authority provided in Bill C-2, and introducing new regulations that will:
- Expand the Local Lockdown Program to include employers subject to capacity-limiting restrictions of 50% or more; and reduce the current-month revenue decline threshold requirement to 25%. Eligible employers will receive wage and rent subsidies from 25% up to a maximum of 75%, depending on their degree of revenue loss. The 12-month revenue decline test continues to not be required in order to access this support.
- Expand the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit to include workers in regions where provincial or territorial governments have introduced capacity-limiting restrictions of 50% or more. As announced previously, this benefit will provide $300 a week in income support to eligible workers who are directly affected by a COVID-19-related public health lockdown, and who have lost 50% or more of their income as a result.
Minister Freeland made it clear that: “The Omicron variant is a real and serious threat to the health and safety of Canadians and the capacity of our health care system. In light of the public health situation and new restrictions in a number of provinces, we are temporarily expanding eligibility for key support measures offered for workers and businesses. The federal government will continue to help Canadians through the pandemic and ensure Canada’s economic recovery leaves no one behind.”
The Minister advised that the updated regulations will apply from Dec. 19, 2021, to Feb. 12, 2022, during which time it is expected that public health authorities will continue to implement “circuit-breaker” restrictions that limit the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 across Canada.
Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, said that: ““Through the measures announced today, the Government is making sure Canadian workers have the support they need if their job is impacted by regional health measures and lockdowns.”
And the Minister added: “The evolving public health crisis has demonstrated the importance of adapting quickly and today’s announcement, together with the existing caregiving and sickness recovery benefits, demonstrates that the Government is ready and committed to supporting Canadians during these challenging times.”
In the question period following the announcement, the Prime Minister was asked about closing the borders and he responded that while the government is always open to any option that will better ensure the safety of Canadians, the current reality is that Omicron is already present in communities in Canada, so shutting down the border wouldn’t be an effective measure.
And, the Prime Minister added that border arrivals represent an extremely small percentage of COVID cases.
The Nuts ‘N’ Bolts
- The expansion of support programs is expected to cost about $4 billion and will be fully covered by the $4.5 billion Omicron provision announced in the recent Economic and Fiscal Update 2021. This is in addition to the initial cost estimate of $7.4 billion when the programs were announced in October 2021.
- The Local Lockdown Program was introduced in October and became law on Dec. 17, 2021. The proposed regulatory changes announced today would temporarily expand the initial eligibility requirement that organizations be subject to a lockdown. The program provides businesses that face new local lockdowns with up to the maximum amount of support available through the wage and rent subsidy programs. The Local Lockdown Program is available from Oct. 24, 2021, to May 7, 2022.
- The Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit was introduced in October 2021 and became law on Dec. 17, 2021. The proposed regulatory changes announced today would temporarily expand the definition of a public health lockdown order to also include provincial orders involving capacity restrictions of 50% or more. The benefit provides income support of $300 per week to workers whose employment is interrupted as a result of a specific government-imposed public health lockdown and who are unable to work due to such restrictions. The benefit is available from Oct. 24, 2021, to May 7, 2022.
The government has recently implemented other new measures to ensure workers and businesses have the urgent help they need.
- Extending the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit until May 7, 2022, and increasing the maximum duration of benefits by 2 weeks. This extends the caregiving benefit from 42 to 44 weeks and the sickness benefit from 4 to 6 weeks. People can now apply retroactively to periods between Nov. 21, 2021 and Dec. 11, 2021.
- Launching the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program, providing support through wage and rent subsidies to, for example, hotels, tour operators, travel agencies, and restaurants, with a subsidy rate of up to 75%. The eligible types of businesses are detailed in the legislation and a related backgrounder.
- Launching the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program, providing support through wage and rent subsidies to other businesses that have faced deep losses, with a subsidy rate of up to 50%.
- Extending the Canada Recovery Hiring Program until May 7, 2022, for eligible employers with current revenue losses above 10% and increasing the subsidy rate to 50%. This extension will help businesses continue to hire back workers, increase hours, and create the additional jobs Canada needs for a robust recovery.