Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that more aid for young Canadians and businesses taking a hit from COVID-19 is on the way, as the Conservatives warn of catastrophic consequences if money doesn’t get out the door soon.
Trudeau announced changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program aimed at helping youth and other young people get work in sectors that aren’t shut down due to the global pandemic.
During his daily briefing at 11:15 a.m. ET, the prime minister also announced proposed changes to expand eligibility for the wage subsidy program. Watch it live here.
Business groups had that complained the initial criteria — including a requirement that revenue had declined by 30 per cent in the same month of the previous year — would exclude many businesses, including new, growing or seasonal companies.
New criteria will help more small businesses qualify for support
Trudeau said under the proposed new rules, businesses can use January and February of 2020 as months to compare their revenue drop instead of same month last year, which will help fledgling or scaled-up businesses to qualify.
Another proposed adjustment is that revenue will only need to drop by 15 per cent in March to qualify in order to capture the many businesses that were forced to shut down midway through that month.
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said billions of dollars have already been distributed to keep businesses in the U.S. afloat, yet small businesses in Canada have not yet received “a red cent.”
He said the situation has become more urgent and warned of a “social catastrophe” in terms of increased demand on food banks and other social service as well as a potential rise in homelessness and poverty if businesses are forced to close.
“Time is running out. So is the money. And if the government does not act, it will see bankruptcies on a mass scale and massive social consequences for the working class … people who work at small businesses every day,” he said.
Legislation for the wage subsidy program must be passed in Parliament, but a date has not yet been set for MPs to be recalled.
Poilievre said the Conservatives are pushing for some regular sessions of the House of Commons to hold the government to account.
Trudeau has said the government is looking into possible virtual sessions, but Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said it would be better to have in-person meetings that respect rules around physical distancing.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said the proposed changes will help thousands more small businesses qualify for the subsidy, but that its preferred option remains that government drop the 30 per cent test altogether for small and medium-sized firms.
The CFIB also said the time frame of three to six weeks before receiving the subsidy is too long a wait for many businesses.
“CFIB urges all parties to quickly review and approve the legislation to ensure businesses can have confidence this much needed support measure will be in place as soon as possible,” it said in a statement.
Surge of CERB applications
As of today, 1.72 million Canadians had applied for Canada emergency response benefit since the process began on Monday morning.
Despite the high number of applications, the government was facing criticism for eligibility criteria that left many others out.
Trudeau has said there will be adjustments to the program in the coming days to include more people, such as gig workers, contractors and volunteer firefighters who work 10 or fewer hours per week. He also said there would be support for those who continue to work but are making less than they would through CERB, such as home care workers or people caring for vulnerable seniors in long-term care facilities.
“You need support now, and work is underway to get it to you as soon as possible,” he said.
“For people in all of these situations, we see you, we’re going to be there for you and we’re working as hard as we can to get you the support you need.”