OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal wage subsidy program for employers hit by COVID-19 will have looser standards than previously announced.
After speaking with stakeholders and workers, Trudeau says his government is ready to refine the parameters of some of the emergency aid programs announced in recent days and weeks.
“We want to make these emergency measures as inclusive as we can so we’re listening and making adjustments along the way,” he said Wednesday.
Rather than having to show a 30 per cent decline in revenues, businesses can instead show a 15 per cent decline in March, and can compare their revenues to previous months rather than the previous year, Trudeau announced.
Charities and non-profits can also choose whether to include revenues from governments, such as grants, in their calculations when they apply.
Businesses need to survive and workers need to get paid if the economy is to “come roaring back after this crisis,” Trudeau said.
He also announced the federal government will cover 100 per cent of wages for students hired under the Canada Summer Jobs Program. The government will also extend the time period for job placements to the winter, in recognition that many jobs will start later than usual due to the pandemic, and companies will be permitted to hire students part-time.
The hope is this will encourage businesses to hire students to allow them to get the work experience they need and earn incomes during the downturn, Trudeau said.
“Today we’re taking a step in the right direction to help young people find work during this difficult time, but I want to be clear, we will be doing more,” he said.
“Just like we will do more for those who need help but are not eligible to receive the benefits that we have announced so far.”
Earlier Wednesday, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said relief from the federal government for small businesses suffering losses due to COVID-19 is not rolling out fast enough.
He noted the United States has already delivered $66 billion in forgivable loans to businesses in America while Canadian companies are still waiting for promised emergency financial help.
“If these businesses go bankrupt during this crisis, many will never reopen and these millions of workers will be without jobs and opportunity. This will be a social catastrophe for our country,” Poilievre said in Ottawa.
“That’s why we are calling on the government to get moving. A little less conversation, a little more action, please, as Elvis used to say.”
Conservatives are calling for the Liberal government to use faster measures, including reimbursing GST payments remitted by small businesses for the 12 months prior to the start of the COVID-19 crisis — a move that Poilievre says would put $13 billion back into the bank accounts of business owners.
The Conservatives also say the Canada Emergency Business Account, which will provide interest-free loans of $40,000 for qualifying businesses, should be delivered by credit unions, not just banks.
Poilievre also wants the government to widen eligibility criteria for the Liberals’ wage subsidy program beyond lost revenues to allow employers who have seen lost profits or subscriptions to also apply to this program.
Trudeau encouraged the Conservatives to work with his Liberal minority government to pass legislation needed for the wage subsidy program to be enacted. Poilievre said Conservatives are ready to go to the House of Commons right away, and blamed the Liberals for holding things up.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says House leaders from all parties are currently debating the best way to bring Parliament back to debate these emergency measures and said she hopes this will happen as soon as possible.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press