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Federal Government Promises Expansion of COVID-19 Support Programs and Additional Measures to Support Canadians Dealing with the Pandemic

September 25, 2020

On Wednesday, September 23, 2020, the federal government delivered its throne speech, which laid out several promises for the upcoming term in Parliament geared toward helping Canadians and Canadian business manage the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have outlined the key proposed measures below.

Extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (“CEWS”)

The CEWS is a wage subsidy program provided by the federal government to assist qualifying employers who have seen drops in revenue due to COVID-19, primarily by way of a subsidy which covers up to 75% of eligible employee wages.

The CEWS will be extended until summer 2021 – the latest extension in a series for the program. Previously, the program was set to end in December 2020.

For more information about the CEWS, take a look at our FAQ Video for background information on the subsidy and our previous blog post about proposed changes to the CEWS that have since come into effect.

Expansion of the Canada Emergency Business Account (“CEBA”)

The CEBA is a program which provides up to $40,000 in interest-free financing to qualifying small and medium-sized businesses to help cover operating costs. Twenty-five percent of each loan will be forgivable if repaid by December 31, 2022.

The program previously expanded its scope of qualifying businesses in April 2020 (see our blog post for further details). The speech promised a further expansion of CEBA to cover fixed costs.

Creation of new jobs and training for workers

Many employers have struggled to maintain a steady workforce. The government has promised to launch a campaign to create over one million jobs in an effort to restore employment to previous levels. The campaign will involve training to quickly skill up workers and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers. Training for workers will include supporting them as they build new skills, helping workers receive education and accreditation, and connecting workers to employers and job opportunities.

Long-term care homes

In response to concerns about health and safety practices in long-term care facilities, the government has promised to create national standards for long-term care. This promise at the federal level follows an emergency order issued by Ontario in April, which set out measures to protect vulnerable residents in retirement homes and long-term care homes. For more information, see our blog post summarizing the order’s effects.

Childcare and early childhood education

Recognizing that the pandemic has forced many Canadian women out of the workforce and battered gender equality gains, the government has promised to create a national early learning and childcare system. In announcing this project, the government stated that it will look to the existing model in place in Quebec for guidance.

Considerations for Employers

These promises, particularly the augmented supports to Canadian business, are welcome news to employers. Employers struggling to maintain a steady workforce should stay updated on further details of the promised campaign to create new jobs, particularly as it relates to incentives for employers to hire and retain workers. The extension of the CEWS, which has helped employers to prevent layoffs and recall employees, will also be beneficial. The expansion of the CEBA will be a relief to employers who operate small and medium-sized businesses, particularly if the proposed increased scope of coverage includes coverage of rent, a significant fixed cost that many businesses have struggled with. The enhancements to these programs will allow employers more time to make important decisions about how to address the future of their businesses in the ever-changing times of the pandemic.

The creation of a national childcare system may be of interest to employers with employees who have childcare obligations that have kept them from returning to work. If the system is successful in providing flexible and safe childcare options, many employees may soon be able to recommence regular work.

Meanwhile, employers operating retirement or long-term care homes should keep monitoring the planned national standards for long-term care to ensure steady compliance with health and safety obligations. The standards may come with heavy penalties for failure to meet them, as was the case for the measures set out in Ontario’s emergency order.

However, employers should be wary of relying on these promises at this stage. The throne speech will be subject to a confidence vote held in the House of Commons. The Conservative Party has said that it will not support the speech, while the NDP and Bloc Quebecois have set conditions for their parties’ support. If the Liberal government loses the vote, a general election will be triggered, and the promises likely set aside.

This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.

This information is not intended as legal advice.