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Coronavirus: Trudeau eases wage subsidy rules for businesses showing revenue loss

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau promises ‘relaxed’ rules for new wage subsidy
WATCH: Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau promises 'relaxed' rules for new wage subsidy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is easing wage subsidy qualifications for businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Wednesday, Trudeau said businesses will only need to show a 15 per cent decline in revenue for March instead of 30 per cent, marking a 50 per cent reduction.

“Most of us only felt the impact of COVID-19 about halfway through the month,” he said.

READ MORE: Trudeau expected to announce more coronavirus support for entrepreneurs, students

Previously, in order to qualify for the subsidy, businesses had to show a 30 per cent drop in revenues compared to this time last year.

Now, companies will have the option of using January and February of this year as reference points to show a 30 per cent loss in revenue due to COVID-19.

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Anyone employed by one of these businesses will be eligible for up to $847 per week per employee, effective March 15, Trudeau said.

The prime minister added charities and NGOs would have the option to either include or exclude government subsidies when calculating their loss of revenue.

Coronavirus outbreak: Government to cover 100 per cent of wages for students hired under the Canada Summer Jobs Program
Coronavirus outbreak: Government to cover 100 per cent of wages for students hired under the Canada Summer Jobs Program

The Canadian government will also cover up to 100 per cent of Canada Summer Job program costs for small businesses hiring students and extend the time frame for job placement until winter.

“In this economic climate, it’s hard for people of all ages to find work, but young people are especially vulnerable. They’re new to the workforce, so they don’t have a lot of money set aside for this kind of situation,” 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.”

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When asked about the federal government’s decision to implement wage subsidies instead of universal basic income — which would fund all citizens with minimal to no restriction on who can access the money — the prime minister said swiftly rolling out measures was more important than developing a perfect system.

READ MORE: How many Canadians have the new coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

“We needed to do things quickly and we needed to do things robustly in a way that would allow… a system that would reach the largest number of Canadians who needed it as possible,” said Trudeau.

“We established that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit was a way of replacing income to the largest number of people who suddenly found themselves without a pay check.”

He acknowledged that there were “gaps” in Canada’s economic package, and said the government was working to fill them.

Later that day, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) applications will be open as of Thursday through both banks and credit unions.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Freeland hopeful for a quick return for Parliament

The CEBA is expected to deliver interest-free loans up to $40,000 to small businesses and non-profit organizations in every sectors excluding the public sector. Morneau said up to $10,000 of the loans would be considered forgivable as long as they were paid back by Dec. 31, 2022.

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Morneau said that anyone caught taking advantage of the wage subsidy program could face penalties up to 225 per cent of what they’ve received and up to five years in prison.

He added that anyone who initially qualifies for the benefit but is later deemed ineligible will be required to repay the full amount they were given.

“This is a high trust program but we will not tolerate abuses,” Morneau said.

READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

Sitting alongside several health officials at a press conference on Wednesday, Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said wage subsidies and costs will be continuously reviewed and revised by Canada’s finance minister.

“A recession becomes a depression when the government doesn’t take immediate, quick and solid actions in response to a severe economic situation as the one we are currently experiencing,” he said.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, who appeared at the conference over video, said as of Wednesday afternoon the ministry had processed 3.87 million CERB applications.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was also present, said the wage subsidies played a crucial role in the country’s ability “to be in a position to come roaring back economically when we are able to relax the essential health measures that are in place right now.”

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She said leaders from all parties in the House of Commons were deliberating the best way to bring Parliament back with the goal of passing emergency legislation that would free up $82 billion in aid.

“This is going to maintain that essential connection between people and their jobs, and it is going to help businesses remain fully functional and intact,” she said.

“It is a great program and we all really, really hope that parliament will come together soon to support this program and keep Canadian companies and the Canadian economy strong through this difficult time.”

Members of the Conservative Party have been calling on the Liberal government to implement faster measures to distribute funds to Canadians, warning that some businesses may not be able to hold on much longer.

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Earlier on Wednesday, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre criticized Trudeau for his inability to provide Canadians with financial relief quickly when the U.S. government had already dispatched $66 billion in loans to American businesses affected by the virus.

He said many smaller and medium-sized businesses in Canada had already shuttered their doors, noting that one-third of them were unsure if they would ever reopen.

“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.

“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.”

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— With files from the Canadian Press