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Canada may extend coronavirus wage subsidy by ‘months’: employment minister

Coronavirus outbreak: All options on the table for benefits to help those impacted by COVID-19
All options on the table for benefits amid COVID-19 pandemic, minister says.

Canada’s employment minister is signalling that the coronavirus wage subsidy program — which allows businesses to retain or rehire staff amid the pandemic — may be extended by a matter of months.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the 12-week Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) would be available past its original end date in early June, with details to come next week.

But Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough shed some light on the possible timeline of program’s extension in an interview with Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block Sunday.

“I think it will be in the months range,” she said, adding that the matter hasn’t been settled yet.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Trudeau says wage subsidy program to be extended past June

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In part, the government wants to see how the newly-launched program affects enrolment in its coronavirus income-support measure, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Qualtrough said.

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“The more people get back on the payroll, the less people we anticipate accessing the CERB, the more, then, we may look to extend the wage subsidy, but perhaps look at alternatives to the CERB.”

“So we really need the next one or two weeks to see how this all interacts.”

Coronavirus outbreak: Government says 1.7 million workers now covered under federal wage subsidy
Coronavirus outbreak: Government says 1.7 million workers now covered under federal wage subsidy

CEWS provides funding of 75 per cent of a worker’s wages to eligible businesses. About 1.7 million Canadians are being paid by the $73-billion program, Qualtrough said. Applications opened on April 27.

It’s one of many new programs and stimulus efforts launched while the economy remains on pause due to the pandemic. The full price tag is not known, though the parliamentary budget officer found the federal deficit could be as high as $252.1 billion this year.

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Canada posted its second-worst monthly unemployment rate on record on Friday. The economy shed nearly two million jobs last month on top of one million jobs lost in March, according to Statistics Canada.

READ MORE: CEWS vs. CERB: How the two benefits fit together and who may have to return payments

Qualtrough acknowledged that getting all those people back to work will be complicated. She said the government would be looking at a variety of efforts including skills training as part of its recovery strategy.

Asked about support for childcare — which would encourage people to return to work — Qualtrough indicated that possibility is on the table, though she couldn’t provide details.

“I can tell you, we’re looking at a really progressive way to handle our recovery as a country,” she said.