pandemic aid

Government introduces new pandemic aid, extends sick leave

The Canadian government introduced a new pandemic aid bill on November 24 that would maintain some financial supports for businesses and workers until at least the spring of 2022.

Bill C-2, if passed, would include providing wage and rent subsidies through the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program.

The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program would apply to hotels, tour operators, travel agencies and restaurants with a subsidy rate of up to 75 per cent, while the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program would apply to other businesses that have faced “deep losses” with a subsidy rate of up to 50 per cent.

In order to qualify for the former, businesses would have to show a 12-month revenue loss of at least 40 per cent and a current-month revenue decline of the same amount. For the latter, businesses would have to show a 12-month revenue loss of at least 50 per cent and a current-month revenue decline of the same amount.

The government is also proposing a Local Lockdown Program to assist businesses impacted by government-imposed lockdowns, which would be eligible to receive the maximum subsidy amount. That would be matched by a new Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit aimed at those whose work is directly impacted by lockdowns.

The Canada Recovery Hiring Program would also be prolonged for employers with revenue losses above 10 per cent. The subsidy rate for this benefit would increase to 50 per cent.

All pandemic aid programs would be extended until May 7, 2022.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said she hopes this is the last round of pandemic aid extensions. “I see this legislation as very much the last step in our COVID-19 support programs. It is what I really hope and truly believe is the final pivot,” she said, per CTV News.

Sick days extended

Meanwhile, another proposed pandemic aid bill, Bill C-3, is looking to significantly overhaul the way businesses provide sick leave to employees. The legislation would provide workers in federally regulated sectors with 10 days of sick pay.

According to CBC News, about 950,000 people work in the federally regulated private sector. About 583,000 of those workers have less than 10 days of paid sick leave and would stand to benefit from the legislation.

That came after British Columbia had announced it will give all workers covered by the Employment Standards Act a minimum of five days paid sick leave starting Jan. 1, 2022. That will be the most of any province.

The provincial government says more than one million B.C. workers do not have access to paid sick leave at the moment.

CFIB responds

Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and a vocal advocate for an extension of business aid, expressed mixed views on Bill C-2’s proposed subsidies.

In a statement, he noted the federation is “disappointed” the government has not changed the 40 to 50 per cent minimum revenue loss requirement to access small business support programs as that means most small businesses will be cut off from accessing them.

Kelly added that the CFIB is “concerned” about the sick leave legislation and that the federation is urging “extreme caution when imposing new costs on small businesses at a time when a majority are still not back to normal sales or out from under their COVID-related debt.” Kelly noted small businesses are already facing a significant increase in employer contributions to CPP on Jan. 1, as well as carbon tax increases in several provinces and other increases in business costs.

Warning that many businesses could be forced to close for good or cut staffing and benefits to absorb the costs, Kelly concluded by callin gon the government to consult small business owners and find other ways to cut businesses’ costs.

Incidentally, the latest CFIB Business Barometer projects that small businesses will face unprecedented price and wage increases over the next 12 months.