Liberals introduce new targeted pandemic aid bill for businesses, workers

The Liberal government introduced a new pandemic aid bill Wednesday afternoon that would maintain some financial supports for businesses and workers until at least the spring of 2022.

Bill C-2, if passed, would deliver several new targeted programs, re-created from pre-existing benefits introduced at the start of the pandemic.

“With high vaccination rates, over a million jobs created, children back in school, and businesses across the country reopening, the time has come to adapt support measures to these new and improved circumstances,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on Wednesday.

As previously announced, the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program would provide aid through wage and rent subsidies.

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.

Notably, 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. These companies would be eligible to receive the maximum subsidy amount.

For workers, the bill details a new Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, replacing the popular Canada Response Benefit. It’s also geared towards those whose work is directly impacted by lockdowns.

It’s available to workers ineligible and eligible for Employment Insurance (EI), as long as they aren’t paid benefits through EI during the same period.

The Liberals are proposing to extend and boost the eligible duration of the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. The former would move from 42 to 44 weeks, and the latter would move from four to six weeks.

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

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

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough are scheduled to address reporters Wednesday evening regarding the bill.

Bill C-2 is one of four pieces of legislation the Liberals are prioritizing amid the start of the new parliamentary session.

In October, Freeland announced that a number of COVID-19 supports were expiring and being replaced with more “targeted” programs with a price tag of $7.4 billion.

The minister said Wednesday 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.

POLITICAL BUY-IN

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said on Tuesday, during CTV News’ throne speech special, that the party is evaluating its position on the bill.

“We're looking at the new bill they're proposing right now… In the election, we said hospitality and tourism need help, need assistance. That's where we want to direct aid,” said O’Toole.

“But, we also know the out of control, no accountability measures of the Liberal government led to a lot of fraud, led to organized crime defrauding the government. So we want to make sure that they close loopholes, they tighten measures.”

On her way into Wednesday’s caucus meeting, Deputy Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said whether or not the party would be supporting the bill was on the agenda to be discussed during that closed-door meeting with all MPs.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet indicated the party was likely to back it, but has one point of contention.

“Basically, we agree with the principles. There's one thing which might be a preoccupation to us: It's the fact that workers from the arts and culture sector do not seem to be included or supported in any way at this point. But beside this issue, we support the idea that we understand as being the intent of C-2, then we will see what's the best way to have it go through the whole process,” he said at Wednesday’s post-caucus press conference.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was quick to underscore that the government shouldn’t anticipate an automatic green light from the New Democrats.

“The Liberals shouldn't expect us to support their bills, any of them. It’ll only be the case that we support if there's a benefit to Canadians,” he said.

BUSINESS RESPONSE

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce weighed in, stating that they’re pleased the Liberals made the proposed legislation a priority.

[It’s] a great example of government listening to, and acting upon, advice from the business community. We urge all parties to work together to pass the legislation as quickly as possible to ensure that severely impacted SMEs continue to receive necessary support without interruption,” reads a statement from Alla Drigola Birk, director of parliamentary affairs and SME policy.

Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), whose been a vocal advocate for an extension of business aid, had mixed reviews, namely as it relates to the eligibility criteria for business supports.

“The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is disappointed the federal government has not changed the 40 to 50 per cent minimum revenue loss requirement to access small business support programs which means most small businesses will be cut off from accessing them,” a statement reads.

“CFIB is pleased that the government has added many sectors to its list of those that can access the more generous Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program, such as gyms, arts and recreation and wedding/events.”

With files from CTV News’ Rachel Aiello.