Parliament enacts Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy legislation

Martin C. Barry

The Trudeau Liberal government’s wage subsidy legislation to counter the effects of the COVID-19 crisis moved swiftly through to passage in the House of Commons last weekend during a rare holiday session that saw MPs congratulating one another for their multi-partisan cooperation.

Help on the way

Passage of the legislation, followed by examination by the Senate and royal assent by the Governor General, cleared the way for $73 billion in immediate assistance to companies, families and individuals across Canada whose livelihoods remain seriously disrupted by COVID-19.

Although the Conservatives still had issues with the way the wage subsidy will be implemented, they agreed to allow the legislation to be passed anyway so that the recovery could get underway.

A war-like situation

In a speech to the relatively small gathering of MPs who were called together for the historic parliamentary sitting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau compared the situation Canada now finds itself in to a war, with the enemy being a virus that is spreading everywhere silently.

“Without reservation, without pause, we must fight for every inch of ground against this disease,” said Trudeau. “We must be there for one another as we spare no effort to safeguard our collective future.”

$73 billion in aid expected to start flowing to businesses and citizens

Trudeau alluded to the battle of Vimy Ridge while speaking about the current battle being waged in Canada and around the world against COVID-19. During his address, the prime minister noted that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy is the “largest Canadian economic policy” since World War II.

Like Vimy Ridge

“As our generation faces its greatest challenge yet, we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and saw our nation through difficult, tumultuous times in our history,” he said. “One hundred and three years ago today, young Canadian soldiers found themselves in the trenches in France. The next day they took part in the final battle for Vimy Ridge.”

“On the eve of this somber anniversary we remember their courage and sacrifice. These were trials that shaped our country, and more, its citizens, and now, once again, we are being tried. Every one of us has role to play in shielding our country from the threat it now faces.

‘Modern day heroes’

“And while the battle against COVID-19 isn’t a war in the traditional sense of the word, that doesn’t make this fight any less destructive, any less dangerous,” Trudeau added. Instead, “the frontline is everywhere; our homes, hospitals, care centres, grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations,” he continued, calling the people who work in these places “modern day heroes.”

‘While the battle against COVID-19 isn’t a war in the traditional sense of the word, that doesn’t make this fight any less destructive,’ said Trudeau

The workers, he said, “are separated from their family, and risking their own health, they head to work every day so that we can eat, heal, and do our part.”

In hard times, said Trudeau, “courage and strength are not defined but what we say or do loudly in public, but by the actions we take quietly in private, like staying home. Even as we stand apart, we stand united in our resolve to do what we must until COVID-19 is defeated.”

CEWS program enacted

The bill puts into place the CEWS, whose purpose is to encourage companies to rehire workers by offering a 75 per cent wage subsidy over the next three months to businesses that have lost 30 per cent of their revenue as a result of the crisis. Finance Minister Bill Morneau said businesses that qualify for the subsidy should start receiving money within a few weeks.

Among the Conservatives’ suggestions for future amendments to the new law would be to reduce eligibility hurdles that still stand in the way of some businesses receiving the subsidy. The NDP and the Bloc Québécois also agreed to fast-track the bill in exchange for consideration of their ideas for eventual changes.

Bill gained NDP support

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said his party supported the legislation necessary for the subsidy to become a reality. He said that his calls to improve access to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit were reflected in the bill that ended up being tabled by the Liberal government.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet said that the bill included “some very good things” for workers. In a letter to the prime minister, he wrote that he welcomed several aspects of the legislation, but noted that it did not include support for businesses struggling with operational costs.

Blanchet said that Finance Minister Morneau had acknowledged those concerns. However, he also expressed concern that temporary foreign workers arriving in Canada were not being tested for COVID-19.

MPs dealing with COVID

In Laval, two local MPs have been dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on a personal level. Laval-Les Îles Liberal MP suggested constituents continue to stock up on food and other necessities for up to two weeks at a time.

“If you go out, don’t go out until it is absolutely essential,” he said. “And, you know, once people start applying those rules it will be the best way to fight the COVID-19.

“That and social distancing: doing your job from home. And this is something that is no longer very difficult, with the technology that we have now: the e-mail, the internet and everything else. Everyone can make a large contribution by doing business from home.”

Koutrakis doing her part

For her part, Vimy Liberal MP Annie Koutrakis offered the following advice to people in her riding. “I would say stay close to each other, whether it’s through a virtual hug or daily telephone calls or texts,” she said. “Obviously none of this is easy for anyone. What I am doing personally, as well as all our family members, is to social-distance ourselves, especially because we do have elderly people in our family. The number one thing that I would say is basic for everybody is handwashing first and foremost.”

Martin C. Barry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for the Laval News,