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China boosts spending for virus-hit economy – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Joe McDonald, The Associated Press


Published Friday, May 22, 2020 6:16AM EDT


Last Updated Friday, May 22, 2020 11:43AM EDT

BEIJING — China’s No. 2 leader on Friday promised higher spending to revive its pandemic-stricken economy and curb surging job losses but avoided launching a massive stimulus on the scale of the United States or Japan.

Premier Li Keqiang told lawmakers Beijing would set no economic growth target, usually a closely watched feature of government plans, in order to focus on fighting the outbreak. The virus battle “has not yet come to an end,” Li warned.

Also Friday, legislators took up a proposed national security law for Hong Kong that activists complain might be used to suppress political activity. The Trump administration has warned it might withdraw the former British colony’s preferential trade status if the “high degree of autonomy” promised by the mainland is eroded.

The coronavirus pandemic that prompted China to isolate cities with a total population of 60 million people added to strains for the ruling Communist Party that include anti-government protests in Hong Kong and a tariff war with Washington.

China has reported 83,000 virus cases and 4,634 deaths from the virus. It was the first country to shut down factories, shops and travel to fight the pandemic and the first to reopen in March but it is still struggling to revive activity.

Private sector analysts say as much as 30% of the urban workforce, or as many as 130 million people, have lost their jobs at least temporarily. They say as many as 25 million jobs might be lost for good this year.

Beijing will give local governments 2 trillion yuan ($280 billion) to spend on meeting goals including creating 9 million new jobs, Li said. That is in line with expectations for higher spending but a fraction of the $1 trillion-plus stimulus packages launched or discussed by the United States, Japan and Europe.

“These are extraordinary measures for an unusual time,” the premier said in the nationally televised speech.

The world’s second-largest economy contracted by 6.8% over a year earlier in the three months ending in March after factories, offices, travel and other businesses were shut down to fight the virus. Forecasters expect little to no growth this year, down from 2019’s 6.1%, already a multi-decade low.

The big deficit “indicates significant policy support for the domestic recovery,” Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics said in a report.

However, Beijing is reluctant to launch a stimulus that would add to already high Chinese debt and strains on the financial system, Kuijs said.

Li also promised to work with Washington to carry out the truce signed in January in their fight over Beijing’s technology ambitions and trade surplus. The premier gave no details, but President Donald Trump has threatened to back out of the deal if China fails to buy more American exports.

Strains with Washington have been aggravated by Trump’s accusations that Beijing is to blame for the virus’s global spread.

Also Friday, the government announced the military budget, the world’s second-biggest after the United States, will rise 6.6% to 1.3 trillion yuan ($178 billion). The military budget excludes some large items including acquisitions of major weapons systems.

This year’s annual session of the ceremonial National People’s Congress is being held under intensive anti-disease controls. Officials are holding news conferences by video instead of meeting reporters face to face. Reporters are required to undergo laboratory tests for the virus before being allowed into the press centre.

The proposed Hong Kong security law will authorize the NPC to change the territory’s Basic Law, or mini-constitution, to require its government to “prevent, stop and punish acts endangering national security,” according to Wang Chen, a deputy chairman of the Congress’s Standing Committee.

Friday’s move appears to have been prompted by anti-government protests in Hong Kong that began in June over a proposed extradition law and have expanded to cover other grievances and demands for more democracy. A similar measure was withdrawn from Hong Kong’s legislature in 2003 following massive public protests.

Wang said Beijing had to take action because activities in Hong Kong “threatened national security,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Wang blamed the territory’s failure to enact such measures on “sabotage and obstruction” by “external hostile forces” and people “trying to sow trouble in Hong Kong.”

The Trump administration is delaying submission to Congress of a report on Hong Kong’s status to see whether the NPC takes steps that “further undermine” its autonomy, said a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

“Any effort to impose national security legislation that does not reflect the will of the people of Hong Kong would be highly destabilizing, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community,” the spokesman, Frank Whitaker, said in an email.

Amnesty International complained in a statement that such “repressive security regulations” are a “threat to the rule of law in Hong Kong” and an “ominous moment for human rights in the city.”

Hong Kong’s main stock market index tumbled 5.6% on the news. Other Asian markets also declined due to concern about U.S.-Chinese tension but none by such a wide margin.

Li urged officials to make progress in areas including employment, trade, attracting foreign investment, meeting the public’s basic living needs and ensuring the stability of industrial supply chains.

Ensuring economic growth is “of crucial significance” even though Beijing set no official target, Li said. Pressure on employment has “risen significantly,” he said.

Automakers and other manufacturers say production has rebounded almost to normal levels, but consumer spending, the main engine of economic growth, is weak amid widespread worries about potential job losses.

Forecasters say China is likely to face a “W-shaped recovery” with a second downturn and millions of politically volatile job losses later in the year due to weak U.S. and European demand for Chinese exports.

The ruling party hopes to achieve longer-term goals including eliminating rural poverty despite virus-related disruptions of efforts to double economic output and incomes from 2010 levels by this year.

“We will give priority to stabilizing employment and ensuring people’s livelihood and resolutely win the battle to overcome poverty,” the premier said.

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Unemployment rate hits new record even as economy adds jobs – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Published Friday, June 5, 2020 5:18AM EDT


Last Updated Friday, June 5, 2020 3:25PM EDT

OTTAWA – Canada’s employment minister says the federal government is rethinking a key COVID-19 benefit so workers have more incentive to get back on the job, in an effort to maintain a surprising boost in job numbers from May.

Statistics Canada reported that the country got back 289,600 jobs in May – which mirrored a similar bump in the U.S. – after three million jobs were lost over March and April and about 2.5 million more people had their hours slashed.

Provincially, Quebec led the way, gaining 231,000 jobs as it became one of the first provinces to ease restrictions, doing so just before Statistics Canada collected data the week of May 10. Ontario was the only province with losses, albeit at a slower pace than in March and April.

Combined with more people reporting getting regular hours, the agency said Canada had recovered only 10.6 per cent of employment losses and absences related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday’s jobs report showed the unemployment rate in May rose to 13.7 per cent, the highest level in more than four decades of comparable data. But that’s because more people started looking for work – meaning the rate shouldn’t be taken as a sign of underlying weakness, said CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes.

The unemployment rate is a measure of the people looking for work who can’t find it, meaning it can actually decline if job-seekers give up, or increase as formerly discouraged seekers see new signs of hope.

Still, the monthly labour force survey showed that men gained back more jobs than women, resulting in a wider gender gap in employment losses as a result of COVID-19, and that the pandemic continued to disproportionately affect lower-wage workers.

To keep gains going, business and labour groups called for a revamp of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the employment insurance system.

The first cohort of recipients of the $500-a-week payment will max out their 16 weeks of benefits in early July. Some may qualify for employment insurance, while others may not have any work available, meaning significant drops in income that could hamper the path to recovery, said TD senior economist Brian DePratto.

The Canadian Labour Congress and Canadian Chamber of Commerce separately called for reforms to the decades-old EI system, which the Liberals determined early on in the crisis couldn’t handle the influx of jobless claims.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough suggested all ideas are on the table when it comes to EI, and the future of the CERB.

“As we look into the months coming … we’ve got a different goal in mind: People need to get back to work safely,” she said at a midday press conference.

“So our thinking moving forward is how do we balance a need to continue to support workers, while not disincentivizing work?”

The most recent federal figures show 8.37 million people applied for the CERB, with $43.18 billion in payments as of June 2. Qualtrough said 1.2 million recipients no longer require it, although it wasn’t immediately clear why.

The Canada Revenue Agency also said this week that almost 190,000 payments of wrongfully received benefits had been made as of June 3.

Economists had been watching the CERB numbers as a proxy for Friday’s jobs report, which set up expectations for another round of job losses.

CERB figures will continued to be watched to track possible job losses and compare it to areas where there are signs of progress, said Brendon Bernard, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab.

“The strength of this rebound is going to depend to a significant degree on what happens with layoffs,” he said in an interview. “We could see some areas of the economy bounce-back as shuttered sectors reopen, but if layoffs continue, then it’s going to be tough for net job gains to be particularly strong.”

The total number of unemployed Canadians doubled from February to April, a surge driven by temporary layoffs that the vast majority of workers expected to last less than six months.

At the same time, there was a spike in the number of people who wanted to work but weren’t actively looking for jobs, likely because the economic shutdown has limited job opportunities. People not actively seeking work aren’t counted in unemployment figures.

The unemployment rate for May would have been 19.6 per cent had the report counted among the unemployed those who stopped looking for work – largely unchanged since April.

Statistics Canada said lower-wage workers recovered just over one-10th of the losses they experienced in March and April. But they continued to be a higher share of people working less than half of their usual hours.

Lower-wage workers were among the first- and hardest-hit during the shutdown, largely because they worked in industries like retail, restaurants and hotels that closed early in the pandemic.

Besides seeing less improvement generally compared with men, women with children under age six saw slower job gains than those with older children.

Rebounds were also weak for students and recent immigrants.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2020.

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Saskatchewan says economy is rebounding despite 12.5% unemployment rate – Globalnews.ca

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The Saskatchewan government is feeling confident its economy is on the rebound.

This comes despite the unemployment rate being 12.5 per cent at the end of May, according to Statistics Canada’s latest Labour Force Survey released Friday.

By the end of April, the unemployment rate in the province was 11.3 per cent. Saskatchewan’s unemployment rate is, however, the second-lowest among provinces and below the national average of 13.7 per cent.


READ MORE:
Saskatchewan loses nearly 53K jobs from March to April: Statistics Canada

“The Saskatchewan workforce is still being seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic but there are a number of signs that show Saskatchewan’s economy is both recovering faster, and was less impacted, than other provinces,” said Jeremy Harrison, immigration and career training minister, in a statement.

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“We have the second-lowest unemployment rate in Canada and the number of people working rose in May, which is a strong, positive sign in the COVID-19 era.  The Saskatchewan economy is positioned to strongly improve as we move forward with the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan.”

In Saskatchewan, there were 600 more jobs in May than April, while 87 per cent of those working in February were working in May.


READ MORE:
Nearly 21K jobs lost in Saskatchewan in March due to COVID-19: Statistics Canada

Since February, the number of hours worked in the province has dropped by 9.1 per cent. It’s the second-lowest decline in provinces. Nationally, the average decline in the number of hours worked over that same period is 19.3 per cent.






8:17
Coronavirus outbreak: All options on the table for benefits to help those impacted by COVID-19


Coronavirus outbreak: All options on the table for benefits to help those impacted by COVID-19

“Looking forward, we are seeing positive economic news in Saskatchewan, including announcements about helium and lithium recently,” Harrison said.

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“These new investments will bring jobs and investment to communities across the province and will help lift our economy out of the current challenges facing markets globally.”


READ MORE:
Coronavirus: Canada lost 1 million jobs in March

The province said businesses in Saskatchewan are faring better than other jurisdictions, claiming to have closed fewer than other provinces did.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

“This speaks to the strength of Saskatchewan’s economy and a strong reopening plan aiding in economic recovery,” the province said in a release issued on Friday.

Despite the optimism from the provincial government, the Saskatchewan NDP has laid out three actions it believes the province should take right now to strengthen the economy going forward.

First, to put Saskatchewan businesses and workers first through a Sask-first procurement plan that helps keep jobs in the province. Secondly, make the Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency program more accessible.






1:43
Saskatchewan tops up economic stimulus package by $2 billion


Saskatchewan tops up economic stimulus package by $2 billion

Finally, to end the six-month lockout between Regina’s Co-op Refinery and its workers, which would put 800 Saskatchewan people back to work.

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“New Democrats have urged Premier Moe and this Sask. Party government to protect jobs and small businesses, but clearly not enough has been done,” Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said.

“We know that Saskatchewan’s economy was already shrinking before COVID – and now the Premier’s lack of action to put Saskatchewan workers and businesses first is making things worse.”

Saskatchewan continues its reopen plan with Phase 3 beginning on June 8.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Uncertainty abounds as Nova Scotia economy reopens – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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Premier Stephen McNeil is encouraging people to “think local,  support local” as the province’s economy reopens Friday but the future of many small businesses struggling to meet government public health guidelines remain uncertain.

“Businesses will require our support on a go-forward basis,” said McNeil Thursday, before facing criticism from opposition leaders for what they deemed a poorly orchestrated and communicated reopening plan that has left businesses scrambling to reopen.

“There should be a massive information exercise by the Province of Nova Scotia that gives Nova Scotians confidence in the system that’s in play,” said Tory Leader Tim Houston.

Government announced its plan to reopen sectors of the economy, including restaurants and bars, salons and gyms last week. The premier has faced ongoing criticism for not offering clear direction on what specific public health requirements, including equipment, businesses need to meet in order to reopen.   

“The lack of information over the last few weeks and couple of months has really put businesses at a disadvantage,” said Houston. “I’m hearing from lots that are having difficulty getting supplies that they think they need for disinfecting. There’s a whole host of businesses that still don’t know what they’re required to do and what their customers are required to do.”

The province is offering a $25-million grant program that offers up to $5,000  for small business, non-profits and other operations, including dental offices.  The program is intended to help those groups with the costs of buying equipment and cleaning supplies needed to reopen. 

Sectors, including barber shops and hair salons, are frustrated over the limit of 10 occupants permitted in their businesses. Restaurants will essentially be reduced to half capacity. Many businesses are unable to secure protective equipment and cleaning supplies in time to reopen.

Meanwhile, many small businesses are still pleading for rent relief.  The federal Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program, offering to cover 75 per cent of  rent for small businesses, has had limited uptake largely because it’s optional for landlords.

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan admitted that businesses would require added financial assistance at least through the initial months of the reopening. He said that’s especially true given that tourism numbers are predicted to drop dramatically this summer, a primary source of for many businesses reopening.

“I think that’s inevitable, to be honest,” said MacLellan. 

His department is working directly with associations representing businesses working to get their reopening plans approved by public health and government.  

“We’ll open up and see how things go the first few days,” said MacLellan. “I’m absolutely certain we’ll hear back from those associations.”

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