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New $37B COVID-19 aid package extends CERB, expands EI and adds 'recovery' benefits – CBC.ca

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The federal government is extending the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) by one more month and revamping the employment insurance program to allow more people to receive financial assistance during COVID-19.

The suite of benefit reforms, aimed at helping Canadians through the transition as the economy gradually reopens, is expected to cost $37 billion.

Measures include greater flexibility on the work hours required for EI, making it easier for people to qualify for a one-year period.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough announced the new measures during a news conference in Ottawa Thursday afternoon.

“We’re doing our very best to support all Canadian workers and leave no one behind,” Qualtrough said.

CERB, which has already paid out more than $69 billion to more than 8.6 million recipients, will now be in place until Sept. 27, extending the program from six months to 28 weeks. 

WATCH | $37B aid package includes CERB extension, new benefits:

The federal government has announced a $37-billion aid package that extends the CERB and expands EI benefits to help those still struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the deal requires the approval of Parliament, which is prorogued until late September. 2:01 

CERB pays people $2,000 a month.

Canadians who were already eligible for EI will transition to that program when CERB winds down, while those who don’t qualify can apply for new “recovery” benefits.

Self-employed or gig workers, for example, can apply for a benefit of up to $400 a week for up to 26 weeks if they have stopped working or had reduced incomes due to COVID-19.

Under the new regime, they can continue to earn money, but will be required to repay 50 cents of every dollar earned above $38,000.

Sick leave benefit

A second new benefit will provide 10 days of paid sick leave to any worker in Canada who falls ill or has to self-isolate due to COVID-19. That will provide $500 a week, and a claimant can’t claim this benefit and another sick leave payment at the same time.

That program was negotiated with the provinces and territories under an agreement to restart the national economy safely.

A third benefit will support Canadians who must stay home to care for a child under 12 or another dependent because their school, daycare or other day program facility is shut down due to COVID. People who choose to keep their kids home even though the facility is open will not qualify, unless they provide proof there is a medical reason to do so such as an immunodeficiency disorder. 

The three new recovery benefits, which will be taxed at payment, are expected to cost $22 billion. The extension of CERB another $8 billion and added EI costs are pegged at $7 billion, for a total of $37 billion.

Applications for the new recovery benefits are scheduled to open in October, with payments flowing in three to five days.

But the recovery benefits require parliamentary approval, and Parliament is currently prorogued until Sept. 23, when the House of Commons will begin a new session with a speech from the throne crafted by the Liberal government.

Package ‘the right thing to do’: Freeland

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the suspension of Parliament will allow the government to focus on its post-pandemic economic recovery plan. Because the mandate has changed significantly since last fall’s election, Trudeau said it was also important to get a vote of confidence on the government’s agenda from the House of Commons.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the new aid package is the ‘right thing to do for Canadians.’ (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Asked by a reporter if the government was showing contempt for Parliament by forcing a confidence vote before the benefits could flow, Freeland said the package is the “right thing to do for Canadians” and the other parties will have an opportunity to debate the plan.

“That is a really democratic approach and that’s where we’re taking it,” she said.

Liberals letting Canadians down: Conservatives

Conservative employment critic Dan Albas and Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre issued a joint statement calling it “unacceptable” that the Liberal government announced the changes just days after shutting down Parliament.

“Canadians have serious questions about this transition and how it will affect them. They deserve transparency and clear answers,” it reads.

“Millions of Canadians are still unemployed and eager to return to work. Businesses want to reopen and welcome back staff and customers. But instead of fixing their programs and outlining a plan to restart our economy, the Trudeau Liberals continue to let Canadians down.”

Conservative finance critic MP’s Pierre Poilievre, left, said it’s ‘unacceptable’ for the Liberals to announce the changes just days after shutting down Parliament. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The NDP’s employment critic Daniel Blaikie also criticized the timing, noting the government waited until CERB had almost run out before making today’s announcement. Now with Parliament suspended, Canadians will have to wait another month to see if what the Liberals are promising will actually be delivered, he said.

“We are glad that the government listened to us on paid sick leave and extending CERB until the end of September, but we’re concerned that, instead of making desperately needed long-term changes to EI to help all Canadian workers, these changes are temporary,” Blaikie said.

In a statement, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said the content of the plan seems to meet the party’s demands, but “this legislation should have been passed before the prorogation of Parliament.” 

“I warn the prime minister against the temptation to take workers and businesses hostage to force the adoption of the speech from the throne,” Blanchet said.

EI changes a ‘disincentive’: CFIB

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce welcomed the fact the measures were only for one year, and said the focus should be to safely restart the economy.

“Making these changes permanent would have seriously strained the government’s fiscal capabilities. We continue to advocate a growth-focused plan that will unlock economic capacity, fuel job creation and promote new business investment,” said chief economist Trevin Stratton in a statement.

“While we support the need to assist families and individuals through the current crisis, the Canadian Chamber believes our priority must be getting Canadians safely back to work and ensuring the country’s long-term prosperity.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) also urged the government to make sure the EI expansion measures are temporary, warning that any permanent step could have “massive unintended consequences” during ordinary times.

CFIB president Dan Kelly said the the biggest concern for small business owners is that some workers will now be able to collect EI benefits for up to 26 weeks after showing only 120 hours of work over the past year.  

“This is just too low a bar and will serve as a disincentive for many part-time workers to return to their pre-COVID employment,” he said. “I expect that retail, hospitality, arts and recreation and service sector businesses – the very sectors hardest hit by the economic effects of COVID-19 – will struggle to bring back their part-time workforce. This will slow Canada’s economic recovery.”

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COVID-19 in Canada: What a second shutdown might look like – CTV News

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This article was featured in the Nightly Briefing, CTV News’ evening reading recommendation. You can sign up here to receive it each weekday night.

As countries around the world start re-imposing coronavirus restrictions amid spikes in new cases, Canadian politicians and health officials are warning that parts of the country may soon enter a second shutdown.

However, infectious disease physician Dr. Zain Chagla says the second lockdown will not look like the first.

“We’re very different than we were in March, we had no clue how deep this was going to spread into our communities, there was hospital issues in terms of health care utilization, and we really had limited testing and didn’t really understand where this disease was transmitted within our community,” Chagla explained in an interview with CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.

“So we had to really do something very global to get things to work.”

Now, Chagla said provincial health authorities have a better grasp on what measures work in mitigating the risk of COVID-19.

While Canada’s case numbers are rising, Chagla said the country has access to reasonable testing, healthcare systems aren’t currently overloaded and both the public and officials understand that private, indoor gatherings are largely contributing to the spread of the virus.

He added that having these factors under control gives Canada the opportunity to thoughtfully prepare for a second wave and another possible shutdown.

“We have the luxury of sitting here and actually making some very precise changes to see if we can keep transmission down afterwards, rather than putting everyone through what we did in March and April,” Chagla said.

To avoid a repeat scenario, he explained that policymakers need to keep COVID-19 messaging positive and consistent, plan creative long-term solutions for outdoor facilities, and closely monitor allowable gathering sizes.

“We’re going to have ebbs and flows but these sorts of solutions, what we’re going to be doing for the months and going into the winter and even further than that, are going to have to be sustainable and so that’s where the positive messaging comes from,” Chagla said.

Chagla added that there is a misconception about who is transmitting the virus. He says “there’s a big thought” that recent spikes are all young people that are partying together but in reality, “it’s still families that are having get-togethers” such as weddings and other celebrations where the virus is spreading.

“All of us kind of need to be messaged positively to say ‘OK, [COVID-19] is still here. We can protect our communities. We can do things safely’,” he said.

To help with this, Chagla said outdoor facilities and restaurants need to be better equipped to allow Canadians to safely socialize especially as the country heads into the winter months.

“Making more outdoor facilities gives us the recognition that we need to socialize. We need to actually be around people and there is a way to do it safely with a few more layers, but sparing what’s going to happen to the medical system,” Chagla said.

Additionally, Chagla said policymakers should not impede Canadians’ ability to get tested, but also not encourage over-testing.

As long lines are being reported at COVID-19 testing centres across the country, the federal government has pledged billions in funding to address the issue and improve other pandemic measures.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTV News Channel that the testing wait times stem from a combination of factors, including limited testing capacity and an increased desire from the population to receive a test.

Bogoch said in an interview on Thursday that these factors need to be addressed amid the current rise in cases.

“The capacity currently is significantly better than what it was in for example March or April of this year, but clearly it’s not where it needs to be,” he said.

New testing centres have recently opened in Edmonton and Laval, Que. while another is slated to open soon in Brampton, Ont. However, Bogoch said this still might not be enough.

To address the capacity issue, Bogoch said provinces may have to change their messaging around testing.

“Given the snapshot that we’re in right now, maybe it’s best for messaging to focus on people to get tested if they’re either at risk for getting this infection, if they have any signs or symptoms of infection regardless of how mild, or if they’ve had any possible exposures to this infection,” Bogoch explained.

“Certainly those individuals should be prioritized, but in the same breath of course, you shouldn’t be turned away from a testing centre,” he added.

Amid the testing issues, Chagla says monitoring gathering sizes remains key in managing Canada’s recent COVID-19 spikes.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce that the province will lower limits on social gatherings in its hotspots to stem recent increases in COVID-19 cases. Ford said that the “highest fines in the country” will be put in place to stop people from breaking the regulations but Chagla says the move does not go far enough.

“I think that’s a good symbolic gesture, but there does need to be some enforcement unfortunately for some of these people that take things out of control and lead to a significant public health event,” Chagla said.

Bogoch told CTV News Channel that rolling back gathering limits in Ontario’s hotspots is the “right move.”

“We clearly can’t continue on at the status quo, and there clearly needs to be measures to limit transmission, especially in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa. That’s a smart move,” Bogoch said in an interview on Thursday.

He added that the province will see some benefit from the rollback, if the implementation of the new gathering limits are clearly communicated and enforced.

While Ontario rolls back its gathering limit, Bogoch said other provinces experiencing outbreaks should follow suit.

“We’re seeing widespread community transmission in four provinces. Clearly, we need to clamp back down to get this virus under control,” he said.

“What does clamp down mean? It’s not entirely clear. Different provinces are taking different steps, but it’s obvious that we need to take action now to prevent these cases from rising.”

Last week in Quebec, the government said police can hand out tickets, ranging between $400 and $6,000, to those who don’t have a face covering in indoor public spaces or on public transit.

The province also announced several measures in addition to the fines, including the banning of karaoke and obliging bars to keep registers of clients as infection numbers rise.

In response to its increase in cases, B.C. ordered the immediate closure of nightclubs and banquet halls and reduced restaurant hours last week after daily COVID-19 case numbers were consistently above 100.

“I think we need to all start rethinking about what we need to do to get us through the next few months as a community together, and these are some of the things that we’ll need to put aside for now,” B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry explained at a news conference.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam reminded Canadians at a press conference on Tuesday to take precautionary measures if they must socialize, including having hand sanitizer readily available, wearing masks or other face coverings, and cleaning common areas before and after the event.

“The key message is that the time to act is now across the board in terms of reducing some of the contacts you’ve had over the summer months,” Tam said.

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Trump says Canada wants to reopen the border. But do we, really? – CBC.ca

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments on Friday suggesting Canada is keen to reopen the border with his country stand in direct contrast to statements made by Canadian officials supporting the continued border restrictions. 

“We’re looking at the border with Canada. Canada would like it open, and, you know, we want to get back to normal business,” Trump said at the White House, adding that “we’re going to be opening the borders pretty soon” to take advantage of the renegotiated NAFTA. 

“We’re working with Canada. We want to pick a good date, having to do with the pandemic. And I happen to think we’re rounding the turn,” Trump said. 

Asked by CBC News to respond, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office pointed to a tweet from Public Safety Minister Bill Blair earlier in the day, saying the border will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least Oct. 21. 

“We will continue to base our decisions on the best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe,” Blair wrote.

WATCH | Trump suggests U.S-Canada border could reopen soon:

U.S. President Donald Trump responded to a question about the border as he left the White House on Friday. 0:48

When CBC first reported on the extension of restrictions into October — they were due to expire this week — one source said Canadians should prepare for them to last even longer. 

The official stopped short, however, of saying they would remain until Christmas, but that the policy was open to tweaks. 

Three senior sources with direct knowledge of the situation, speaking to CBC News on condition they not be named, have repeatedly expressed — over recent months and again on Friday — how pleased they are with the current restrictions. 

One source said both Canada and the U.S. see them as effective and as strong, co-operative measures necessary to respond to the pandemic.

Keeping Canadians safe

Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., said last week that she speaks with U.S officials about the border restrictions on a weekly basis and there is a general agreement the current situation is working well. 

“The measures are doing what they were designed to do … to allow the flow of commercial goods and essential services while controlling the spread of the virus and reduce the risk to our citizens on both sides,” Hillman said.

“When push comes to shove, our No. 1 goal is going to be to keep Canadians safe.”  

Blair told reporters Wednesday that he’s looking to make adjustments to allow more travel on humanitarian grounds, but that any changes will be limited and that, broadly, he wants to keep the restrictions. 

90% support 

With COVID-19 caseloads still high in many U.S. states, public opinion surveys have also suggested there’s little appetite in Canada for change.

A new poll by Research Co. found earlier this month that out of 1,000 Canadians surveyed online at the end of August, 90 per cent agreed with the current restrictions.

The world’s longest international border has been closed to non-essential travel for months though essential workers — such as truck drivers and health-care professionals — are still able to cross by land. Canadians are also still able to fly to U.S. destinations.

Ottawa has also moved to curb the movement of Americans through Canada on their way to Alaska. U.S. travellers destined for the northern state have been limited to five crossings in Western Canada and they must commit to taking a direct route.

In June, a man travelling from Alaska to the continental United States was charged with violating Canada’s Quarantine Act. He was accused of twice failing to follow COVID-19 public safety rules while in Banff, Alta.

If he’s found to have violated a quarantine order, he could be fined up to $750,000 or sentenced to six months in jail.

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75% of Canadians approve of another coronavirus shutdown if second wave hits: Ipsos – Global News

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Canadians would largely be supportive of another widespread shutdown if a second wave of the coronavirus occurred, new polling from Ipsos suggests.

In a survey conducted on behalf of Global News, Ipsos found that 75 per cent of respondents would approve of quickly shutting down non-essential businesses in that scenario, with 37 per cent strongly supporting the idea.

Read more:
Bars vs. schools? WHO says countries must choose, but it’s not cut and dried

About three quarters said they anticipated a second wave to hit their communities this fall.

The polling comes as Canada sees a dramatic resurgence in the virus, along with long lines for testing in some cities. In the last two weeks, the number of cases being reported across the country each day has risen by nearly 50 per cent.

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0:46
Coronavirus: Patty Hajdu says she won’t rule out another economic shutdown if COVID-19 cases continue to rise


Coronavirus: Patty Hajdu says she won’t rule out another economic shutdown if COVID-19 cases continue to rise

In her most recent update, Canada’s chief public health officer said the uptick was cause for concern.

“With continued circulation of the virus, the situation could change quickly and we could lose the ability to keep COVID-19 cases at manageable levels,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement.

Ipsos Public Affairs CEO Darrell Bricker said as case counts rise, support for lockdown measures similar to what we saw when the pandemic broke out in the spring will likely increase.

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“People are really watching on a daily basis … (the) number of case counts going up, and they’re really worried,” he said.

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The support shown for shutdown measures in Canada is in line with an international trend, Bricker said. Ipsos polling shows people in many countries are generally on board with the unprecedented measures taken to combat the spread of COVID-19, though Canadians tend to show stronger approval.

“There is, generally speaking, a fairly consistent view that we need to be careful, that this is a real problem, that they believe that shutdowns and controls are a way of dealing with it,” he said.

There were, however, some differences across the country when it comes to how well Canadians think their governments are prepared for a potential second wave.

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Nationally, 71 per cent said they’re confident their province is ready, with 29 per cent disagreeing. But the proportion of those critical of their province’s ability to handle another wave of the virus was highest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, at 42 per cent.

Read more:
Time to stock up again? The likelihood of empty shelves in a second coronavirus wave

Just under two thirds of Canadians are concerned about contracting the virus themselves. Even though those who are older are most at risk, the bigger difference was between genders, the polling revealed. Seventy-two per cent of women said they were concerned versus 55 per cent of men.

Bricker said that result is part of a larger pattern shown in health polling data more generally.

“They tend to pay less attention to their health,” he said of men. “They tend to be less concerned about things that are risky.”

The poll also looked at the issue of mandatory vaccination in the event a vaccine is developed and approved. Almost two thirds, or 63 per cent of those asked, said they thought the vaccine should be mandatory, a figure that is down nine points since July.

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The survey was conducted between Sept. 11 and 14 — after the start of the school year for most Canadian families. There have already been outbreaks reported at schools in a few provinces.

Thirty-eight per cent of respondents said they felt schools were opening up too quickly, while about half — 53 per cent — said the speed of reopening has been just right.

This Ipsos poll was conducted between Sept. 11 and 14, 2020, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed online. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18+ been polled.

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

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