The Trudeau Liberals have outlined their latest aid package for an economy recovering from Covid-19, proposing targeted financial support to businesses still recovering from the pandemic, help for some workers, and extra weeks of benefits that expired just days ago.
The bill introduced Wednesday in the House of Commons is one of four pieces of legislation the government wants MPs to pass before the middle of December ahead of a scheduled winter break.
The Liberals are proposing to send income-support payments of $300 per week to workers who find themselves off the job because of a “Covid-19-related public health lockdown in their region” between now and spring 2022.
Those payments would be retroactive to Oct. 24 when the Liberals decided to let a pandemic-era benefit for the unemployed expire. The Canada Recovery Benefit’s siblings — sickness and caregiver benefits — would each get revived after expiring this past weekend with two more weeks of eligibility until May 7.
Wage and rent subsidies for businesses would be more generous and targeted over that same period to still-hurting tourism, culture and hospitality sectors, as well as a long list of companies like movie theatres, arcades, casinos and gyms, so long as they can prove a deep and prolonged revenue loss.
The government also plans to extend to May a hiring credit for companies that add to their payrolls by boosting wages, rehiring laid-off workers or new hires, which doesn’t require as deep a revenue loss to qualify.
The Liberals have argued the reason for the change is that the economy is no longer in the same crisis that gripped the country at the onset of the pandemic when three million jobs were lost over March and April of 2020.
Employment has since rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, although the ranks of Canada’s unemployed, including those who have been without a job for six months or more, remains higher than prior to Covid-19.
The mix of high unemployment and labour shortages helps explain why the government wants to target aid, hoping it jump-starts job hiring.
An analysis of survey data by job-posting site Indeed found more respondents were actively looking for work last month compared to July, August and September, and most described their search as “urgent.”
Indeed senior economist Brendon Bernard wrote that urgent job searches are usually linked to financial difficulties, suggesting the findings may be an early warning of strain for households.
The minority Liberals estimate the new aid package would cost $7.4 billion, and the government needs parliamentary approval to spend the money, including enough opposition support.
The Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois separately on Tuesday suggested they may support the bill — the former because benefits will go where needed most, the latter because it would mean help for cultural workers.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Tuesday his party couldn’t support a bill that would cut help for workers, adding that he wants the government to reverse drops in income-tested benefits for low-income seniors and families who received aid last year.
That aid boosted their incomes, and have found their old age and child benefit payments have declined in value.
In a letter Wednesday, NDP finance critic Daniel Blaikie asked House Speaker Anthony Rota to allow an emergency debate on the issue in the House of Commons to press the government on a plan to help “these financially vulnerable Canadians before they lose their home.”
During question period, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said ministers were looking into the issue.