This article was updated on Wednesday, September 23rd at 6:46 p.m. (EST)
The Liberals have reversed their decision to wind down the federal wage subsidy and have pledged to extend the program into summer 2021, the party announced in Wednesday’s (Sept. 23rd) throne speech, which was read by Governor General of Canada Julie Payette.
The plan to extend the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program will come as good news to businesses that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canadian employers could apply for a subsidy of 75 per cent of employee wages. However, over the summer, the federal government decided to start scaling back the program by paying out a smaller subsidy with each passing month.
The government was warned that businesses that have utilized the program would need financial help well into 2021 as fixed costs remained steady.
Wednesday’s throne speech from Ottawa acknowledged the economic situation many businesses still face.
The Liberals also promised help for workers who have lost their jobs amid the pandemic, stating that the Employment Insurance (EI) system will become the main support system for Canadians. It will replace the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program.
A transitional Canada Recovery Benefit for those unqualified for EI will also be rolled out, the Liberals said.
As of Sept. 13th, Ottawa had paid out just over $35.3 billion in benefits to 312,750 different companies.
Supporting the "hardest hit"
Gov. Gen. Payette said the government will introduce further support for industries that have been "the hardest hit," including travel and tourism.
The 54-minute speech did not touch on the reopening of Canada's borders, lifting travel restrictions or the country's 14-day quarantine protocols.
However, there was a brief mention of supporting Canada's airline industry.
"...to further link our communities together, the government will work with partners to support regional routes for airlines. It is essential that Canadians have access to reasonable and affordable regional air services. This is an issue of equity, of jobs, and of economic development," Payette said. "The government will work to support this."
Tourism coalition speaks out
The Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses, a recently-formed group aimed at protecting tourism jobs in Canada, released the following statement in response to Wednesday's speech:
“...we applaud the Government for listening to stakeholders as they laid out their new priorities. Specifically, we thank the government for recognizing the unique position of our sectors – that travel and tourism, hospitality, and cultural industries like the performing arts are the hardest hit – and for committing to extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy until Summer 2021," the statement said. "Minister Melanie Joly has been a strong advocate for our sectors, and we look forward to continuing to work with her and the government at large to ensure that the design of the CEWS program is amended to include the full 75% subsidy through to the Summer 2021.”
Trudeau addresses the nation
Other items the Liberals promised on Wednesday included: to create one million new jobs, launch the largest jobs training program in the country's history and to build a national child-care program to support working women.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated his government's plan in a rare primetime address to the nation later that day.
Calling COVID-19 "the fight of our generation," and noting that a second wave is already underway, Trudeau explained how his government has been able to afford their financial aid programs throughout the pandemic.
"The low interest rates mean we can afford it. In fact, doing less would end up costing far more. Doing less would mean a slower recovery and bigger deficits in the long run," said Trudeau.
The Prime Minister added:
"While we're dealing with this pandemic, I don't want you, or your parent or your friend to take on debt that your government can better shoulder."
So far the Bloc Québécois and Conservative parties have announced that they will vote against Wednesday's speech. If the NDP does the same, a fall federal election will unfold.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told media on Wednesday that he had not yet decided how his caucus will vote.
"We're going to take a lot of time to consider the throne speech and make sure we evaluate it and make a decision around whether we're supporting or not," he said, as reported by the CBC.
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