PM hikes wage subsidy so smaller businesses ‘come back strong’

OTTAWA —
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a major increase to the wage subsidy for small- and medium-sized businesses, boosting it to 75 per cent, up from the 10 per cent previously promised.

This decision, to help “qualifying businesses” keep employees on staff, is being back-dated to March 15, with more information coming over the weekend.

The federal government is launching a special emergency business account for small businesses that will see banks offer $40,000 government-guaranteed loans interest-free for the first year. If certain conditions are met, the first $10,000 will be forgiven.

As well, an additional $12.5 billion is being made available through federal programs, to help with “operational cash flow requirements,” and HST and GST payments are being deferred until June, giving businesses more time to make their payments.

Directing his remarks to small business owners and entrepreneurs, Trudeau said he knows the last few weeks have been “heartbreaking,” and the federal government realized much more help would be needed than initially committed.

“You’ve had to slow down your operations, in some cases you’ve even had to close up shop for the foreseeable future, and because money isn’t coming in, you can’t afford to keep your employees on the payroll. These are really tough decisions,” Trudeau said.

Across Canada, businesses have been rolling with a series of evolving restrictions as each province and territory operates in an emergency state, a “climate of uncertainty” as Trudeau said Friday.

The prime minister said he hopes these measures will allow employers to retain staff through this global pandemic, and help keep businesses afloat.

“I know many Canadians across the country are saddened to see their favourite neighbourhood spots closed, these are the places that make our communities feel like home,” Trudeau said, calling these businesses the “backbone” of the economy, and collectively the largest employer in the country.

“I am counting on you to come back strong from this, no matter what comes next,” he said.

More help for vulnerable soon

As Canadians round out what for many has been their second week of working from home while self-isolating and heeding physical-distancing advice, Trudeau said additional measures for vulnerable populations will be taken.

Citing youth, marginalized populations, and Canadians in poverty, the prime minister said more help will be rolled out “very soon.”

“In the meantime, let’s keep listening to public health officials. Let’s wash our hands, stay at home as much as possible, and keep a safe distance from each other when we go for a walk or when we have to go to the grocery store.”

In the last two weeks, Canada has shut its border to non-Canadian citizens coming from abroad, with a few exemptions, and has banned all non-essential travel over the Canada-U.S. border, with enhanced screening measures and tough new penalties in place for returning travellers who do not self-isolate.

A $107 billion financial assistance and stimulus package has passed through Parliament, and Service Canada centres have shuttered, with employees still working.

Trudeau said that the government is looking into how to assist people who are unable to use the online portals to apply for key government of Canada services while these offices remain closed to the public.

PM ‘pleased’ w interest rate cut

Friday morning, the Bank of Canada announced an unscheduled interest rate cut, slashing the key interest target by half a percentage point to 0.25 per cent. Global economies have been badly hit by the pandemic which has seen half a million people in Canada alone file for employment insurance in recent weeks.

Trudeau said he is pleased with supporting actions taken by the Bank of Canada.

Following a call with G20 leaders on Thursday, Trudeau emphasized the need for global co-ordination on the COVID-19 pandemic response, including ensuring supplies flow and a vaccine is developed.

Plans to stay in self-isolation

The prime minister has now been in self-isolation for just over two weeks, after his wife Sophie contracted the virus. Trudeau has said she is feeling better and neither he nor his kids have demonstrated any symptoms.

Asked whether he intends to stay in self-isolation, as he continues to address Canadians from outside his front steps at Rideau Cottage, Trudeau said that for now he said he is happy to stay home, given he is asking Canadians to work from home as much as possible.

As of Friday morning, there are 4,043 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, and 39 people have died. Globally, there are nearly 550,000 confirmed cases, and nearly 25,000 people have died.  

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