OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce today more financial help for small businesses struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought much of Canada’s economy to a standstill.
It’s likely to involve some changes to the eligibility rules for the Canada Emergency Business Account program that banks and credit unions began delivering last week.
Under the program, the federal government is backing interest-free loans of up to $40,000 for businesses with annual payrolls between $50,000 and $1 million.
One-quarter of each loan will be forgivable if the remainder is paid off by the end of 2022.
Some small and medium-sized businesses with payrolls just under or just over the threshold have complained that they’re not eligible for the loans.
In a motion passed Saturday during an emergency sitting of the House of Commons, the federal government effectively promised to expand the loan program.
It promised to implement additional measures that would be partially refundable and have ”the primary objective of maintaining jobs and reducing debt related to fixed costs, while maintaining access to liquidity in the form of loans.”
Trudeau is also to participate today in a conference call with fellow leaders of G7 countries, where the issue of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to cut funding for the World Health Organization in the midst of a global pandemic is likely to be discussed.
Trump has accused the WHO of being too captive to China, which he maintains covered up the scope of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in that country.
Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland have defended the WHO and the need for countries around the globe to work together to combat the deadly virus.
The prime minister said Wednesday that he intends to use the G7 teleconference to speak with fellow leaders ”about continuing to co-ordinate a strong and effective global response to this pandemic.”
However, today’s discussion among G7 leaders could be awkward, given that the teleconference call is to be chaired by Trump.
Trudeau is also to hold a teleconference call this evening with provincial and territorial premiers, where the discussion is expected to be dominated by the crisis in long-term care facilities, the site of roughly half of Canada’s more than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19.
Trudeau said Wednesday that he wants to discuss with premiers topping up the wages of essential workers, including those in long-term care homes, who earn less than $2,500 a month.
“For many workers looking after the most vulnerable Canadians, including seniors and those with disabilities, we know conditions have gotten more difficult over the past weeks. And you need support right now,” he said.
“Tomorrow, in our weekly meeting, I will discuss with provincial and territorial leaders the importance of getting this wage boost in place as quickly as possible. As we face an unprecedented threat to public health, you are our most important line of defence. We will do whatever we can to help you do your job and support you through this time.”
The wages paid to personal support workers in long-term care facilities are primarily under provincial jurisdiction. Quebec has already topped up the wages for essential workers in such facilities and other provinces may follow suit.
The federal government wants to consult with premiers about what it can do — likely through tweaks to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit — to provide additional financial support for such workers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2020.