Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland announced an expanded eligibility for support programs on Wednesday (Dec. 22), allowing any worker to apply for support if their workplace faces capacity-limiting restrictions of 50 per cent or more.
The announcement comes as provinces have implemented new restrictions for bars, restaurants and other workplaces to try and limit the spread of the highly-contagious COVID-19 Omicorn variant.
“The Omicron variant is a real and serious threat to the health and safety of Canadians and the capacity of our health care system. In light of the public health situation and new restrictions in a number of provinces, we are temporarily expanding eligibility for key support measures offered for workers and businesses,” Freeland said. “The federal government will continue to help Canadians through the pandemic and ensure Canada’s economic recovery leaves no one behind.”
Ottawa intends to introduce new regulations that would expand the Local Lockdown Program to also:
- Reduce the current-month revenue decline threshold requirement to 25 per cent.
- Allow eligible employers to receive wage and rent subsidies from 25 per cent up to a maximum of 75 per cent, depending on their degree of revenue loss.
The 12-month revenue decline test continues to not be required in order to access this support, officials said.
The government also intends to expand the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit to include workers in regions where provincial or territorial governments have introduced capacity-limiting restrictions of 50 per cent or more.
As announced previously, this benefit will provide $300 a week in income support to eligible workers who are directly affected by a COVID-19-related public health lockdown, and who have lost 50 per cent or more of their income as a result.
The updated regulations will apply from December 19, 2021, to February 12, 2022, during which time it is expected that public health authorities will continue to implement “circuit-breaker” restrictions that limit the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 across Canada.
The expansion of support programs is expected to cost about $4 billion and will be fully covered by the $4.5 billion Omicron provision announced in the recent Economic and Fiscal Update 2021, Ottawa said.
This is in addition to the initial cost estimate of $7.4 billion when the programs were announced in October 2021.
Is it effective?
Critics are already saying the supports are too restrictive to be an effective financial support as no region in Canada is officially under lockdown.
"The CWLB is only available when a COVID-19 lockdown order is designated for your region. Your region may be designated if the lockdown lasts for 14 days or more," a government web page explaining the program said.
Under a heading titled "When you can apply," the page said applications will only open "if a COVID-19 lockdown region is designated."
The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) took to Twitter yesterday to say that it is investigating just how the lockdown supports will apply to certain travel agents and agencies.
“ACTA is working with the Ministry of Finance to confirm independent travel agent and furloughed travel agency employee eligibility under the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit,” the association tweeted on Dec. 22. “At this time, applications for this program are not available. We will communicate further details ASAP.”
ACTA’s position is that all barriers impacting travel, including Canada's expensive mandatory molecular testing requirement at the border, equates to being in lockdown.
“We assert that any COVID-19 related restrictions on the border, including travel advisories and onerous testing requirements, constitute a government-imposed public health lockdown that interrupts the work of travel agents,” ACTA President Wendy Paradis told PAX in October.
Other benefits extended
The government is also extending the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit until May 7, 2022, and increasing the maximum duration of benefits by 2 weeks.
It’s also extending the Canada Recovery Hiring Program until May 7, 2022, for eligible employers with current revenue losses above 10 per cent and increasing the subsidy rate to 50 per cent.
As PAX has previously reported, the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program has also been launched, providing up to 75 per cent wage and rent support to hard-hit businesses, like travel agencies, with revenue losses of over 40 per cent.
Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is now accepting applications online for these benefits. However, most independent agents are not eligible due to a policy gap.
“ACTA will continue to advocate for a new program that supports travel agency furloughed employees, sole proprietors and independent contractors," Paradis said last week.
ACITA launches urgent survey
In response to the exclusion, the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), in collaboration with Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, has launched an urgent survey that aims to gather data from roughly 12,000 independent travel advisors in Canada with regards to lost revenues.
“It's our hope that the data collected will help the decision makers see how devastated our sector of the travel industry is and speed up the process of providing aid to independent travel advisors," the survey reads.
Responses will be kept anonymous, ACITA says, and participates are being asked to answer all five questions.
The information collected will help the federal government “further understand why we need help, and how they can do that in the immediate future,” ACITA co-founder Brenda Slater of Beyond the Beach told PAX in a recent statement.