Canada’s last emergency COVID-19 benefits expire today and the federal government says it has no plans to renew its unprecedented support programs, created in response to the pandemic.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office says Canada’s strong job growth and record unemployment rate is proof that continued pandemic support won’t be needed beyond May 7.
“From the start of the pandemic, we have been relentlessly focused on jobs – to keep Canadians employed and to keep their employers afloat,” said Freeland publicist Adrienne Vaupshas. in an email.
“With our economy in this position, the time for extraordinary COVID support is now over,” Vaupshas added, echoing a statement made by Freeland when it presented the 2022 budget in April.
Public health officials also say they are cautiously optimistic about signs that transmission levels are falling.
At a news conference on Friday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada is seeing “a decrease in transmission in many areas.” Some indicators, such as virus levels in sewage, indicate that the Omicron wave is “showing signs of a potential plateau,” Tam added.
The expiration of benefits means workers will no longer be paid by the government if they have to self-isolate due to a positive COVID test, or if they have to leave work to care for a child due illness or pandemic-related school closures.
A program for workers forced out of their jobs due to local closures is also ending today.
Programs designed to support hard-hit businesses, such as one that subsidized part of employee wages, are also ending.
The following programs are among those expiring on May 7:
- Canadian Lockdown Workers Benefit
- Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit
- Canada Recovery Caregiver Benefit
- Canada Recovery Hiring Program
- Tourism and hospitality recovery program
- Hardest hit business resumption program
Applications for these programs can be made retroactively and will continue to be accepted by the government after May 7. Those applying for worker benefits have 60 days to submit their claims, while businesses have 180 days.
Workers ‘still live and exist in a pandemic’
Alyse Stuart, union representative for Fish, Food and Allied Workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, said Ottawa’s decision to end benefits ignores the ongoing disruption to Atlantic Canada’s fishing industry. by the pandemic.
She described a wave of infections passing through processing plants currently preparing for the busy summer season.
Most workers at these facilities don’t have access to paid sick leave, Stuart said, forcing them to make a difficult choice between self-isolating and missing paychecks or going to work sick.
“For us, it’s kind of a perfect storm where these benefits end when we’re just experiencing our own wave in these rural communities,” Stuart told CBC News.
“For our members, and certainly for our rural communities, the time is still for extraordinary measures as we continue to live and exist in a pandemic.
Small businesses struggling with debt
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business also warns that the end of business-focused supports could prevent struggling businesses from getting back on their feet.
“Whether the supports that end this weekend are still the right supports is probably a good debate we can have,” said Corinne Pohlmann, senior vice president of national affairs at CFIB.
She said expiring benefits today might be appropriate, but she called on Ottawa to consider additional long-term support for businesses that have racked up large debts during the pandemic.
The group specifically wants to see Ottawa cancel half of all debt incurred under the Canada Emergency Business Account program and extend the repayment deadline for an additional year until December 31, 2023.
Average small business debt now stands at $140,000, according to CFIB figures, and businesses in sectors like the arts and hospitality are even further out of the red.
“We still have to think about how we can help these hard-hit businesses that are struggling with debt that they must have accrued through no fault of their own,” Pohlmann said.