As governments across Canada maintain and extend public health measures to control the spread of COVID-19, they are also facing significant implementation challenges to deliver relief and support measures. For the federal government, this week marks a shift to program implementation as applications open for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Work is also continuing to bring in many other measures, from the proposed Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to the anticipated programs to support sectors hard-hit by the coronavirus, including airlines, tourism and hospitality, and the oil and gas sector.
At a provincial level, the implementation challenges are more tactical in nature and even more time sensitive. Supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) are dwindling and reaching critical lows in Ontario. Governments are also maintaining and enhancing measures to enforce physical distancing and limiting businesses and workplaces that remain open. Targeted provincial supports also continue to roll out as specific needs are identified.
As demonstrated by Ontario’s modelling released on April 3, the coming weeks are going to be critically important to reduce the impact of the coronavirus on the health of Canadians, the stability of the health care system and the economy as a whole. Ensuring that these implementation challenges are overcome will be critical to maintaining the social contract with citizens, who have had their lives upended by the coronavirus. Sustained citizen actions are critical to the successful execution of the public health response and ensuring a return to normal life (or something resembling it).
As the federal government rolls out the application for the CERB this week, the federal government is turning its attention from broad measures to fix gaps and created by the program’s speed, including workers facing a reduction in hours due to COVID-19, workers who are receiving less employment income than they would receive with the CERB, and students who are not eligible for CERB.
Similarly, employers and businesses are awaiting further program details for the 75% Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy from Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Legislation is required to establish the 75% rate and Parliament will need to be recalled to pass such bills as soon as possible.
As these efforts continue, the federal government is continuing to call on Canadians to think of each other at this time. The Prime Minister highlighted that major banks and some credit unions are cutting credit card interest rates. He also noted the Canadian Chamber of Commerce had launched the Canadian Business Resilience Network, a joint initiative to support the business community through crisis and drive recovery.
This same sentiment extends to federal efforts to ensure that PPE crosses the border. The federal government continues conversations with the United States, as well as with 3M directly, regarding shipments of PPE, especially masks, to Canada. The federal response is that it would not take retaliatory measures against the US, as the two countries rely on each other for essential goods and services, despite the new “wild west” of procuring health supplies during the coronavirus.
Ontario-US relations continue to be strained as PPE supply in the province dwindles. Following reports that millions of N95 masks from 3M were blocked at the border on Sunday, 500,000 masks are now being released to the province. Despite this, Premier Ford confirmed that the province expects to run out of masks and other personal protective equipment in a matter of weeks. Given the situation, Premier Ford re-emphasized the need for Ontarians to stay home to limit the spread, although he shied away from committing to a stay-at-home order.
While Premier Ford repeated the need for Ontarians to stay at home over the weekend, the government continues to emphasize a high level of cooperation with the federal government, with the Premier specifically praising Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland for her efforts to secure an exemption for Canada from President Trump’s executive order to 3M to cease export of N95 respirator masks.
Ford Government Continues to Roll Out Targeted Relief for Ontarians
Following news that schools and childcare centres will remain closed until at least May 4, the Ford government announced additional details of its Support for Families initiative, first announced as part of Ontario’s Action Plan on March 25.
This initiative will provide financial support to families disrupted by school and childcare closures, offering a one-time payment of $200 per child aged 0-12, and $250 for children with special needs aged 0-21. Parents can apply online, and families already receiving financial support due to disruptions related to teachers’ negotiations will automatically be enrolled in the new program.
On April 4 the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services launched the COVID-19 Residential Relief Fund, which will allocate up to $40 million to support organizations that provide residential services for children and youth, individuals with developmental disabilities, and emergency shelters for women and families fleeing domestic violence. The Fund will cover costs related to COVID-19 such as additional staffing, personal protective equipment and medical supplies, and initiatives that support social distancing to limit client exposure.
The Ford government is deferring $15 million in property taxes for families and businesses in Northern Ontario located outside of municipal boundaries. Like the tax and other deferrals announced as part of Ontario’s Action Plan, this measure is aimed at providing additional cash for Ontarians, including specific regions of the province who may be particularly hard hit by the economic impacts of COVID-19.
The government continues to demonstrate that it can quickly work to address red tape issues to support the province’s health care system, businesses, and workers in responding to COVID-19. Following news that a Peel Public Health paramedic tested positive for COVID-19 after being exposed to the virus while responding to a car accident, the government has made an emergency order that will allow first responders to confirm an individual’s COVID-19 status when responding to a call.