As some provincial governments like New Brunswick and Saskatchewan are turning their attention to plans for re-opening their economies, the federal government continues to address the ongoing acute challenges that COVID-19 poses to the economy and the health care system.
Rent Relief for Small Businesses
The federal government announced details of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program, lowering rent by 75 per cent for small businesses affected by COVID-19:
- Forgivable loans to qualifying commercial property owners to cover 50 per cent of rent payments for eligible small business tenants in April, May, and June
- Loans will be forgiven if the mortgaged property owner agrees to reduce a tenant’s rent by at least 75 per cent for those months under a rent-forgiveness agreement
Impacted small business tenants are defined as businesses paying less than $50,000 per month in rent and who have temporarily ceased operations or have experienced at least a 70 per cent drop in pre-COVID-19 revenues. This support will also be available to non-profit and charitable organizations. The program will be administered and delivered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and is expected to be operational by mid-May. The devil will be in the details as questions are raised about whether all landlords will be able to participate.
Developed over eight days since it was first announced, the program is a shared federal-provincial initiative, with provinces covering up to 25 per cent of costs. Ontario is committing $241 million to partner with the federal government and deliver more than $900 million in urgent rent relief to small businesses and their landlords.
Prime Minister Trudeau noted that there will be more to come with respect to rents for large businesses, as well as residential rents, something that the Ontario government has been seeking.
Addressing Challenges in Long-Term Care
The risk COVID-19 poses to long-term care facilities continues to seize governments, particularly in Ontario and Quebec, who are addressing acute pressures in certain facilities and across the sector.
Similar to Quebec, Ontario has also formally requested support from the federal government, through the deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces, for five long-term care homes for staffing relief, help with medical care, and logistics.
The federal government has also offered human resources, including support from Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. Both levels of government continue to determine how to provide “top-up” salaries for essential workers.
The challenges in long-term care in several provinces have raised a wider discussion on how the elderly are cared for in Canada, and Prime Minister Trudeau has noted the interest and involvement of the federal government in that conversation.
Investing in Medical Innovation and Research
Prime Minister Trudeau announced a $1.1 billion national medical and research strategy to address COVID-19. This strategy has three pillars: vaccine research, support for clinical trials, and the expansion of national testing and modelling.
A COVID-19 Immunity Task Force will oversee the coordination of a series of serological surveys. At least one million samples will be collected and tested over the next two years to track the virus in both the general population and specific at-risk groups, including health care workers and the elderly. The task force includes Dr. David Naylor, Dr. Catharine Hankins, Dr. Tim Evans, along with Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer, and Dr. Mona Nemer, Chief Science Advisor.
In addition, nearly $320 million was announced to support research; genome sequencing; upgrades to National Research Council facilities; and vaccine research, development, and clinical trials. An additional $600 million was earmarked through the Strategic Innovation Fund over two years to support COVID-19 vaccine and clinical therapy trials, as well as Canadian biomanufacturing opportunities.
Support for Students
Nearly $9 billion has been announced to support students facing an uncertain summer job market and for new graduates entering the job market. This support includes two new programs, along with the expansion of current student loan and grant programs, and increased funding to extend and supplement federal research grants.
Through the new Canada Emergency Student Benefit, students can receive $1,250 per month from May to August ($1,750 for students with dependents). A new Canada Student Service Grant will provide up to $5,000 for education in the fall to students who choose to do national service by serving their communities over the summer.
Ramping up Canadian PPE Production
6,000 companies have responded to the federal government’s call to mobilize industry. Domestic capacity is ramping up, including new capacity to produce face shields, masks, and testing reagents, along with two notable contracts:
- Stryker will supply 82 sterilization units, which have been approved by Health Canada to sterilize and enable N95 mask reuse. Additional domestic production is ramping up for face shields and masks
- General Motors is working to retool its Oshawa assembly plant to produce face shields
A “Tale of Two Ontario’s”
The COVID-19 modelling released this week revealed two storylines in Ontario: while community spread appears to have peaked, communal settings such as long-term care and housing for vulnerable populations remain at high-risk.
While the government confirmed it will be releasing a framework for the gradual re-opening of the province the week of April 27th, Premier Ford made clear Ontario is “not out of the woods by a long shot.” The province has extended all emergency orders until May 6th, which include the closure of non-essential workplaces, restrictions on social gatherings, and limiting staff from working in multiple long-term care homes. A full list of emergency orders that have been extended can be found here.
Protecting Vulnerable Populations in Ontario
In addition to requesting support from the Canadian Armed Forces, the Ford government announced the following actions to fight COVID-19 amongst vulnerable populations, including:
- More testing on symptomatic/asymptomatic patients in all long-term care facilities
- Allowing mental health and addictions agencies to redeploy staff within different locations or between programs, and employing additional part-time and temporary staff
- A COVID-19 Action Plan for Vulnerable People to protect those living in high-risk settings including homes serving those with developmental disabilities, shelters for survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking, and children’s residential settings. Enhanced measures that will be rolled out in the coming days include increased screening of visitors, staff, and residents, limiting staff in certain settings, and mandating PPE in high-risk settings.