Ontario Schools Remain Closed Until September

Ontario Cancels Schools, Feds Extend and Expand Benefit Programs

As provinces and the federal government seek to re-open economies, government programs are being amended and extended to better target the needs of all Canadians. Yet at the same time, other decisions made by governments for public health and safety will, no doubt, have major impacts on how we all live and work.

School’s Out…till September?

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced yesterday that schools will be cancelled until September 2020.  Students will still graduate with report cards also being issued.  A full plan for reopening schools will be released in June.

In addition, overnight summer camps, providing a respite for both kids and parents, will also be cancelled for 2020.

Given that COVID-19 has proven to be a massive challenge for education systems across Canada, Ontario is looking at an enhanced province-wide virtual learning program for all students.  It is clear that e-learning, which was a major sticking point in the Ford government’s negotiations with teachers’ unions pre-COVID-19, has in reality increasingly become part of the response in education support during the pandemic.  Should schools be delayed in opening this fall, e-learning will need to play even more of a role than it already has.

Extensions and Amendments to Federal Supports

Over the last few days, a number of government announcements have targeted existing measures to improve their effectiveness (and respond to Opposition and media criticism that the programs do not always hit their targets – for example, expectant mothers initially being disqualified from accessing the Emergency Response Benefit).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced yesterday the expansion of the eligibility criteria for the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) to include small businesses, like sole proprietors.  It also includes businesses relying on contractors and family-owned corporations paying employees through dividends rather than payroll.

Trudeau also announced an extension to the closure of the Canada-US border to non-essential travel for another 30 days, until June 21.

On Friday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) until August 29.  Eligibility was also expanded to include:

  • Indigenous government-owned corporations that are carrying on a business, including partnerships with Indigenous governments and eligible employers.
  • Registered amateur athletic organizations, journalism organizations; and non-public colleges and schools, including institutions such as arts schools, driving schools, language schools or flight schools

The House of Commons will need to pass legislation to adopt such measures, including the addition of flexibility for seasonal employees.

Wage subsidies have been a key pillar of the Trudeau government’s economic response to COVID-19.  These extensions also reflect concern that economic recovery will take longer and be a greater challenge than initially anticipated.

The expansion to CEWS also needs to be considered in relation to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).  High subscription to CERB, and a low uptake of CEWS – reportedly only $3.4 billion out of the $73 billion program – is likely a concern for the government.

In another announcement, the feds are providing $450 million to provide wage supports and preserve jobs at universities and health research institutes who are funded from industry or philanthropic sources and unable to access other support measures.

House to Return Monday, May 25

While House committees continue to sit virtually, the House of Commons is scheduled to resume its regular sittings on Monday, May 25.  In the last few days, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called for an end to the virtual sittings, for a fiscal update, and a return to business in as normal as possible way, with the usual caveats for physical and social distancing. Negotiations between parties will continue this week.