Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Wednesday, Apr. 8, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa offers more help to youth and businesses hit by COVID-19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced additional measures Wednesday to support businesses and young Canadians suffering the financial consequences of the global COVID-19 pandemic, warning of “a hard day for the country” amid expected data on job losses in March.

Speaking at his daily briefing in Ottawa, Trudeau announced changes to the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program aimed at helping young people get work in sectors that aren’t shut down due to the global pandemic.

The changes include a boost to the wage subsidy of up to 100 per cent to help businesses cover the cost of hiring students; an extension of the end date for employment to Feb. 28, 2021 and the inclusion of part-time student jobs.

The government has earmarked $263 million in funding for the CSJ program in 2020. The funding is expected to help create up to 70,000 jobs for young Canadians, Trudeau said.

“Today, we’re taking a step in the right direction to help young people find work during this difficult time, but I want to be clear that we will do more,” Trudeau said. “Just like we will do more for those who need help but are not eligible to receive the benefits we’ve announced so far.”

New criteria for businesses

Trudeau also announced changes to the federal emergency wage subsidy program, which covers up 75 per cent of employees’ salaries on condition employers pay the rest to retain their workers.

Under the proposed new rules, businesses can use January and February of 2020 as comparison months to measure their revenue drop — instead of just the same month last year — which should help new or scaled-up businesses qualify.

Another proposed adjustment reduces by half the required revenue drop of 30 per cent for the month of March.

The new 15 per cent revenue drop criteria is expected to cover many more businesses that were forced to shut down midway through March but didn’t qualify for the federal help when the measures were initially unveiled on Apr.1.

“We want to make these measures as effective and inclusive as we can,” Trudeau said. “So we’re listening and making adjustments along the way.”

Trudeau said the government aims to have the wage subsidy program up and running in three weeks.

No date set for Parliament recall

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises to ask for an extension of the sitting day in the House of Commons Parliament in the House of Commons Tuesday March 24, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

However since the proposed measures are significantly more generous than the 10 per cent wage subsidy that was voted by an extraordinary session of Parliament in March, Trudeau said the minority Liberal government is working with opposition parties to recall the Parliament again to pass them into law.

The Liberals have come under growing criticism from various sectors for the government’s “piecemeal” approach to the emergency measures enacted to counter the economic crisis brought the pandemic.

The opposition Conservative Party has warned of a “social catastrophe” if the federal money for business doesn’t begin to flow soon.

“Time is running out. So is the money,” said Conservative shadow finance minister Pierre Poilievre.

“And if the government does not act, it will see bankruptcies on a mass scale and massive social consequences for the working class … people who work at small businesses every day,”

However, no date has been set yet for the Parliament recall.

The Conservatives insist on resuming House of Commons sessions in person, albeit with fewer Members of Parliament present to observe physical distancing measures, while the Liberals are proposing a virtual session to eliminate the risk of transmission of the virus.

With files from Kathleen Harris of CBC News

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