Politics

Trudeau announces more aid for business, talks to premiers about wage boost, reopening economy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced more measures to help Canadian businesses get through the COVID-19 crisis, including expanded loan eligibility and assistance with commercial rent.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer ramps up push to hold in-person sittings in House of Commons

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced more financial supports for struggling businesses Thursday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced more measures to help Canadian businesses get through the COVID-19 crisis, including expanded loan eligibility and assistance with commercial rent.

The previously announced loan program, which offers businesses up to $40,000 in a government-backed loan, will now be available to businesses with payrolls worth between $20,000 and $1.5 million. Previously, the interest-free loan was for those with payrolls worth between $50,000 and one million.

Up to $10,000 of the loan is non-repayable.

Trudeau said 195,000 loans amounting to about $7.5 billion have been approved since the loan program opened for applications a week ago.

Trudeau also announced a plan to help small businesses pay commercial rents for April, May and June. He said that plan will be worked out with the premiers, as rent issues fall under provincial jurisdiction.

Business groups praised the measures announced today but called for even broader eligibility requirements and quick delivery of rent relief.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said rent is one of the biggest fixed costs for businesses and the ability to pay it is often a factor in determining whether a firm can survive.

"Every day of delay leads to more job losses and businesses permanently closing their doors. We must act fast to help our businesses," the business advocacy group said in a statement.

Watch: Trudeau on more aid for businesses

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the eligibility terms for the new business loan program is expanding and that commercial rent help for April, May and June is on the way. 1:56

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said rental costs should be reduced or eliminated, not just deferred.

"Many firms are worried that deferring rent and other costs will simply delay a potential bankruptcy, as the bills start to come due when firms are just reopening and their income remains low," it said in a media statement. "CFIB is also working to ensure there is support for small business owners with commercial mortgages."

Both CFIB and the Chamber said changes to the loan program will help more small businesses access the funds but pointed out that new firms, the self-employed and businesses that pay with dividends still will not qualify.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there's a "significant amount of time still" to go before Canada can consider loosening travel restrictions at the U.S.-Canada border, despite President Donald Trump saying they could ease soon. 2:26

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer held a news conference in Ottawa today to repeat his call for regular in-person sittings in the House of Commons, and said the opposition parties have been effective in improving legislation to provide better benefits for Canadians struggling financially due to the pandemic.

He said the operations of Parliament should be deemed an "essential service" to ensure government accountability and transparency.

"In times of crisis, we need our government to be operating at peak efficiency. We need them to be firing on all cylinders and getting things right the first time. Not the second or the third or the fourth announcement," he said.

"And there are still people falling through the gaps. That's why it's so important that we get this right for the first time and we've already shown that Parliament plays an essential role in doing just that."

Scheer has proposed scaled-down sessions in the House involving a smaller number of MPs attending in person four times a week while respecting physical distancing guidelines.

He suggested today he is willing to compromise on that number — but said having no in-person sittings at all is "unacceptable."

The House is scheduled to return on Monday and the parties have not yet reached an agreement to alter the Commons calendar.

Moving too fast could be 'disastrous': Trudeau

Trudeau spoke with the premiers later in the day, and re-opening the economy was on the agenda. But the prime minister warned that taking such steps too early could undo the progress made to date in containing the virus.

"It would be absolutely disastrous for us to open up too early or too quickly and have another wave hit us that could be just as bad as this one, and find ourselves in a situation of having to go back into quarantine the way we are right now and have everything we've done these past weeks be for nothing," he said.

"We know that there are lots of conversations to be had about how we reopen our economy, what happens in the right order, what the sequencing is, how we keep people safe. But we're a long way from having the ability to start doing that."

Watch: Trudeau on re-opening the Canada-U.S. border

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is proposing four in-person parliamentary sessions per week, with representatives from each party in the House of Commons. He was asked by CBC's Julie Van Dusen whether he's willing to compromise. 0:42

As for reopening the Canada-U.S. border, Trudeau said it's too early to consider that as well. U.S. President Donald Trump suggested yesterday he would like to see the border open as soon as possible.

"I think there was a recognition by the president, as I have highlighted many times, that the closeness, the collaboration, the friendship between Canada and the United States is quite unlike any other," Trudeau said. 

"Therefore the work we continue to do to keep our citizens safe, while coordinating very carefully, is unlike our approaches with other countries around the world. There's a recognition that as we move forward there will be special thought given to this relationship, but at the same time we know there is a significant amount of time still before we can talk about loosening such restrictions."

The conversation between the prime minister and the premiers is set to get underway at 6 p.m. ET.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford answers questions at the daily briefing at the Queen's Park Legislature in Toronto on Wednesday April 15, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

"The premier is interested in hearing what other provinces and the federal government are looking to do in terms of first steps, as well as ensuring support for the most heavily impacted sectors in Ontario," said Ontario Premier Doug Ford's spokesperson in an email.

Ford also will be seeking clarity on the proposed wage top-up for essential workers. The measure, which Trudeau announced yesterday, aims to boost the pay for people who make less than $2,500 a month working essential jobs, such as caring for elderly or vulnerable people.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said yesterday the details of the shared federal-provincial program would be worked out in collaboration with the premiers.

The supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and procurement of other vital supplies will also be discussed during today's call.

Trudeau also spoke with G7 leaders today about global efforts to combat COVID-19.

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