Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Current COVID benefits to end Oct. 23, but new targeted aid will be available until May: Freeland

Aid will be targeted towards regions under lockdowns or for businesses with heavy losses

The federal government is ending the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) program as of Saturday (Oct. 23).

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland made the announcement at a press conference with the prime minister on Thursday.

The CRB was brought in initially to replace the Canada Emergency Response benefit, which had been put into place at the very start of the pandemic.

“Our emergency support measures were always designed to be temporary to get us through the crisis,” Freeland told reporters, adding Canada has recovered “100 per cent of the jobs lost in the depths of the COVID recession.

“We’re now in a new phase, one that is very different from our darkest days in the fight against COVID.”

Freeland said that although many jobs have been recovered since the early days of the pandemic, recovery has been uneven in different parts of the country and across different industries. She said that new supports, which will kick in on Sunday, will hopefully be the “final pivot” in pandemic supports.

For individual workers, the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit will replace the Canada Recovery Benefit. It will provide $300 per week to workers who are subject to a lockdown, including those who are ineligible for traditional Employment Insurance.

The $300 weekly lockdown benefit would equal what the CRB provides to unemployed workers, over two million of whom have used the CRB since last year and received $27 billion in aid.

An analysis from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said the end of the CRB would leave some 880,000 people without income support starting Sunday, which the Montreal-based National Council of Unemployed Workers noted would hit self-employed and gig workers hardest, since neither qualify for EI.

The Liberals have promised to help those workers access EI, but not until at least 2023.

“It’s not so much that the CRB should continue, or shouldn’t continue or that this lockdown benefit should exist or shouldn’t exist, but rather that we should have a longer-term solution to this rather than a gap year in essence for self-employed workers, which is in essence what we’re going to see,” said CCPA senior economist David Macdonald.

Macdonald also said thousands of jobs could be in peril as the wage subsidy is narrowed, but any layoffs would likely move workers onto employment insurance.

Sickness and caregiving benefits, available to those who need to self-isolate due to COVID-19 or who must stop work to care for a child under 12 or a family member who needs supervised care, will continue into the spring. People utilizing those benefits will get an extra two weeks.

In terms of business supports, Freeland said that employers who can show that they have faced “deep and enduring losses” will be able to receive wage and rent subsidies. The system will be tiered; applicants that can show a 50 per cent revenue loss will receive 10 per cent in subsidies, while those that can show a 75 per cent loss will receive 50 per cent in subsidies.

A new lockdown support program will be available in regions with harsh restrictions. Businesses in those regions will receive the maximum amount of rent and wage subsidies until the lockdown ends.

The new supports will cost an additional $7.4 billion and be available until May 7, 2022. However, from March 13 until May 7 the supports will decrease by half to wean businesses off the programs.

However, that will only happen if the Liberals will need support from enough opposition MPs to enact the new proposals. Otherwise, they will end on Nov. 20.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a statement suggested his party would push back against an end to the CRB to make sure “people aren’t left to fend for themselves.” Conservative finance critic Ed Fast said his party wouldn’t support the CRB living past Nov. 20 because of “skyrocketing inflation and ongoing labour shortages across the country.”

The House of Commons returns Nov. 22, which doesn’t leave much time for MPs to approve a new aid package before Parliament starts its winter break in mid-December.

“The last thing that we want to see is brinksmanship and games that are going to stretch this out to the 11th hour,” said Mark Agnew, senior vice-president policy with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “It needs to pass in a fairly expeditious manner.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021.

READ MORE: Trudeau unveils Canada’s new COVID vaccine passport for domestic, international travel

– With files from The Canadian Press


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