COVID-19 crisis: Ottawa to roll out $82b economic stimulus package (updated)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The federal government will offer $27 billion in direct support to Canadians hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis as well as $55 billion in tax deferrals.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled the $82-billion aid package Wednesday morning (March 18), shortly after confirming Canada and the U.S. would restrict all non-essential travel across the border.

Aid includes an emergency care benefit for workers who don’t qualify for employment insurance but find themselves ill, facing quarantine or caring for family members who have been hit by illness.

The emergency care benefit will be paid out every two weeks for 14 weeks for an amount comparable to employment insurance.

Applications for the benefit will be made available in April.

Ottawa is also putting up $3.8 billion to small businesses in the form of a temporary wage subsidy equivalent to 10% of salary paid to employees for three months in a bid to keep staff on the company payroll.

The subsidy maxes out at $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer.

Beyond direct support, the Business Credit Availability Program will let small and medium-sized businesses tap into at least another $10 billion in credit through the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada (EDC).

Credit available to farmers and the agri-food sector will be boosted through Farm Credit Canada.

The federal government is also changing the Canada Account, a tool used by EDC to support transactions determined to be in the national interest, to allow Finance Minister Bill Morneau to determine the limit of the account to deal with exceptional circumstances.

The changes will allow government to provide additional support to exporters in the form of loans, guarantees or insurance policies.

The Canada Revenue Agency will be allowing businesses to defer any owed taxes until August 31, 2020.

Parents facing uncertainty amidst calls to work from home or curtailed hours will also see a “boost” to the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) in the coming months, the prime minister said.

Families receiving the CCB will see an increase of $550 on average, with an additional $300 extra per child as part of the May payment.

The feds have earmarked $1.9 billion for that measure.

Meanwhile, lower-income Canadians who qualify for a GST tax credit will receive up to $300 in May, as well as an additional $150 per child, for a total boost of $5.5 billion.

The government is also placing a six-month moratorium on student loan payments and increasing the Reaching Home program by $157.5 million to help those at risk of homelessness.

Another $50 million will be going towards women’s shelters and sexual assault centres to support those fleeing domestic violence.

And a new distinctions-based Indigenous Community Support Fund will be given $305 million to address immediate needs within Indigenous communities.

“Economic measures will ensure that our economy rebounds after this,” Trudeau said.

“Our team is in constant communication with our colleagues in the provinces and the territories, as well as Indigenous leaders and communities, to ensure that we have a co-ordinated, Canada-wide approach so that we face this and recover from this together.”

Finance Minister Bill Morneau called dealing with the COVID crisis difficult and unprecedented.

“COVID19 is having a significant impact on our economy,” he said at a press conference following Trudeau's announcement.

“We have your back.”

A number of the economic measures will need parliamentary approval and work involving all-party co-operation.

“We all realize that we need an approach that is going to be in place as quickly as possible,” Morneau said.

“We will be back in Parliament very, very quickly.”

Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz said staff at the central bank remain in constant contact with the CEOs of the country's big banks.

“We honestly don’t know what’s coming our way," he said.

"We know this is a temporary thing.  We don’t know how long and how big.”

—With files from Jeremy Hainsworth

torton@biv.com

@reporton