moved that Bill C-20, An Act respecting further COVID-19 measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
She said: Mr. Speaker, it is my honour today to introduce in the House Bill C-20, an act respecting further COVID-19 measures.
COVID-19 has been a profound shock to our economy and has profoundly changed the way we go about our daily lives. Canadians have come together to flatten the curve, and economies are now gradually and safely reopening. It is a crisis that has called for quick, decisive leadership to stabilize the economy, to protect jobs, to ensure that workers and families can put food on the table and to prevent long-term damage to our economy. Our government has worked tirelessly to answer this call.
Protecting Canadian jobs has been a priority for us since the beginning of the pandemic. Our government recognizes the importance of protecting the link between workers and their employers. Businesses thrive when owners and employees work as a team. We know that for businesses to stay ready to bounce back, it is vitally important that they maintain that link with the employees they have trained, employees who have earned the trust of customers and whom they have been working with for years.
We launched the Canada emergency wage subsidy to give businesses, non-profits and charitable organizations support so that they could keep and rehire workers. To date, this program has helped around three million workers keep their jobs. That means millions of families have had paycheques to rely on throughout this.
This program has been available to employers of all sizes across Canada and across sectors. It is here to make sure that even as this crisis causes unprecedented uncertainty, employers have the certainty that they can pay their workers.
The CEWS has been an important part of our economic response plan and is providing support to a broad base of businesses. It has had a significant impact: In May, one in four private sector employees was covered by the wage subsidy.
This pandemic is unprecedented in nature, and the situation continues to evolve. We are ensuring that our programs are also evolving.
Today, we are introducing a bill that will make the wage subsidy more effective, flexible and responsive. These changes will give businesses a longer runway to recovery, expand program eligibility to include a larger number of workplaces, provide more targeted support to the hardest-hit businesses and, by so doing, protect a greater number of Canadian jobs.
In the spring we began consulting with businesses and labour representatives on what adjustments we could make to the program, so that we could help more Canadians get hired back and help businesses grow. During the consultations we heard from many employers that the CEWS was invaluable in keeping workers on the payroll and helping to bring workers back. However, employers understand, like all Canadians do, that our economic recovery will be gradual.
Many people we spoke with shared the view that the subsidy should be extended past the initial 12-week extension. They also shared many ideas on how the adjustment to CEWS could support businesses and employees as the economy restarts and businesses recover and grow. One thing they were worried about was the current program design's cliff effect, which is that even if a business picked up slowly, once it grew past the 30% revenue decline threshold it would not have the support it was relying on in order to pay workers.
No business should feel it has to choose between reopening, growing and hiring or getting the support it needs.
Many of the people we have talked to have also said that businesses want the government to dial back the wage subsidy as revenue goes up to ensure stable support during recovery.
Canadians know that recovery will be a gradual process because we want to do it safely. We do not think businesses should be penalized for doing the right thing and taking the necessary precautions to protect their community.
Whether it is a restaurant that is not at full capacity so that it can keep a safe distance between diners, or a front-line non-profit organization that is making sure all of its workers have proper PPE and training before going back on the job, or a store that has adjusted its hours to make sure it is properly cleaned, we see organizations working hard to figure out how to operate safely as we all adjust to living with COVID-19.
Other Canadians told us that the current 30% revenue decline test kept many of Canada's affected businesses from getting this much-needed support. They brought up the idea of tiered support to help businesses that are struggling as they face the challenges of this pandemic, but have not seen a full 30% reduction in revenue.
Overall, businesses have a strong sense that the road to recovery will be gradual and uncertain. Employers want to know that they will have support past this summer in order to stay strong through the challenges we face.
Information gleaned on the ground about how well our programs are working and how we can make them even more useful is priceless. Given what we have learned, we are proposing changes to the wage subsidy that will encourage employers to resume operations and keep hiring Canadians as the economy opens up. Our bill will make those changes happen.
With Bill C-20 we are proposing to extend the CEWS until November 21, 2020, with the intent of providing further support through the CEWS until December 19, 2020.
This bill would also broaden eligibility, making this subsidy available to more employers and protecting more workers. The changes in this bill would also promote growth as the economy continues to recover from the shock of this pandemic.
Effective July 5, 2020, the CEWS would consist of two parts: a base subsidy available to all eligible employers experiencing a decline in revenues, with the subsidy amount varying depending on the scale of revenue decline, and a top-up subsidy of up to an additional 25% for employers most adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
The maximum base subsidy rate would be provided to employers experiencing a revenue drop of 50% or more, with the rate gradually declining for employers experiencing a revenue drop between 49% and zero. This would extend access to the CEWS to a broader range of employers. Organizations that have been struggling but have had revenue declines of less than 30% would be able to access the wage subsidy for the first time. This would open the program to a whole new range of employers, providing the base subsidy rate support to active employees and helping protect more of the jobs Canadians rely on.
For employers who have been deeply affected, those who experienced a revenue drop of more than 50% over three months on average, we are offering a top-up subsidy for their workers of up to 25% of their pay. This measure will be particularly helpful for employees working in industries that are recovering more slowly. As I said, our plan consists in building a bridge to a safer place for Canadians during this emergency situation.
Lastly, we want to make sure this program provides no barriers to growth. By removing the 30% revenue decline threshold, employers already on the program will not have to worry that they will lose support they are still relying on as they grow. We will still be there to provide support as they work to recover and restore growth.
We know this new CEWS will be a welcome change, and that a lot of businesses have made plans based on the existing design for the next two periods of the CEWS from July 5 to August 29. We are creating a safe harbour where they can be confident they will still qualify, at a minimum, for the same level of support for those CEWS periods as under the previous design.
Thanks to this new more effective design, the emergency wage subsidy will help even more employers who are all at various stages of reopening. If they experienced a greater decline in revenue, they will receive a higher subsidy.
The gradual reduction in assistance given to businesses that are successfully reopening will ensure that they get stable and predictable support as their activities resume. These changes will make businesses more competitive and will help increase the number of employees returning to work thanks to the emergency wage subsidy.
This proposed design of the CEWS would ensure the program continues to address the immediate needs of businesses while also positioning them for a strong recovery.
Our government believes in the resilience of Canadians and the ability of our businesses to find innovative ways to keep going and to grow back stronger, but these are extraordinary times and businesses continue to need support to do this.
Our plan is to help Canadians stay strong throughout this storm. It will protect Canadians' health and ensure that we have the best tools and systems to monitor the virus. It will provide the financial support that Canadians with disabilities need. It will also help mothers and fathers feed their families, make it possible for youth to follow their dreams and ensure that no one is left behind.
It is also about keeping our communities strong, giving needed support to the shops and restaurants that define our neighbourhoods and making sure the outreach centres and community organizations that support our most vulnerable can keep being there for people.
COVID-19 has affected all aspects of Canadians' quality of life, from their health to their livelihoods. We created programs to support students, seniors, families and workers so they would not have to make impossible choices between paying their bills and keeping food on the table. It is now critically important that we pursue inclusive growth and continue to support our most vulnerable. That is why I am working on incorporating quality of life measurements into decision-making, including in the economic response plan.
In addition to the support provided by the Canada emergency wage subsidy, more than eight million Canadians have received the Canada emergency response benefit, which has helped them pay for groceries, rent and prescription medications. We have also provided financial support to millions of vulnerable Canadians through existing programs, such as the goods and services tax credit, the Canada child benefit, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement.
Canadians with disabilities are facing increased costs, too, and need support. This legislation would help an estimated 1.7 million Canadians living with disabilities qualify for a special payment of up to $600 so they can have access to the support they need.
We are also working to make sure businesses can get the liquidity support they need. From the Canada emergency business account and the business credit availability program to the large employer emergency financing facility, we are providing tailored support to workers and employers of every size across this country to make sure that no matter where people work, their employers have access to support.
We are making sure that no business is left behind. We have allocated $962 million to the regional relief and recovery fund, administered by the six regional development agencies across Canada, in order to support the affected companies that are essential to the regional and local economy, including in rural communities. These companies create good local jobs, and they support our families and the communities they serve.
We are also investing in indigenous businesses, providing almost $307 million in funding to help small and medium-sized indigenous businesses, and $133 million to support indigenous business through the recovery, including micro-businesses that are not eligible for other support programs.
We have also provided support for women entrepreneurs who are facing hardship during the pandemic, through $15 million in new funding from the women entrepreneurship strategy.
Canadians' collective actions have helped control the virus here at home. Canadians want to go back to work, but they need the confidence they can do it safely. Across Canada, economies are reopening and we are seeing our streets come back to life, but it is a bit different than before, and that is a good thing. We need to make sure we are staying safe.
COVID-19 has not disappeared. We need to take action to protect ourselves and our neighbours against another out-of-control outbreak. All employers are required to strictly follow the latest public health guidelines in order to protect their patrons, their workers and their communities.
We must always remember that our collective economic success is fundamentally linked to our public health outcomes. The $19-billion safe restart agreement our government reached with provinces and territories last week is helping Canadians stay safe and healthy and ensuring we are more resilient to possible future waves. This funding will enhance capacity for testing, contact tracing and data management.
Through this funding, we will be able to secure reliable sources of personal protective equipment, which will help protect our front-line workers and health care workers. It will also enable the provinces and territories to provide temporary income support, so that workers who are not entitled to paid sick leave can get 10 days of paid sick leave related to COVID-19.
The funding will help in many other ways, including by making sure there are enough safe child care spaces available so that parents can go back to work.
Our government will not stop working to help Canadians face the challenges of COVID-19. We stand ready to take additional actions, as needed, to stabilize the economy, protect Canadians and position them for a strong restart as we emerge from the crisis. By recognizing and addressing the challenges employers are facing and providing the support they need to restart, the enhancement to the Canada emergency wage subsidy proposed in Bill C-20 is another important step in our work to support the resilience of Canadians and help them bridge through to better times.
It is on all of us, as hon. members in the House, to make sure we remain focused on the ongoing crisis at hand and put the immediate needs of Canadians first. Canadians have demonstrated their ability to put old habits aside and come together for the greater good. I encourage the members of this House to do the same so that Canadians can get the support they deserve without further delay.
I urge all hon. members of the House to support the speedy passage of Bill C-20 so that we can protect jobs in this country and get Canadians back to work.