COVID-19: Earnscliffe Update #22

COVID-19: Earnscliffe Update #22

The federal and Ontario governments this week announced the joint development of a mobile contact tracing app for future use across the country following testing in Ontario. Successful deployment and take-up of the app will be a critical backstop to a successful economic recovery. The Prime Minister announced the extension of CERB this week to the end of August and again appealed to employers to use the federal wage subsidy program. The government revealed that Finance Minister Morneau will table a fiscal and economic “snapshot” on July 8.

NATIONAL CONTACT TRACING APP 

A partnership between the federal government and Ontario has produced a new mobile contact tracing app—COVID Shield—that will notify Canadians when they’ve been in proximity to someone who has tested positive for the virus.  The app was developed through a joint project between the Canadian Digital Service and the Ontario Digital Service, supported by a team of developers affiliated with the Ottawa based e-commerce company Shopify.

The app relies on Bluetooth and on an interface created jointly by Apple and Google that has been adopted by several other countries. Both the prime minister and the premier stressed on Thursday that use of the app will be voluntary and that it will respect users’ privacy. In making the announcement the PM said the exposure notification application is a “crucial” public health step as more Canadians resume some semblance of normal life and return to work. Premier Ford said he hopes the use of the new app will give customers and business owners the confidence they need to return to their daily lives.

According to the federal news release on the project, “If someone tests positive for COVID-19, a health care provider will give them a unique temporary code, so they can upload their status anonymously to a national network. Other users who have downloaded the app and come in contact with that person will be notified, through the app, that they may have been exposed to the virus. The app will also provide users with information on steps they can take to keep themselves and others safe, and we are working with the provinces and territories so they can customize public health information based on their own jurisdiction.”

Use of the app will now be tested in Ontario and be evaluated by BlackBerry before being offered for use across the country, hopefully in early July.  On Thursday, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner said it will be evaluating the app to ensure it conforms with Canada’s privacy laws.

CERB EXTENDED TO END OF AUGUST

This week, the Prime Minister announced the extension of the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) until the end of August.  Eligible recipients are now able to qualify for up to a total of 24 weeks’ assistance.  With the economy slowly re-opening across the country, the government had been under pressure to clarify the future of the program, which provides taxable payments of $2,000 for up to four months to Canadians who have lost income because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was due to expire in the first week of July.

CERB has become the “go-to” program for people thrown out of work by the virus; as of June 4, over $43 billion in payments had been made to 8.41 million applicants.  Addressing the continuing need for the program, the Prime Minister said, “The reality is that there are three million people out of work who are looking for work, and even as our economy is reopening, there are many, many more people out of work, willing to work, than there are jobs available.”

A draft bill tabled in the House of Commons last week proposed conditions on CERB payments, requiring recipients to actively look for work and to not refuse reasonable work opportunities. That legislation was rejected by the opposition parties and did not pass, but Mr. Trudeau said that the government will find ways to encourage people to work when they are able.  Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said that effective July 5, CERB applicants will be required to sign an attestation acknowledging the government is encouraging them to look for work and to consult with the government’s job bank.

The government will also assess what happens with the wage subsidy program over the summer.  The government has been encouraging employers to apply for the program, which covers 75 per cent of an employee’s pay, up to $847 a week, but take-up for the program has been much less than expected.  In making this week’s CERB announcement, the Prime Minister appealed to employers to “please” use the wage subsidy program.

SOME BUSINESS SUPPORT PROGRAMS RAMPING UP / SOME DELAYED FURTHER

The federal government made several announcements this week about the launch of previously announced pandemic-related business assistance initiatives.

The Business Development Bank of Canada announced that the Mid-Market Financing Program is now open for business.  The program is pitched towards companies with annual revenues in excess of approximately $100 million and up to $500 million, and will be delivered through businesses’ primary lenders:

  • Loan sizes will range between $12.5 million and $60 million, available until or before September 30, 2020;
  • 90% of financing will be provided by BDC and 10% by the participating financial institution(s);
  • Four-year term, after which principal is to be repaid as a balloon payment;
  • Interest payments for the first 12 months will be capitalized and due at maturity.

Finance Minister Morneau announced last night that the promised expansion of the Canada Emergency Business Account to include small owner-operated businesses would not begin today.  Several weeks ago, the government announced an expansion of the program to include companies with payrolls of less than $20,000 and with non-deferrable expenses, like rent, utilities and property taxes, of between $40,000 and $1.5 million.  The change was intended to cover owner-operated small businesses that had been ineligible for the program due to their small payrolls, sole proprietors who receive business income directly and family-owned operations that pay family members in the form of dividends.

Mr. Morneau said that work is continuing to ensure the program can “securely launch across 230 financial institutions…as soon as possible.”

Finally, two fisheries support programs announced earlier are going live.  Applications for the Canadian Fish and Seafood Opportunities Fund opened this past Wednesday, and they will open for the Canadian Seafood Stabilization Fund as of Monday, June 22.

ECONOMIC UPDATE COMING JULY 8

The Prime Minister announced on Wednesday that Finance Minister Morneau will provide a “snapshot” of the federal government’s fiscal and economic situation on July 8.  The announcement came after Mr. Trudeau repeatedly argued that a comprehensive and dependable update was not possible due to economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic and re-opening economy.

“I’ve consistently said that an economic and fiscal update would be unrealistic right now because it automatically includes projections for a year, three years, five years ahead of time, which quite frankly we simply couldn’t make any responsible predictions about,” Mr. Trudeau said. Instead, the July 8 snapshot “will give Canadians a picture of where our economy is right now, how our response compares to that of other countries, and what we can expect for the months to come.”  Finance Canada is now canvassing private sector economists for their economic growth projections as it normally does before any fiscal statement or budget, so that information will be available for the July 8 snapshot.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier in the spring, the government cancelled its plans for a budget in March.  Since then, the government has announced $153.7 billion in direct support measures to ease the financial impacts of the virus on Canadians and the national economy.

PRE-BUDGET CONSULTATIONS ANNOUNCED

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance has issued its annual call for pre-budget submissions.  The Committee’s focus is written submissions and oral testimony on “measures the federal government could take to restart the Canadian economy, as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

  • Deadline for written submissions: No later than Friday, 7 August 2020 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • Length and restrictions: Submissions must be no longer than 2,000 words and should adhere to the following template. All text contained in the submission, including – but not limited to – graphs, quotes, images and footnotes will count towards the submission’s limit of 2,000 words. Only one submission per organization or individual will be accepted. Submissions that do not meet these requirements may not be considered by the Committee
  • Submissions: Written briefs must be submitted through the Committee’s website.
  • Posting of submissions: Following translation, the submissions will be posted on the Committee’s website.
  • Invitations to appear: On behalf of the Committee, the Clerk will extend invitations to selected organizations and individuals in the fall to appear as witnesses, by videoconference as required, during the pre-budget consultations hearings. All those who make a submission will be considered as having made a request to appear.
  • Committee report: These consultations will result in a report to be tabled in the House of Commons in December 2020, which will be considered by the Minister of Finance in preparation of the 2021 federal budget.

 ONTARIO RELEASES SCHOOL OPENING OPTIONS

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce today outlined the province’s plan for students’ return to school in September. Mr. Lecce said the province is tasking school boards across the province to prepare three separate plans for September:

  • A plan for regular in-class instruction with heightened health protocols;
  • The continuation of remote learning with more standardization; and
  • An adapted delivery model, which blends in-class with online learning, which would see students alternating being in class by days or weeks. In that situation, class sizes would not exceed 15 students in a class at any one time.

The province said its plan was created in consultation with the chief medical officer of health, health experts on the COVID-19 provincial command table, medical experts at The Hospital for Sick Children, as well as frontline workers, parents and students.

All three scenarios include strict health and safety guidelines which school boards will need to adhere to, including staff in some scenarios wearing masks. The exact plans may differ from region to region based on local circumstances, with a final decision on the fall not planned to be made public until early August, when more information is available about the state on the pandemic.

REACH OUT. WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER

We know there is much uncertainty in a rapidly evolving and complex landscape. It’s times like these where we know how important it is to make the right decisions in order to help mitigate the impact of this global crisis on your organization, your employees and respond to a shifting public policy environment. We are tracking funding at all levels of government so please reach out if we can help you navigate the new reality.

As one of Canada’s most experienced teams of government relations, public opinion research and strategic communications advisors, we’re acutely aware you are navigating rapidly changing circumstances and we want you to know, we’re here to help. We can act as a sounding board, help you design specific strategies and adapt to new ways of doing business and emerging public policy.

Consistent, accurate and regular communication is essential. The team at Earnscliffe regularly works with our clients on how best to engage with their communities – whether in business as usual circumstances, in community engagement and community-building processes, or in crisis scenarios. If you have emerging needs in any of these areas, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

The current situation presents a strikingly more complex crisis environment than we have seen in our lifetimes.   Earnscliffe has the tools to safely, responsibly, respectfully and reliably conduct opinion research and give you a sense of the public mood. At this time, there is no reason to make decisions in the dark if opinion research can shed valuable light to develop strategies and test tactics.

Reach out. We’re in this together.

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