By Camille Aubin
[email protected]

The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), and Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), which has provided financial assistance to Canadian individuals and businesses affected by the pandemic, ended on Oct. 23. More targeted programs will be put in place until May 7, 2022, to protect workers and businesses in sectors such as tourism and restaurants.

“Every different area in the provinces or country has probably got their issues with COVID-19 and how it affects them. In this area, our businesses have been able to roll reasonably well all through COVID, and we haven’t had too many shut down. So the need to have this benefit in place has been less for our area,” said Invermere mayor, Al Miller.

Chystia Freeland, the national Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, announced new measures will be introduced to replace the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS). “Today, our support needs to be more narrow, more targeted and less expensive, and we need to look forward to the day, now not too far off, when we will be able to bring it to an end entirely,” said Freeland during a news conference.

In recent weeks, some employers have criticized Canada’s benefits, particularly the CRB, claiming it has slowed the return to work of some Canadians and thereby worsened the labour shortage that affects several sectors.

“It did hinder our businesses well-being here of being able to hire staff,” said Miller. “It hasn’t helped.”

But according to Miller, there’s more behind the staff shortage than the COVID-19 pandemic. “One other area I think is a concern is our demographic as a whole. We’ve been warned about this long before COVID,” said Miller to the Pioneer. “Our baby boomers are going to be retiring, and there’s not enough of the next generation, not as many (workers), to take positions. So that, I believe, is a major factor in our employment.”

As a solution, Miller proposed to increase the number of immigrants entering Canada. “I read and learned and was spoken to about this many years ago — that we need to really have a larger scale immigration of people from other countries, because we don’t have that population to support all these jobs,” explained Miller. “I think we could demonstrate our good Canadian values to a lot of people that are definitely in need.”

The federal government has introduced the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB), which will give workers $300 a week if their employer shuts down operations due to a provincially or nationally ordered lockdown, including those ineligible for employment insurance. This newest COVID-19 benefit will be available until May 7.

“It appears to be a program designed to activate quickly in the event of a “government-imposed public health lockdown,”” said Pete Bourke, executive director at the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Of course, we hope that we don’t see more lockdowns in the future. However, having ready-to-go programs to respond to specific circumstances is welcomed.”

This assistance would be offered only to workers who can no longer get to work due to a government-imposed public health lockdown order from public health officers or the government. Unless they receive employment insurance benefits during the same period, all workers would be eligible for this new benefit, said the federal Ministry of Finance.

These benefits will not apply to workers who lose their income or employment as a result of not being vaccinated or failing to comply with public health regulations. “Individuals whose loss of income or employment is due to their refusal to adhere to a vaccine mandate would not be able to access the benefit,” the government said on its website.

“Hopefully, this is a program that is never called to action; however, it is good to know that is there if needed,” said Bourke. “While more details are yet to be released, hopefully it will help businesses retain their employees should we be affected by another lockdown.”

The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit would be extended until May 2022, with the maximum duration of each benefit increasing by two weeks to help workers who are caring for a family member who has fallen ill with COVID-19, or who have been exposed to COVID-19. Both benefits are extended until May 7, 2022.

“At this time in our valley, the need for more kindness and acts of kindness to all of those who are trying to provide a service. That’s where we need to be,” said Miller. “We need to show our support for all those people in the service industry and health industry.”

The estimated amount of new targeted measures could reach $7.4 billion, according to Freeland. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the federal government said it had spent $289 billion to support employees and businesses.