Government announced COVID-19 Economic Response Plan

Today, March 18, 2020, the Government of Canada announced a new set of emergency economic measures to address the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Provincial Health Officer (“PHO”) of British Columbia has also published further specific guidance about “essential workers” involved in travel outside of Canada. The key highlights of these announcements are set out in the article below.

Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan: Support for Canadians and Businesses

The Government of Canada has announced that it is taking immediate, significant and decisive action to help Canadians facing hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. In a statement on March 18, 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau said that:

No matter who you are or what you do, this is a time where you should be focused on your health, and that of your neighbours, not whether you’re going to lose your job, not whether you’re going to run out of money for things like groceries and medication.”

The Government has announced a new set of economic measures intended to help stabilize the economy, including:

  • a new Emergency Care Benefit providing up to $900 bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks, for employees affected by COVID-19 related illness, quarantine, or inability to work due to childcare due to school closures (detailed below),
  • a new Emergency Support Benefit delivered through the CRA to provide up to $5.0 billion in support to workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment,
  • doubling of the maximum annual Goods and Services Tax credit,
  • a temporary boost to Canada Child Benefit payment amounts by $300 per child,
  • a six-month, interest-free reprieve on student loan payments,
  • deferral of the personal tax filing deadline to June 1, 2020, and allowing taxpayers to defer until after August 31, 2020 income tax payments that become owing as of March 18, 2020 and before September 2020,
  • providing $305 million in an Indigenous Community Support Fund to address immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation communities, and
  • providing the Reaching Home initiative with $157.5 million to continue to support people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak.

For Canadian Businesses, the new economic measures include:

  • changes to the Canada Account so the Minister of Finance will be able to determine the limit of the Canada account to deal with exceptional circumstances,
  • proposed wage subsidy for eligible small employers to prevent lay-offs, which would last for a period of three months. The subsidy will be equal to 10% of remuneration paid in that period,
  • allowing businesses paying taxes to defer until after August 31, 2020 income tax payments that become owing as of March 18, 2020 and before September 2020, and
  • the Business Credit Availability program may provide more than $10 billion in additional support targets at small and medium-sized businesses.

Emergency Care Benefit

The Emergency Care Benefit will provide up to $900 bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks. This flat-payment Benefit is to be administered through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and provide income support to:

  • Workers, including the self-employed, who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits.
  • Workers, including the self-employed, who are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, such as an elderly parent, but do not quality for EI sickness benefits.
  • Parents with children who require care or supervision due to school closures, and are unable to earn employment income, irrespective of whether they qualify for EI or not.

Application for the Benefit will be available in April 2020, and require Canadians to attest that they meet the eligibility requirements. They will need to re-attest every two weeks to reconfirm their eligibility. Canadians will select one of three channels to apply for the Benefit:

  • by accessing it on their CRA MyAccount secure portal;
  • by accessing it from their secure My Service Canada Account; or
  • by calling a toll free number equipped with an automated application process.

Emergency Support Benefit

As noted above, there will also be an Emergency Support Benefit delivered through the CRA to provide up to $5.0 billion in support to workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment.

For the full details of the new economic measures, please click here.

Provincial Health Officer Order on Travel and Self-Isolation

The PHO’s order notes that a person who travelled outside Canada and returned on or after March 12, 2020, or who have travelled outside of Canada and returned since March 12, 2020, is at risk of having been or having likely been infected with SARS-CoV-2, and that such persons if infected with SARS-CoV-2 can infect other people with whom the infected person is in contact.

For those who meet the above description the PHO’s order states that, unless you are a person classified as an “essential worker” as that term is defined in Appendix A to the order, you must:

  • remain in your home, hotel or similar place and follow the guidance in the “Information for people who are self-isolating due to contact with a case of COVID-19 or travel” guidance document,
  • only leave home, hotel or similar place, to undertake essential errands like obtaining medication or food,
  • if you must leave home, minimize the amount of time you are away and return immediately after completing the essential errand,
  • if you must leave your home, carry a mask or tissues, and if you develop COVID-19 symptoms while away from home, put on the mask or cover your mouth and nose with tissue and return home immediately,
  • report symptoms and monitor for signs, and
  • submit to medical tests and provide specimens that may be required from time to time.

The rules will apply differently to persons who are “essential workers”. “Essential workers” are people who provide services that are considered critical to preserving life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning and who have been determined by the leadership of their organization, on an individual basis, to be critical to delivering these essential services. The determination is to be made pursuant to the following three principles:

  • Preventing new introductions of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, into British Columbia is of paramount importance to limiting the spread of the virus.
  • As a baseline, ALL travellers from outside Canada are considered potential carriers of the virus and should self-isolate at home or a similar place in which to stay.
  • To preserve essential services, it is key to consider the risk that a returning worker could pose by endangering the health of multiple other essential service workers, which could jeopardize an organization’s ability to provide essential services.

Workers should be aware that in today’s press conference the PHO noted that the essential worker provisions are not a blanket exemption from self-isolation for particular categories of workers such as health care workers. Only those who are specifically identified and designated by their employer as an essential worker given the circumstances at that workplace are eligible for the exemptions granted to essential workers.

Essential workers who are designated by their employer are directed as follows:

  • self-monitor daily for signs and symptoms of illness,
  • follow infection prevention and control protocols, including diligent hand hygiene,
  • reduce close contact with other workers by maintaining 2m separation, avoiding handshakes, and avoiding shared spaces where possible,
  • avoid close contact with others during your commute to and from work,
  • self-isolate at home on days you are not required in the workplace,
  • call 811 or your physician if you have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19,
  • call 811 or your physician if you exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, and self-isolate for 14 days unless otherwise instructed by a health professional, and
  • submit to medical tests and provide specimens that may be required from time to time.

For the full text of the PHO’s order, please click here.

Note to our Readers: Information regarding COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. We are working to bring you up-to-date articles as the legal issues develop and to keep our previous posts updated. Given that the legal issues related to COVID-19 are constantly changing, if you are looking for legal advice or are dealing with an issue in relation to COVID-19, please contact your Harris lawyer or a member of our COVID-19 response team: Sari Wiens or Suzanne Kennedy.

To read our most recent articles and other updates on COVID-19, visit our COVID-19 Updates page.