Coronavirus Updates Canada: Justin Trudeau Announces $82B Support

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced broad measures to support Canadians most affected by COVID-19, including interest rate freezes on student loans and $450 a week for gig workers and freelancers.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
March 18, 2020, 3:00pm
22949103
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Wednesday $82 billion for Canadian individuals and businesses affected by COVID-19. Photo by Adrian Wyld/CP

Updated at 6:30 p.m. (EDT): Ottawa is introducing an $82 billion relief package to support the country as it struggles with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spread, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday, shortly before Canada updated its confirmed case tally to 647 and Quebec announced its first death caused by the virus.

Trudeau is introducing up to $27 billion in direct support and up to $55 billion in tax deferrals, which will eventually have to be paid, to help Canadians who have to stay at home or lose work because of COVID-19—representing more than 3 percent of Canada’s GDP.

Advertisement

For those who don’t qualify for EI or can’t take sick leave, such as gig workers, freelancers, part-timers and cultural workers, the prime minister has introduced a emergency care benefit, which will give those who are sick with COVID-19 or need to quarantine, as well as those who must care for sick loved ones, regular payments of $900, comparable to those offered by EI, every two weeks for up to 15 weeks—comparable to what would be available through EI.

Business owners who have to close their shops will also receive economic support, including 10 percent temporary wage subsidies, which will allow employers to keep their workers on payroll.

Ottawa will also lift Canadian student loan interest for six months, which Minister of Finance Bill Morneau said is a savings of about $160 a month; temporarily boost the Canada Child Benefit to support parents who have to stay home with their children now that schools are closed ($300 per child); supplement GST credit for low-income Canadians to offset consumer tax costs (up to $400 for lone adults and about $600 for couples); double the funding to support homeless Canadians, so shelters can better serve their clients; support victims of domestic and gender-based violence by increasing funding for shelters; and create an Indigenous communities support fund.

To safeguard the value of retirement funds, Ottawa is also temporarily reducing minimum withdrawals from RRSPs by 25 percent.

Advertisement

Anyone who owes the government tax money has until September 1 to pay, and the tax filing deadline has been pushed to June 1.

“In Canada, public health should never hinge on financial considerations,” Trudeau said.

Morneau, speaking after Trudeau to detail the rescue package, said COVID-19 has had a “significant impact” on Canada’s economy and Ottawa will do “whatever it takes” to protect Canadians.

The point is to ensure Canadians have everything they need, including food, shelter, and medicine, Morneau said.

Grocery store supply chains are still working well, Morneau said, but urged Canadians to “please keep goods on shelves” for “Canadians who are waiting for a cheque to come” before they can shop.

The funding announcement represents only the first phase of economic COVID-19 mitigation, Morneau said.

Economic plans to support specific industries affected by COVID-19, including Alberta’s oil and gas sector, will be announced in the coming days, Morneau added.

The $82 billion is on top of an already promised $10 billion package for small businesses and $1 billion for the healthcare sector.

Canada-U.S. border to close

Canada and the U.S. have agreed to temporarily close the border to non-essential travel.

The borders will remain open for trade, meaning vital goods, including food, fuel, and medicine, will still cross between the U.S. and Canada.

“Travellers will no longer be permitted to cross the border for recreation and tourism,” Trudeau said, adding that Canadian citizens shouldn’t even visit their neighbours if they don’t have to.

Advertisement

“This is something we need to move forward on to protect Canadians,” Trudeau said.

Ottawa will not invoke the Emergency Act for now, Trudeau said, but he is keeping all options on the table.

The announcement represents the next wave of stringent measures introduced across Canada to slow the spread of the virus. On Monday, the prime minister—who is still in isolation—closed Canada’s borders to everyone except Canadian citizens, permanent residents, diplomats, airline crew, and U.S. citizens. Sick people are also not allowed into Canada. WestJet and Sunwing have suspended all international flights, and Porter airlines has suspended all flights.

He also announced an emergency loan program that will grant up to $5,000 to Canadians stuck abroad on Tuesday.

The country’s public health authorities continue to tell people to stay indoors and practise social distancing, and Trudeau says he doesn’t know if the measures will last weeks or months. Some experts say social distancing might have to last about a year, or until a vaccine is developed.

Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia have declared public emergencies, meaning non-essential services such as dine-in restaurants and bars are closed. Vancouver declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.

Big banks allow mortgage payment deferrals

To support Canadians who are seeing income losses as a result of business closures, Canadians banks are allowing deferrals on mortgage payments for up to six months.

Canada’s central bank announced it will not slash interest rates on Wednesday, but isn't ruling out the measure, which is used during economic downturns to keep money in Canadian pockets. Banks will work with individuals and businesses to give them financial flexibility, and are considering a “skip a payment” option for auto loans or credit cards, Morneau said.

Advertisement

The next two weeks are critical to slow the spread of the virus, so that Canada’s healthcare system doesn’t get bogged down by an onslaught of new cases, said Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public officer.

Canada’s COVID-19 cases rise, Drake in quarantine

Cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) surged on Tuesday to about 650 confirmed or probable cases in Canada. The death toll climbed to nine on Wednesday. After a steep rise in cases Tuesday, British Columbia reported only 45 new cases Wednesday, and no deaths.

Toronto rapper Drake is now reportedly in quarantine after posting a photo with basketball player Kevin Durant on social media last week. Durant tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, every province has at least one presumed or confirmed COVID-19 case:

British Columbia - 231

Alberta - 97

Saskatchewan - 8

Manitoba - 15

Ontario - 212

Quebec - 94

New Brunswick - 11

Nova Scotia - 12

Newfoundland and Labrador - 1

Prince Edward Island - 1

Globally, there are now more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases, with more than 8,000 recorded deaths.

This is a breaking news story. We will update it as news unfolds.

Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.