$71B wage subsidy ‘appropriate’ to keep economy afloat: Morneau

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the ballooning cost of federal measures being promised to workers impacted by COVID-19 is essential to keeping the Canadian economy afloat.

“I’m worried about the size of the investment, always,” Morneau told BNN Bloomberg in an interview on Wednesday. “I’m also worried about not only the numerator, but the denominator: The size of the economy. That economy is what we’re focused on at the end.”

“These are some of the biggest expenditures that have ever been done in Canadian history. We recognize that. But it’s the appropriate thing to do at this time, and once we’re through this, we will have to make sure that we get ourselves back on an appropriate track.”The Close Feds ‘clearly learning’ from 2008 crisis with wage subsidy: CIBC’s TalFeds ‘clearly learning’ from 2008 crisis with wage subsidy: CIBC’s Tal

CIBC Capital Markets deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal praised the federal government’s $71-billion wage subsidy details announced on Wednesday, but warned that many small businesses could go under without help paying rent.

Morneau unveiled some crucial details about the federal government’s emergency wage subsidy on Wednesday, pegging the cost of the program that’s meant to cushion the blow from COVID-19 at $71 billion.

In a press conference earlier on Wednesday, Morneau said he expects funds will begin to flow in approximately six weeks, and that employers that apply will have to show their revenue fell at least 30 per cent compared to the same month last year. He confirmed that funds will be sent to employers via direct deposit from the Canada Revenue Agency.

A senior government official said during a technical briefing call that the funds could be delivered as early as three weeks, but it depends on how quick the CRA can launch the system for businesses to apply for the subsidy. 

The official added that the CRA will offer some “flexibility” to high-growth businesses that don’t have a full year of operations in place to compare a year’s worth of revenue, suggesting prior monthly sales figures could be used instead. 

Morneau said the government’s focus now has to be offering a lifeline to Canadians and Canadian businesses as soon as possible.

“I have been very focused during my time as finance minister to manage our fiscal position, to make sure we reduce our debt as a function of our economy. Well, that’s not where we are today,” he said.

“Where we are today is: I am focused on making sure people have enough money to pay for their groceries and their rent. I’m trying to make sure that we have a process that will get that money out to people rapidly.”

The revised wage subsidy program was unveiled by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Mar. 27 and will subsidize 75 per cent of wages for qualifying businesses up to a period of three months. It will be retroactive to March 15 and will cover the first $58,700 of salary up to a maximum of $847 per week. 

The federal government had initially planned a subsidy of 10 per cent, which was quickly panned by small business leaders as insufficient. Nonetheless, the government confirmed Wednesday that the 10 per cent subsidy will still be available to employers that don’t qualify for the 75 per cent subsidy.

Morneau added that there will be “severe penalties” for anyone who seeks to use the funds fraudulently. However, specifics on how businesses will be penalized were not announced on Wednesday. 

Source: BNN Bloomberg

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