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Liberals considering whether to extend expiring pandemic supports for businesses, individuals

A number of the federal government's pandemic supports for individuals and businesses are set to come to an end this week. Most of them can still be extended for the short term without introducing new legislation.

Business and industry groups are acutely aware of the coming end to the pandemic supports they say are still needed to keep the economy afloat, and they say they want the federal government to take action now.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday that while the reopening of the Canadian economy is going well, she is working with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, industry representatives, economists and others to determine a path forward.

"During the election campaign, Canadians were promised we would continue helping the businesses hardest hit," she said in French. "We are now discussing and analyzing ... what to do."

Five programs are scheduled to end on October 23. Three of them provide assistance to individuals while the other two provide targeted help to businesses.

Supports for businesses

The Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) both expire on Sunday but can be extended by the federal cabinet until Nov. 30. Extending these programs beyond that date would require the introduction of new legislation.

While these two subsidies are set to expire on Oct. 23, the deadline to apply for each claim period is six months after the end of the claim period itself — so businesses can claim for wages paid out in the final week of the program up until April 21.  

During the federal election campaign, the Liberals promised to provide the struggling tourism industry with wage and rent supports "up to 75 per cent of their expenses to help them get through the winter." The government has made no announcements on those supports yet.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce want those extensions to apply to all businesses in Canada.

"Extending these programs through November needs to be an immediate priority, followed by legislation to introduce programs for the hardest hit sectors as soon as the House returns," chamber spokesperson Alla Drigola Birk told CBC News. "Businesses need support and certainty now, not a retroactive payment months from now."

Slow return to growth

The CFIB said that a large number of small businesses are still struggling because of the pandemic's fourth wave. It said that only 76 per cent of small businesses are fully open, only 45 per cent are fully staffed and only 49 per cent are bringing in normal revenues.

"No business owner expects government support forever, but they need to know they have something to rely on until all restrictions are lifted and they can fully operate their business once again. They can't afford for the government to dawdle until the last minute," the CFIB's Corinne Pohlmann said in a media statement last week.

The CFIB said it wants the rent and wage subsidies extended to March 31, 2022. It also wants the Canada Recovery Hiring Program, which is set to expire on Nov. 20, to be extended until the same date. 

Meeting that demand would be difficult for the Liberal government, which announced on Friday that Parliament would not return until Nov. 22 — two days after the hiring program ends.

Supports for individuals

Three support programs for individuals are also expiring this week. The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) and the Canada Recovery Caregiver Benefit (CRCB) are all scheduled to end on Oct. 23. 

All three of these programs can be extended individually or collectively until Nov. 20 by an order of cabinet. Extending them beyond that date would require the introduction of new legislation.

While the NDP and the Greens have called for an extension of these benefits, the CFIB wants to see them adjusted to ensure that they do not dissuade people from returning to work.

In a recent letter to Freeland, the CFIB said the Canada Recovery Benefit "is contributing to a growing shortage of part-time labour availability across Canada."

"While we recognize that many workers and self-employed business owners may still require CRB benefits, many part-time workers are earning more on the program than when working," the letter said.

The group wants the Liberal government to change the program to ensure that no one receiving the CRB is earning more on the benefit than they would if they returned to work. The CFIB also wants employees recalled to work to take up their old jobs or demonstrate that they are looking for alternative work.