Feds, province pass emergency legislation in wake of COVID-19
By Chad Ingram
The federal and provincial governments are springing into action to help Canadians and Ontarians navigate their way through the COVID-19 crisis.
At the federal level, earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an aid package for families and business that will be worth up to $82 billion, including $27 billion in direct funding.
“The announcement that was made by the Prime Minister will probably be the first in a series of economic announcements to help individuals and businesses get through this crisis,” Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale told the paper.
Among those measures is an emergency support benefit, which will support workers, including self-employed Canadians, who are not eligible for EI if they are facing unemployment. An emergency care benefit will provide up to $900 biweekly for workers taking care of a sick family member, or who have to stay home to look after children. An EI sickness benefit waives the one-week waiting period for individuals in quarantine, as well as the requirement to provide a medical certificate to access EI sickness benefits. The Canada Child Benefit payments amounts will be increased by $300 per child per year beginning in May. The income tax deadline has been extended to June 1, and the deadline for anyone who owes money to the government has also been extended. An additional GST payment and the possibility of mortgage payment deferrals of up to six months were also part of the announcement.
The House of Commons will convene next week for a streamlined sitting with skeleton staff where it's expected the measures will be passed with unanimous consent.
“You can do anything you want with unanimous consent,” Schmale said, explaining it will allow the usual parliamentary procedure to be suspended and for the bills to be passed quickly, so the government can start getting money to Canadians. “It's a very collegial approach. Partisanship is out the door right now.”
Schmale said he'd like to see enhanced measures other than just loans for businesses that have seen their income shrivel up virtually overnight.
“There have been businesses that have seen their revenues drop to almost zero in a number of days,” he said.
He encouraged county residents to check on vulnerable neighbours.
“The county has a great sense of community, Schmale said. “We are seeing neighbours and friends start to check on each other.”
The MP also urged residents to stay calm, stressing Canada's supply chains remain intact, and that there will be food on the shelves.
“There's no need to panic shop, there's no need to hoard,” Schmale said, also encouraging residents to undertake practices of self-isolation, avoiding non-essential travel, and social distancing.
“If we all keep calm and do our responsible actions, we will get through this.”
At the provincial level, on March 19 MPPs sat for an emergency session in Queen's Park, passing two pieces of legislation – The Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies) and The Municipal Emergency Act, 2020. The former provides job-protected leave for any Ontarians in self-isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19, as well as those who need to be away from work to care for children who are out of daycare, or care for relatives who are sick. “These measures are retroactive to Jan. 25, 2020, the date the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in Ontario,” reads a press release from the province. “The legislation will also make it clear employees cannot be required to show sick notes.”
The Municipal Emergency Act 2020 ensures the delivery of goods can happen at any time of day, irrespective of municipal noise bylaws. It also allows municipal councils to hold virtual meetings in emergency circumstances.
“The legislation also gives municipalities the ability to fully conduct council, local board and committee meetings electronically when faced with local and province-wide emergencies, empowering the government's municipal partners to respond quickly when in-person meetings cannot be held,” the release reads.
The two pieces of legislation were passed with unanimous consent by just 26 MPPs, with the number of MPPs kept intentionally small in order to practise social distancing.
“Like you, I believe that mothers, fathers, daughters and sons should be able to care for their loved ones with confidence their job is secure during the COVID-19 outbreak,” Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP and Ontario Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott wrote in a blog post. “We should also have faith that our grocery stores will be fully stocked, eliminating the panic buying and hoarding of goods in our community.”
“It is important that we continue to look after one another in this time of emergency,” Scott wrote. “No one should lose their job while putting their health and well-being first and no one should go hungry or without resources during this unprecedented outbreak.”