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Justin Trudeau

Feds look at 10 days paid sick leave, launch commercial rent relief, financial guidance helpline

Monday, May 25, 2020 @ 4:12 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

Last Updated: Monday, May 25, 2020 @ 5:02 PM


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Ottawa is in talks with the provinces about ensuring every worker has 10 days of paid sick leave so that they won’t be financially pressured to leave home for work when they know or suspect that they have COVID-19.

During his daily COVID-19 briefing in Ottawa May 25, Trudeau also urged landlords to take part in the federal government’s commercial rent relief program, which began accepting applications May 25, on a staggered basis across the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Of note to sole practitioners and small and newer law firms, he announced as well that the “Business Resilience Service” a four-week, bilingual financial guidance telephone help line opened May 25. Staffed by 125 chartered public accountants (CPAs), the $3-million federal program is opening on a trial basis, with a possible extension in future, depending on businesses’ needs and the evolving state of the pandemic.

In co-operation with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the 125 CPAs are offering free and customized financial planning advice to entrepreneurs, small businesses and not-for-profit organizations and charities with pressing financial needs — particularly those who may not have access to an accountant.

The CPAs can: answer questions about tax regulations and the implications of COVID-19; inform business owners about government support programs that best fit their unique circumstances; and provide strategic financial planning for their road to recovery, a government press release says.

Trudeau gave few answers to reporters about the details of a possible national 10-day sick-leave initiative for workers, including: its potential costs; who would pay; what employers would be expected to contribute; cost-sharing with the provinces; eligibility; and when such an initiative might begin.

The prime minister was clear about the need for paid sick leave to stem the tide of COVID-19 and ensure that workplaces do not become vectors for its transmission. He intimated that having paid sick leave measures in place by the time the fall flu season hits is essential.

“Nobody should have to choose between taking a day off work due to illness or being able to pay their bills, just like nobody should have to choose between staying home with COVID-19 symptoms or being able to afford rent or groceries,” Trudeau said. “That’s why the government will continue discussions with the provinces, without delay, on ensuring that, as we enter the recovery phase of the pandemic, every worker in Canada who needs it has access to 10 days of paid sick leave a year,” he said. “We’ll also consider other mechanisms for the longer term to support workers with sick leave.”

Two weeks of paid sick leave for every worker is being insisted on by the NDP, as a condition of the party supporting the minority government’s preference for a largely virtual, rather than in-person, Parliament. Trudeau noted the idea of universal paid sick leave was also broached some weeks ago at a teleconference of the country’s first ministers.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan “pointed out, quite rightly, that when the fall comes, and flu season starts up, we don’t want people who develop a sniffle to suddenly worry that they really shouldn’t go into work but they can’t afford to not go into work,” Trudeau said. “Therefore the risk of contributing to a second wave significantly could be a real problem. That’s why a number of premiers have agreed that we do need to look at ways of encouraging people who begin to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 to be able to stay home for a day or two, for the time necessary to be able to get themselves tested and possibly treated.”

Trudeau emphasized “these are things that will be essential in our recovery if we are to control the spread of COVID-19. The mechanisms are challenging. That’s why we have to work with the provinces. We’ve put forward a number of mechanisms to support people who have lost their job because of COVID-19, but the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is doled out in chunks of four weeks. We recognize … there is a need for a shorter period of time so discussions with the provinces around paid sick leave — we’re talking about 10 days over the course of the year, could be a significant help.That’s what we’ve agreed to lead with the provinces.”

The opening of applications for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program for small businesses is being staggered through this week as the government anticipates many requests.

“To landlords, please apply,” Trudeau stressed. “To business owners, make sure you’re holding up your end of the bargain as well,” he admonished. “The Canada Emergency Business Account can help you pay your rent on time, and the [Canada Emergency] Wage Subsidy, which we’re extending through the summer, can help you rehire your workers.”

Property owners in Atlantic Canada, B.C., Alberta and Quebec, with up to 10 eligible tenants, can submit their applications May 25; property owners in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and the territories, with up to 10 tenants who are eligible for the program, can apply on May 26; all other property owners in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and the territories can apply on May 27; on May 28 all other property owners in Atlantic Canada, B.C, Alberta and Quebec can apply; and on May 29 all property owners across Canada can apply.

Under the CECRA, property owners will reduce rent by at least 75 per cent for the months of April and May (retroactively), and June, for their small-business tenants. Ottawa will cover 50 per cent of the rent, with the tenant paying up to 25 per cent and the property owner forgiving at least 25 per cent. The program is for small business tenants that are paying less than $50,000 per month in gross rent, with annual consolidated revenues of less than $20 million, and that have experienced at least a 70-per-cent drop from pre-COVID-19 revenues. It is also available to non-profit and charitable organizations.

As of May 25, free financial guidance from the Business Resilience Service can be requested at 1-866-989-1080 (toll-free) seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EDT). A government press release says the CPAs can provide customized financial guidance to the smallest business owners in the most urgent need and help them make the best decisions for their business as they navigate the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Correction: The commercial rent relief program is available to small business tenants with annual consolidated revenues of less than $20 million — not $2 million as stated in the government’s March 25 press release.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Cristin Schmitz at Cristin.Schmitz@lexisnexis.ca or at 613-820-2794.