Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is visiting a bistro in Chelsea, Que., today to highlight how the federal wage subsidy program is helping keep some workers on the payroll during the COVID-19 crisis.
The government has been encouraging employers to apply for the wage subsidy program, which covers 75 per cent of an employee’s pay, up to $847 a week, but uptake remains lower than expected.
As of June 15, about 353,350 applications have been approved, worth about $13.3 billion.
The overall cost of the program was pegged at $73 billion.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said the main reason for the lower uptake is the delay in announcing the 75 per cent subsidy and the long wait before money was delivered. The government had initially proposed a 10 per cent subsidy.
He said it took about a month for the government to introduce the bigger subsidy, and another six weeks to get the application in place, meaning it was mid-May before any businesses started to get the money.
Too little, too late?
“Most businesses couldn’t hang on that long. One of the only quick actions they could take to ensure the business itself would survive was to cut costs, and wages are typically their largest expense,” he said.
Kelly said CFIB had urged the government to launch the program as quickly as it did the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), as a way to ensure the connection between employer and workers and avoid layoffs.
“We are now paying the price for that, as employers struggle to get their workforce back together,” he said.
Kelly said he’s pleased the government extended the program until the end of August but hopes for changes to eligibility rules, including the requirement to show a 30 per cent drop in revenue.