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COVID-19 roundup: Trudeau announces EI expansion for CERB recipients, gig workers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in July 2020. The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick
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It’s day 143 since Canada’s 100th coronavirus case. The number of cases is 116,122 as of publication time, up 306 since yesterday—a one per cent increase from the seven-day prior average of 303 new cases. At its peak on May 3, the seven-day average was 1,603 new cases a day. 

EI for gig workers: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans Friday to transfer recipients of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to traditional employment insurance (EI) when the $80-billion COVID-19 relief program ends this fall. 

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The transition will also include support for gig and contract workers who previously did not qualify for EI. The “parallel benefit” will include access to training and allow recipients to work more hours while still receiving the benefit. “We intend to cover every Canadian who is looking for work with a better, 21st-century EI system,” said Trudeau. 

The new program could help address concerns that workers who earn less than the CERB—mainly those in part-time contracts and freelance roles—will choose not to return to work and instead continue collecting aid. Extending a version of the benefit to gig and contact workers while allowing them to maintain more hours could help incentivize the return to work without having to sacrifice their income.  

Senator Yuen Pau Woo told The Logic the program is a step toward something resembling universal basic income (UBI). “We are entering a new way of thinking about income support and social safety nets,” said Woo, who recently asked the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer to cost out a national pilot program on UBI. “In a time when we are likely to see a very sluggish recovery… the case for a basic income experiment, I believe, is strong.”

Ottawa has so far distributed $62.75 billion to nearly 8.5 million Canadians through CERB, which is scheduled to end on September 26. Trudeau said the government will disclose more details of the transition programs by the end of August.

Will you download it?: The federal government’s exposure-notification app launched in Ontario Friday, after a nearly month-long delay during which Ottawa unsuccessfully tried to get other provinces to sign on. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Atlantic Canada provinces will be the next to connect their health systems to the app, and that discussions with other provinces are ongoing. “We expect they’ll be coming on board soon, as well,” he said. 

Earlier this week, The Logic reported that British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador were in discussions and that Quebec health ministry officials received a demonstration of the app. 

Drinking from the firehose:

  • The federal government has extended its commercial rent subsidy for the month of August.
  • The Canadian economy bounced back quicker in May than previously believed, Statistics Canada reported, but it nonetheless estimated that second-quarter GDP dropped a record 12 per cent.
  • Air Canada posted a $1.7-billion second-quarter loss amid an 89 per cent decline in revenue. CEO Calin Rovinescu called Canada’s restrictions on commercial flights “among the most severe in the world.”
  • The volume of venture capital and private equity deals fell in the second quarter, according to preliminary data from the Canadian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association. However, the amount of venture funding increased from $901 million in Q1 to over $1 billion in Q2.
  • Racialized people make up 83 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Toronto, despite representing 52 per cent of the population, according to socioeconomic data from Toronto Public Health. 
  • Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam used emergency powers to delay September’s Legislative Council elections for a year, citing the risk of COVID-19. 

“We should now squeeze that brake pedal, squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control”: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the country’s reopening plans on hold amid concerns it’s on the verge of a second wave of COVID-19. Indoor businesses like casinos and bowling alleys were planning to open tomorrow.

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