Evolving situation; evolving bailouts

It has long been a time honoured political tradition to make a big funding announcement and then announce it again a few more times for maximum benefit.

Then, if you can find a way to re-announce those announcements during an election campaign, well that’s just gravy. It’s all the same money but if you don’t pay attention, you might be fooled into thinking it’s more.

I was reminded a little of this practice this week, as the federal government rolled out its 75 per cent wage subsidy program.

It has been announced and re-announced several times this week. But not, at the moment, for campaign benefit, but more for evolving more rapidly than politicians can announce it.

It began last Friday when Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the government would subsidize up to 75 per cent of an employee’s wages to help businesses retain workers.

Further details came on Monday, when Trudeau said it would be open to a wide-swath of businesses with no cap on the number of employees.

To qualify businesses must have a drop in revenue related to COVID-19 of at least 30 per cent. The government will cover 75 per cent of the first $58,700 a person earns, which works out to $847 per week. It will also be backdated to March 15.

And woe to the business who tries to work the system, Trudeau warned.

On Tuesday, we were told there were no details available.

On Wednesday, Trudeau said he is asking federal party leaders to recall Parliament to pass the subsidy.

Later on Wednesday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said that businesses hoping to apply for the subsidy will have to wait at least six weeks.

Businesses will be able to apply through a Canada Revenue Agency portal “soon,” Morneau said, and money is supposed to begin flowing in six weeks.

So yeah, the roll out so far has been a bit, shall we say, clunky. But I have to give them a pass as this whole otherworldly experience has us all a little off kilter.

The $71 billion package is equal to five per cent of Canada’s GDP, and Morneau said it would cause the deficit to go up.

Undoubtedly it will.

But I believe, at this time of crisis, a rising deficit may be just one more lump we’re going to have to take.

If the subsidy does not go ahead, hundreds of thousands of Canadians are going to be unemployed, and that will add to the deficit as well. This is an opportunity to keep people working, and, also very important, keep businesses viable as we ride out this storm. And thankfully, it’s a bailout that is not just going to benefit big mega-banks.

And while it may gall that MPs are getting salary hikes, as set out in federal law, the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and many, many other MPs are pledging to donate the increase to charities working to help Canadians with COVID-19. That’s nice, actually.

When this whole thing is over, beyond the devastating cost of human life, we may be in a world none of us are familiar with.

I hope the lessons learned about community, cooperation and being mindful of those in financial distress are well learned.

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