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30 day timeline: How governments in Canada reacted to COVID-19

In the first 30 days of the pandemic, Canadian governments rolled out an astounding number of programs to support businesses navigating COVID-19.

For many, COVID-19 has felt like an eternity.

We haven’t seen our friends and family or our colleagues. We haven’t been able to go to the office or a park. Every day feels a bit like every other day.

For government, COVID-19 was a sprint. Aside from public health issues, the pandemic brought mass unemployment, shuttered storefronts and uncertainty for businesses and workers alike. Reacting to these issues required speed and flexibility – two words most people wouldn’t typically assign to governments.

However, in Canada, governments have mostly received praise for the way they’ve handled the crisis. At the height of the curve, a poll showed that in the province of Ontario, where Waterloo is located, 75% of people approved of the work Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was doing and 83% approved of Premier Doug Ford. It’s true – Canadians think that our governments have done a good job responding to the crisis.

So, what did our governments actually do? The only way to get a sense of the speed with which governments rolled out new programs is to report every program released each day during the pandemic. But, between provincial and federal governments, that’s hundreds of programs. No one wants to read that much.

Instead, we’ll take a look at the roll-out of pivotal business-focused programs, showing just how quickly our governments took care of the big-picture economic problems.

March 18 – First steps

On March 17, Ontario declared a state of emergency. One day later, the Canadian government rolled out two initial support programs: a 10% wage subsidy for small businesses and the Business Credit Availability Program, which made $65 billion available to businesses under financial stress. The government also began deferring payments on loans and income tax payments.

March 21 – Ontario makes a move

Within a few days, to counteract the supply challenges COVID-19 was creating for personal protective equipment (PPE), the provincial government created the Ontario Together portal to help businesses shift their operations to address the challenge. As of now, the program has invested $90 million, and was joined with several additional programs helping companies (like InkSmith) to make massive pivots.

Just three days into the emergency, programs were already in place to support businesses – big and small – and the task of boosting a historic industrial mobilization to fight COVID-19 had begun.

March 25 – Government looks to CERB job losses

Within one week, the federal government announced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which provides eligible applicants with $2000/month with an easy application and direct deposit. Applicants reported getting money into their accounts within a couple of days.

For context, the one-time $1200USD support provided to individuals in the US didn’t start delivering until mid-April and was criticized as too little, too late.

March 27 – A massive wage subsidy program

With many of the workers who lost their jobs covered by CERB, the government turned toward direct support for businesses that were still operating but with significantly reduced revenue. They announced a 75% wage subsidy (Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy or CEWS) – capped at $55,000 – for companies experiencing a 30%+ reduction in revenue, ensuring that workers could stay on company payrolls rather than find themselves unemployed. While initial uptake was relatively low (due to other supports like CERB taking the full load off payrolls) CEWS also provides the opportunity to rehire employees at lower cost as the economy restarts, giving companies more runway to return to profitability.

In total, by March 27, the federal government had committed to spending more than $107 billion in economic aid. For context, in most years, that would account for about 30% of all federal government spending.

April 16 – Closing the loop

With wage subsidies and CERB supporting workers and substantial low- or zero-interest loans helping maintain thousands of businesses across the country, governments looked to address the biggest outstanding issue: real estate. In partnership with provincial governments, the federal government launched the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program, which provided a cost-sharing option for tenants and landlords that would see governments covering 50% of rent costs per month.

April 17 – Filling the gaps

As the first month ended, the federal government announced an additional $2 billion in support for the oil industry, cultural sector and rural businesses. On the same day, the IRAP Innovation Assistance Program was adapted to support high-growth or pre-revenue companies (much of the tech industry) that didn’t qualify for the CEWS.

Since April 17th, the government has rolled out a few programs to fill additional gaps as they appear. They’ve also constantly fine-tuned their programs, extending eligibility, seeking simpler ways to apply and extending them.

If nothing else, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated a significant advantage to doing business in Canada. Our governments are open to feedback, quick to make necessary changes and they remain committed to support over the long-term. Politicization of the pandemic isn’t anywhere close to the fever pitch found elsewhere. In fact, just the opposite. Political parties from opposite ends of the spectrum have found common ground and focused on collaboration, while areas of federal-provincial friction have all but melted away as governments focus on solutions rather than partisanship.

Canada’s stability – our unique focus on peace, order and good government – is an asset to any company that wants greater certainty in an increasingly uncertain world.

Are you looking for more information about the array of business support programs available in Canada? Check out our COVID-19 resources page.

Do you want to learn more about the advantages of locating in Canada?

We can walk you through Canada’s trade network, opportunities for expansion, talent sources and more.