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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

Daily Update: March 25th, 2021

Auditor General reports on Public Health, Canada Emergency Response Benefit, Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and Infrastructure Canada

A report from Auditor General Karen Hogan tabled today in the House of Commons concludes that the Public Health Agency of Canada was not as well prepared as it could have been to respond to the COVID‑19 pandemic but that it has been working persistently since January 2020 to support Canada through the unprecedented challenges brought on by this crisis.

The audit found that prior to the arrival in Canada of the virus that causes COVID‑19, the Agency had developed plans and worked with federal, provincial, and territorial partners to support its readiness, but it had not completed planned testing or updated all of these plans before the pandemic began.

The audit also found that the Agency relied on a risk assessment tool that was not designed to consider pandemic risk. The Agency continued to assess this risk as low despite growing numbers of COVID‑19 cases in Canada and worldwide. In addition, the Global Public Health Intelligence Network did not issue an alert to provide early warning of the virus that would become known as causing COVID‑19.

The Public Health Agency of Canada also verified compliance of only one third of incoming travelers, and it did not consistently refer for follow-up travelers who risked not complying with quarantine orders.

The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, and the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, thanked the Auditor General for her work and noted that the Government of Canada has adapted its response and provided funding and resources, including $690.7 million over two years in the Fall 2020 Economic Statement.

The Auditor General found that the Department of Finance Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, and the Canada Revenue Agency worked quickly to analyze, design, and deliver the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to workers who lost income because of the COVID‑19 pandemic.

The audit found that despite having little time to perform analysis before launching the benefit, Employment and Social Development Canada and the Department of Finance Canada considered and analyzed key elements in the initial design and subsequent adjustments to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

The Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, and the Minister of National Revenue, Diane Lebouthillier, welcomed the report.

The Auditor General concluded that the Department of Finance Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency worked together to support the development and rollout of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program within short time frames. The CEWS is one of the largest initiatives the government has ever undertaken and one of the key programs meant to support employers and economic recovery after the COVID‑19 pandemic.

The audit found that the Department of Finance Canada performed a partial analysis to support the initial design of the CEWS program. As the program rolled out, the department provided sound and complete analysis to inform adjustments.

The audit further found that to prioritize issuing subsidy payments, and as a result of pre‑existing weaknesses in information systems and tax data, the Canada Revenue Agency made decisions about which information it would require and which controls it would apply up front. For example, the agency decided that it would not ask employers applying for the subsidy to provide their employees’ social insurance numbers, though this information could have helped the agency prevent the doubling‑up of financial support. The decision limited the agency’s ability to perform pre‑payment validations, as did the absence of complete and up‑to‑date tax information, which would also have helped it efficiently assess applications. As a result, starting in spring 2021, the agency will have to rely on comprehensive audits to track down and recover payments made to ineligible CEWS recipients.

The Minister of National Revenue, the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier thanked the Auditor General and responded that the CRA’s priority was to help get Canadian workers back on their employers’ payrolls, offering Canada’s recovery 80% of jobs lost since the start of the pandemic, as of February, as proof that the program was effective.

To improve the integrity and validation efficiency of all CRA programs, the Minister noted, the CRA will assess and determine how best to use automated validations with a common identifier across programs. In addition, the CRA will continue to work closely with businesses and their representative organizations as it refines the delivery of this program, as well as any new emergency benefit programs the CRA may need to administer should Canada ever face another crisis in the future.

Infrastructure Canada was unable to provide meaningful public reporting on whether the Investing in Canada Plan was meeting its objectives, the Auditor General reported.

The audit found that the department’s reporting did not include programs that predate the creation of the Investing in Canada Plan, even though they account for almost half of the plan’s $188‑billion commitment. Although this issue was raised as early as 2017 by one of the plan’s oversight committees, and later in a 2019 internal review, the audit found that this reporting gap remained unresolved. Reporting on the plan’s progress was also affected by inconsistent information provided by federal partner organizations. Infrastructure Canada’s reporting captured only some programs each year, and year‑over‑year reporting did not reflect comparable results nor provide a complete picture of the plan’s overall results.

The audit also found that funds were not being spent as quickly as originally planned. Approximately a fifth of planned spending was unspent in the first 3 years of the plan and was moved to later years. No one was tracking the overall impact of this frequent reallocation of unspent funds. Continuously delaying and reallocating unspent funds means that Infrastructure Canada and its federal partner organizations risk not meeting the plan’s objectives.

The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, thanked the Auditor General for the report, agreed that the government needed to do a better job of showing their work, and pointed to engagement on Canada’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment as part of an evidence-based expert assessment of Canada’s infrastructure needs to guide future investment.


Government of Canada announces additional pandemic support for vaccines, health care, and municipalities 

In recognition of the extraordinary pressures faced by all orders of government and First Nations communities during the ongoing pandemic, today, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, introduced Bill C-25. This legislation would provide an additional $7.2 billion in support for urgent health care needs across the country, the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, and for local infrastructure projects in our cities and communities.

The proposed funding includes:

  • $4 billion through the Canada Health Transfer to help provinces and territories address immediate health care system pressures, including addressing backlogs in access to care as the pandemic continues.
  • $1 billion as a one-time payment to the provinces and territories to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out continues to accelerate and keeps pace with growing supply, and does not encounter any delays.
  • $2.2 billion to address short-term infrastructure priorities in municipalities and First Nations communities. The funds would flow through the federal Gas Tax Fund.
    • The federal government also proposes to rename the federal Gas Tax Fund as the Canada Community-Building Fund.

To date, more than eight out of every ten dollars to fight the pandemic has been provided by the federal government. Today’s announcement will build on the substantial investments made to support provinces and territories.


Canada’s top court upholds pillar of Trudeau’s plan to fight climate change

Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of the federal government’s carbon pricing policy on Thursday, upholding a central pillar of Prime Minister Justin’s Trudeau’s climate plan and infuriating some provinces that opposed it.

The country’s top court said climate change is a threat to Canada a whole and upheld the legality of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, which had been challenged by Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Carbon pricing, often called a carbon tax by opponents, is the lynchpin of the federal government’s plan to ultimately reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Ottawa will steadily ramp up the price of carbon to C$170 ($135.08) a ton by 2030, from C$30 a ton currently.

Canada is the fourth-largest oil producer in the world and the fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter on a per capita basis.

“Parliament has jurisdiction to enact this law as a matter of national concern,” Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote in the ruling. “All parties to this proceeding agree that climate change is an existential challenge. It is a threat of the highest order to the country, and indeed to the world.”

Under the carbon pricing act, Ottawa can impose a federal levy on provinces that do not have an adequate carbon pricing system of their own. Opposing provinces argued this infringed on their jurisdiction, but the Supreme Court ruled federal intervention was justified.


Number of regular EI beneficiaries up sharply in January, Statistics Canada reports

Proportion of regular Employment Insurance beneficiaries qualifying under the new rules up in most provinces (not seasonally adjusted)

The number of Canadians receiving regular EI benefits rose 11.2% (+149,000) to 1.5 million in January. Results from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) indicate that 1.9 million people were unemployed in January, including 1.5 million who were looking for work and 400,000 who had a connection to a job, either because they were on temporary layoff or had arrangements to begin a new job in the near future.

In September, temporary changes to the EI program, including a reduction in the number of required insured hours, were introduced to increase EI eligibility. In January, the proportion of EI recipients qualifying for EI under these new eligibility rules continued to grow in most provinces.

In January, the increase in the number of regular EI beneficiaries was concentrated in Ontario (+82,000; +17.2%) and Quebec (+75,000; +25.0%), reflecting employment losses associated with public health measures implemented in both provinces at the end of December.

The number of regular EI recipients was up in all industries compared with 12 months earlier, with accommodation and food services (+251,000; +728.5%) and retail trade (+177,000; +438.8%) posting the largest increases (not seasonally adjusted).

Illustrating the impact of ongoing public health measures, accommodation and food services (16.7%) continued to have the highest proportion of total regular EI recipients (not seasonally adjusted). According to January LFS data, employment in this industry was almost one-third (-31.4%) below its pre-pandemic February level, making this industry the one furthest from full recovery among all industries.

Youth aged 15 to 24 accounted for 15.0% of total regular EI recipients in January, up from 9.1% one year earlier. The increase in proportion among young women (+4.1 percentage points) was more than double that among young men (+1.8 percentage points). January LFS results indicate that young women remained further from pre-pandemic employment levels than all other demographic groups.


Reading recommendations

Massive container ship stuck in Suez Canal, blocking world’s busiest shipping route

CBC News

A container ship almost as long as the height of the CN Tower and twice as heavy is wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal, having blocked all traffic in the vital waterway for more than a day — with no sign that it’s moving any time soon.

The MV Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground Tuesday in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula. Images showed the ship’s bow had collided with the eastern wall of the canal, while its stern looked lodged against the western wall.

Nearly a dozen tugboats worked together to try to nudge the obstruction out of the way as ships hoping to enter the waterway began lining up in the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

An earlier report Wednesday suggested that the ship has been “partially refloated,” but Ahmed Mekawy, an assistant manager at marine agency GAC, says that report was wrong, and that the 400-metre-long ship with a sailing weight of 220,000 tonnes was still very much stuck late in the day local time.

Famed London-based shipping journal Lloyd’s List estimates each day the Suez Canal is closed disrupts over $9 billion US worth of goods that should be passing through the waterway.


The great remote work experiment – what happens next? Podcast

Daniel Merino, Gemma Ware, The Conversation

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly, four experts dissect the impact a year of working from home has had on employees and the companies they work for – and what a more hybrid future might look like.

For many people who can do their job from home, the pandemic meant a sudden shift from office-based to remote working. But after a year of working from home, some company bosses really don’t want it to become the new normal. The chief executive of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, called it an “aberration”, and Barclays chief executive Jes Staley said it wasn’t sustainable, because of how hard it is to maintain culture and collaboration with teams working remotely.

Meanwhile, others are fully embracing a remote work future. Twitter said its employees could work from home forever, and Spotify announced a “work from anywhere” policy. Other firms are starting to announce more hybrid policies, where people are expected to split their week between the home and the office: in March, BP told employees they would be expected to work from home two days a week.


Niagara COVID status tracker

Niagara’s most up-to-date COVID statistics, measured against the targets for the various stages of the Ontario COVID-19 Response Framework, are presented below. This does not predict government policy, but is offered to give you an idea of where Niagara is situated and how likely a relaxation (or further restrictions) may be. These data are drawn daily from Niagara Region. The Grey-Lockdown level does not have its own metrics, but is triggered when the COVID-specific measurements in a Red-Control region have continued to deteriorate.

 Incidence ratePercent positivityRt
Target: Green<10<0.5%<1
Target: Yellow10-24.90.5-1.2%1
Target: Orange25-39.91.3-2.4%1-1.1
Target: Red≥40≥2.5%≥1.2
Niagara Current154.2 ▲7.4% ▲1.2 ▼

Definitions:

  • Weekly Incidence Rate: the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people per week
  • Percent Positivity: the number of positive COVID-19 tests as a percentage of all COVID-19 tests performed
  • Rt: the reproductive rate, or the number of people infected by each case of the virus

Information on government grants, resources, and programs, policies, forms, and posters for download and use, are available here.The GNCC is here to support you. Contact us with any questions you have.
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