The federal government has established a new COVID-19 support benefit, but it can’t be accessed because no one in the country meets its eligibility criteria, prompting criticism of the support.
The Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB) officially came into existence last Friday. Like its predecessors, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), it’s designed to provide temporary income support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unlike those programs, it’s only available to workers who cannot work due to a local lockdown designation, but no region is officially under lockdown.
“The CWLB is only available when a COVID-19 lockdown order is designated for your region. Your region may be designated if the lockdown lasts for 14 days or more,” a government web page explaining the program said.
Under a heading titled “When you can apply,” the page said applications will only open “if a COVID-19 lockdown region is designated.”
The federal government is responsible for making decisions as to what regions meet the criteria of being in a lockdown. The Canada Revenue Agency is administering the program.
Successful applicants are eligible to receive $300 per week, and can apply for the benefit between October 24, 2021 and May 7, 2022.
The government tabled legislation to create the new benefit last month. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said at the time that the government wanted to establish more targeted support programs compared to broader supports such as CERB. She cited high vaccination rates and Canada’s economic recovery as part of the reason for the more targeted support.
But even with COVID-19 infections rising, and provinces implementing restrictions on gatherings and activities, it’s unclear when CWLB will open up.
CWLB too restrictive, says NDP critic
At a news conference in Moncton Monday, Minister of Infrastructure, Intergovernmental Affairs and Communities Dominic LeBlanc said conversations with the provinces on economic support programs are ongoing.
“We’re certainly always interested in hearing from business leaders and from provincial and territorial leaders to ensure that together we have the right mix of support,” he said.
The government has spent just under $300 billion on economic support programs related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Daniel Blaike, the New Democratic Party’s finance critic, says the CWLB is not an adequate support program.
“I think this is one of the critical failures of the legislation that the Liberals brought to Parliament,” he said in an interview. “It’s a very restrictive income support benefit.”
“We know that there’s still a lot of economic consequences of the pandemic. As Omicron picks up, we’re seeing an impact on business, but not necessarily because of a widespread government-mandated lockdown.”
Blaikie added that the government should have continued broader economic support programs instead. “The time for income support is clearly not passed,” he said.
In an email to CBC, a spokesperson for Freeland’s office said the government is looking at whether to adjust support measures in response to the rise in infections and restrictions fuelled by the Omicron variant.
“The Omicron variant is a real and serious threat to the health and safety of Canadians and the capacity of our health care system,” the statement reads.
“In light of the public health situation and new restrictions in a number of provinces, we are actively assessing if regulatory adjustments are needed to provide additional flexibility for the support measures contained in Bill C-2.”
Harriet Clunie, the executive chef of the Das Lokal restaurant in Ottawa, has had to reduce her employees’ hours as a result of new restrictions, which have halved the restaurant’s capacity.
She’s worried about what the change will mean for her employees — especially since they’re not eligible for the program.
“I feel like there needs to be stronger measures put in place right now that aren’t lockdown dependent, that need to be in place immediately to help workers get the money that they need to survive — or at least help the restaurants be able to keep them employed,” she said.
“I really think that they need to have some proportionate measures in, any time there’s some kind of restriction implemented.”