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Parliamentary budget officer weighs costliest federal emergency aid programs

Last Updated Apr 30, 2020 at 5:15 am PDT

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez as they wait for the COVID-19 committee in the House of Commons Chamber Wednesday April 29, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Summary

Canadians are about to learn just how much emergency aid programs in response to COVID-19 are going to cost us

Parliamentary Budget Officer is set to provide the running tally of the wage subsidy and the Canada Emergency Benefit

OTTAWA — Canadians will get an update today on two of the costliest emergency aid programs the federal government has initiated to help them weather the COVID-19 crisis.

The parliamentary budget officer is scheduled to post a costing note on the 75 per cent wage subsidy — a program the government expects to cost $73 billion and which it has called the largest economic policy in Canada since the Second World War.

Yves Giroux is also expected to post a costing note on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which is providing $2,000 a month for four months to Canadians forced out of work due to the pandemic.

The government has estimated the cost of that program at $35 billion, but has expanded the eligibility criteria several times to add those initially left out, including workers earning up to $1,000 per month, seasonal workers and those who have exhausted their regular employment insurance benefits.

In total, the federal government has so far poured $145 billion into emergency aid and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised more to come, including for seniors.

He is not expected to announce any new funding today, however. His daily briefing on the pandemic is likely to be overtaken by questions about another tragedy — the crash of a Royal Canadian Air Force’s Cyclone helicopter into the Mediterranean Sea late Wednesday.

The Cyclone was participating in a NATO exercise off the coast of Greece when the crash occurred, the Canadian Armed Forces has said.

The military said a search and rescue operation was under way and declined all other comment.

However, Greek state broadcaster ERT said one body had been found and five others on board were missing.

While Trudeau will likely be preoccupied with that bad news, MPs on six House of Commons committees will be delving into various aspects of the federal response to the pandemic.

Industry Minister Navdeep Bains — who is spearheading the drive to mobilize Canadian researchers and scientists in the campaign to develop tests, treatments and ultimately a vaccine to protect against the novel coronavirus — is to testify at the industry committee.

And Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen, who is responsible for measures aimed at helping children, seniors and the homeless through the pandemic, is to testify at the human resources committee.

That committee is also scheduled to hear from the head of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. The CMHC is administering the federal government’s new program to relieve eligible small businesses of 75 per cent of their rent payments due in April, May and June.

Meanwhile, the procedure and House affairs committee is scheduled to hear how legislatures in Wales, Scotland and the United Kingdom are handling the move to virtual sittings as politicians, like everyone else, try to keep physical distance from one another to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Canada’s MPs held their first virtual gathering on Tuesday, which was deemed generally successful despite numerous glitches in using unaccustomed video-conferencing technology.