Ottawa receives over 500,000 new applications for Employment Insurance

ECONOMICS REPORTER | The Globe and Mail

A half-million Canadian workers filed for Employment Insurance benefits in the past four days alone, as evidence of the deep job losses related to COVID-19 quickly piled up and companies from a wide range of industries announced even more layoffs.

Employment and Social Development Canada said on Friday the department received about 500,000 applications for EI over the past four days, compared with just 27,000 in the same week a year ago.

“Service Canada and many government agencies have received a historic number of calls from concerned Canadians,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference. “I know people are anxious to get the help they deserve, and our government is working as fast as possible to support them.”

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe noted that 500,000 jobs represents 2.6 per cent of total Canadian employment, in line with the percentage of job losses in July, 1932, the worst month for employment during the Great Depression. “It seems clear to me that this is the sharpest negative shock we’ve ever seen,” he said on Twitter.

Economists at major banks slashed their economic forecasts even further. Scotiabank said the economy will contract at an annualized pace of nearly 11 per cent in the second quarter, and a “recession is now unavoidable.” It forecast the economy will shrink by 2.2 per cent this year, although it projected that growth will rebound by the fourth quarter. Bank of Montreal also lowered its second-quarter call to a 10 per cent contraction.

On Friday, companies in industries ranging from aviation to forestry to the arts laid off workers to stay viable amid the economic turmoil caused by COVID-19.

Just under 2,000 flight attendants at leisure airline Air Transat received layoff notices, said Julie Roberts, a union leader at the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the workers.

Employees are not being paid during the layoffs, which start on April 5, and the notice gives no back-to-work date, Ms. Roberts said. The union is trying to obtain some kind of assistance for workers to help soften the impact, but has not had confirmation that will be offered, she said.

“It’s been a crazy, crazy, past two weeks,” said Ms. Roberts, who is also a flight attendant and is losing her job. “I’m really scared about making ends meet.”

The union is concerned about its members who don’t have enough hours to qualify for unemployment assistance, Ms. Roberts said. Some have been on leaves of absence and maternity leave.

Conversations about financial assistance are underway between airline companies and all levels of government, said a source familiar with the situation. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the person because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Political leaders are receptive, but other sectors are also asking for help, and there is no clarity on the timing or size of any aid package, the person said. National Airlines Council of Canada is involved and airlines are making their own individual cases, the person said.

Air Canada is laying off more than 5,100 flight attendants, including 3,600 from its mainline carrier and 1,549 from Air Canada Rouge. “This has been the most challenging time any of us will likely ever experience as flight attendants,” said Wesley Lesosky, who heads the Air Canada component of CUPE. The layoffs, effective Friday, are expected to last until at least April 30, CUPE said.

Aviation manufacturers are scaling back as demand dries up. Longview Aviation Capital Corp. is suspending new production of Dash 8-400 and Series 400 Twin Otter aircraft at facilities in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Nearly 1,000 employees will be affected, the company said, adding that it hopes to restart manufacturing when conditions improve.

The Big Three automakers announced production suspensions across North America this week, and Canadian auto parts suppliers are grappling with the implications. “It’s never good to see the lights go out,” said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.

Magna International Inc. is starting to suspend production at facilities around the world, with the exception of China, the company said on Thursday. Linamar Corp. is also assessing operations. “Clearly, the news of customer shutdowns this week globally will have an impact,” chief executive Linda Hasenfratz in a statement. “Each facility is developing plans with their customers and communicating to their employees what this means to them, including potential layoffs.”

The economic devastation of the pandemic is hitting large swaths of the economy, including the arts. The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity temporarily laid off 400 employees, about 75 per cent of its staff. “This was a difficult choice, but Banff Centre’s viability is our priority,” a statement from the centre said.

West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. is cutting lumber production in Western Canada and the United States, and suspending plywood production at a facility in B.C. As a result, the company is temporarily laying off employees at six sites, but does not have an exact number yet.

BRP Inc., the Canadian maker of Sea-Doo watercraft and Ski-Doo snowmobiles, suspended its dividend and said it drew down fully a $700-million credit line to prepare for a downturn. The company said it anticipates having to slow production lines or temporarily close facilities as demand slows.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce chief economist Avery Shenfeld, who is preparing to cut his own forecasts early next week, said the prospects for the economy to bounce back depend on when the COVID-19 outbreak can be contained. “How the second half [of 2020] shapes up is really about epidemiology, not economics,” he said.

Canadian truckers face insurance issues in U.S.

The excerpted article was written BY  

Trucking companies in Atlantic Canada are raising a red flag over a lack of health insurance for drivers crossing the American border after new restrictions were implemented to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Some small companies have called and pointed out that their insurance, or their health insurance, wouldn’t be covered for drivers going into the U.S.,” says Jean-Marc Picard, the executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association.

However, in a news release issues late Thursday afternoon, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association says “Canada’s life and health insurers are confirming that group out-of-country medical coverage for commercial truckers will continue uninterrupted.”

“Provisions in some group, or workplace insurance plans refer specifically to Government of Canada travel advisories as a limitation or exclusion for out-of-country medical coverage,” spokesperson Kevin Dorse says in the release.

“Some commercial trucking employers offer plans with this exclusion.”

Picard says the issue of immigrant drivers, several of whom are temporary foreign workers crossing the border and being denied re-entry, has been resolved following clarification from the federal government indicating truckers, among others in the trade and transportation sector, are exempt from the isolation rules.

But while trucks are “flowing well across the border,” Picard says it’s not necessarily smooth sailing for the drivers on the ground.

“Some truck stops in the U.S. are starting to close, and Canada as well, limited access, restaurants are closed, take-out only,” which means in some cases there are no places to shower or relax.

Cirque du Soleil lays off 95 per cent of workforce amidst coronavirus shutdown

MONTREAL _ Cirque du Soleil has announced company-wide layoffs as COVID-19 continues to hurt the economy.

A statement from the president of the entertainment group says the staff reductions, which impact 95 per cent of its 4,679-member workforce, are temporary.

Daniel Lamarre says the decision was a necessary measure to stabilize the company for the future.

He says cities and countries where the group performs have legislated the closure of public gatherings of more than 250 people to help stop the spread of COVID-19, which resulted in a call for a halt in activity.

Lamarre says immediate steps to provide support for employees who have been laid off include paid vacation time, insurance coverage and access to the support program.

He says a core support team will continue to maintain basic operations, tour planning and ticket sales for shows scheduled for later this year and 2021.

AXIS Insurance: Supporting our colleagues & business partners during this time of uncertainty

March 19, 2020  

At this time of great uncertainty, AXIS is committed to providing the underwriting expertise and claims service our clients and distribution partners deserve and expect. To help protect the safety of our team members, business partners and communities, our colleagues globally are working remotely. In addition, we have paused business travel across the entirety of our company.

We are fully operational with our teams using virtual meeting and collaboration tools to stay connected internally with our colleagues and externally with our clients and distribution partners. And we are prepared to address the concerns that may arise for our clients and partners in distribution.

We are monitoring COVID-19, and the guidance from the World Health Organization and government authorities in every region in which we have operations and critical vendor support. We are committed to protecting the health and safety of our colleagues while continuing to deliver superior client service and responsiveness.

We are grateful for the continued trust and partnership of our clients and distribution partners. Please contact us as you normally would with any questions or needs you may have in the coming days and weeks.

Provinces urged to end newcomer waits for public health insurance amid pandemic

By Colin Perkel

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Hundreds of doctors, nurses and activists are calling on provincial governments to ensure immediate access to free health care for new arrivals in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an open letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott this week, the group OHIP For All says urgent action is needed in light of a looming public health emergency in Canada.

“We are deeply concerned about these pre-existing barriers to health care for uninsured individuals in Canada, and the potential public health implications in the context of a pandemic,” the letter states.  “As a group of health-care providers and community members, we call on all levels of government, health institutions, and public health leaders to act now to ensure care for everyone.”

Typically, new arrivals in Canada have to wait at least three months to access provincial health coverage. The newcomers include Canadians returning from longer stretches abroad, recent immigrants, some temporary foreign workers and international students, and undocumented workers. In some cases, people who have lost identity documents may also have trouble getting coverage.

Definitive numbers are hard to come by, but estimates suggest a significant number of people in Canada are in a non-coverage situation, said Dr. Arnav Agarwal, an internal medicine resident with the University of Toronto and core member of OHIP For All.

“The estimates would say something between 200,000 and 500,000, with more estimates on the upper end,” Agarwal said in an interview.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government was moving to scrap the wait period only for returning Canadians, but anyone needing health care would get it.

As of Thursday, Canada has seen more than 700 cases of COVID-19. Ten people have died, most of them in British Columbia. Ontario has recorded upwards of 250 cases and two deaths. Experts say the highly contagious virus poses little risk to most people. However, the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and the marginalized face a much higher risk.

OHIP For All’s main concern is that those in need of health services might stay away, be denied care, or be forced to pay out of pocket and end up with large debts.

“We must recognize that people experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 will seek care through community clinics and hospitals, and therefore these sites must also be free and accessible to all,” the group’s letter states.

Society as a whole is at risk if everyone, regardless of immigration or other status, has no ready access to the health-care system, Agarwal said.

“The health and well-being of our community as a whole relies on the well-being of every individual in it,” Agarwal said. “When you recognize that this is such a substantial portion of our community, it makes it all the more important to ensure that they have access to testing as well as to the right supportive care.”

About 1,000 people and organizations have signed the letter urging coverage for the uninsured.

The letter calls on governments to ensure COVID-19 assessment centres have an explicit policy to be free and accessible to all, regardless of immigration status. It also wants similar unrestricted access to community clinics and hospitals.

The public, the groups says, must also be informed that assessment and care is available to everyone for free.

Don’t wait for Parliament, start processing applications for financial aid now: Singh

By Joan Bryden

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is urging the federal government to immediately begin accepting applications for emergency financial aid from Canadians struggling during the COVID-19 crisis.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Singh says the government should begin receiving applications now so that it can get the money into the hands of Canadians as quickly as possible after Parliament approves the legislation necessary to get a promised $82 billion in direct financial assistance and tax deferrals flowing.

Parliament is to be recalled sometime next week and opposition parties have signalled their willingness to quickly approve the legislation.

Singh says he’s alarmed that many people who are without income now as businesses shut down all across the country to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus won’t get any of the emergency federal financial help until April or even May.

He says starting the application process now will ensure no one waits  “one day longer than absolutely necessary.”

Among other things, the government has promised to create two new emergency benefits for Canadians who don’t qualify for employment insurance and to increase the GST credit and the Canada Child Benefit.

In his letter to Trudeau on Thursday, Singh said his party will ensure the governing Liberals, who hold only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, will have the majority needed to pass the legislation putting the emergency measures into effect.

“It is my hope that knowing that your government will be able to pass these measures, you will be able to immediately open up applications and provide Canadians with information on how to access these new programs,” he wrote.

“Waiting until April to begin the application process means that Canadians will unnecessarily wait several more weeks to get the help they need.”

The emergency aid package is likely to be expedited with unanimous support through Parliament, which adjourned last week until April 20. But it will be recalled briefly next week to deal with the necessary legislation.

The Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois and Greens have all signalled their willingness to deal with it quickly.

Conservative Senate leader Don Plett said Thursday he expects the legislation will be debated and approved in one day in the House of Commons, possibly Tuesday, and the next day in the Senate, without amendment or delay.

“We are in an emergency situation here and we need to approve a stimulus package to keep the country going, to keep Canadians going here,” Plett said in an interview.

The governing Liberals are discussing with opposition parties how to minimize the number of MPs and senators who actually need to return next week, while maintaining each party’s proportional share of seats. The House of Commons requires only 20 MPs to be present for quorum; the Senate requires 15 senators.

Although the NDP will support the legislation, Singh urged the government to do more, including dramatically increasing a promised payroll subsidy of 10 per cent.

“Businesses may choose to keep people employed, with drastically reduced hours, in order to qualify for the subsidy. These employees may be worse off than if they had been laid off and could collect EI,” he said.

Singh also suggested that the government could double payments this month of existing income support programs, like the child benefit, to ensure that getting financial help to those who need it is “fast and easy.”

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