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November 25, 2021

Your CFA Update on COVID-19

Canada's mask guidance has changed

"In general, while non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, medical masks and respirators provide better protection," the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said on its COVID-19 mask information webpage, which was updated on Nov. 12.

The updated guidance also recommends medical masks or respirators for people "who are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19" and those "at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 because of their living situation."

Respirators (such as N-95 and KN-95 masks) are considered the highest level of mask protection and were previously recommended only for health-care workers coming into direct contact with infectious patients. In those high-risk areas, respirators require a "fit test."

PHAC's guidance now says: "A respirator worn in the community doesn't need to have been formally fit tested as is required in some occupational settings."

The shift in messaging reflects a growing body of evidence suggesting that COVID-19 is largely spread through aerosols (tiny particles that can hang in the air), and not just through respiratory droplets (larger particles) transmitted by close contact with an infected person. 

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Five paid sick days coming to BC Jan. 1

Paid sick leave will be standard for workers in British Columbia beginning Jan. 1, 2022, with a minimum of five paid sick days each year. This new workplace protection applies to all workers covered by the Employment Standards Act, including part-time workers.

The Province consulted with workers and employers around B.C. to find out what currently exists in the way of paid sick leave and to gather feedback on three options  – three, five or 10 days of paid sick leave – to come into effect in the new year.

Feedback from the workplaces that already provide paid sick leave found that most workers take between zero and five days of sick leave each year.

According to the media release, “BC looked to other jurisdictions that have mandated paid sick leave, including in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and several European countries. Their experiences have shown the cost increases for most business were less than expected. They also experienced significant benefits, including increased productivity and retention of trained staff, reduced risks of injury, improved morale and increased labour-force participation.”

Alberta REP safety training now available

The Restrictions Exemption Program Safety Training is available to employees of Alberta-based businesses and organizations who are implementing the REP and other COVID-19 safety requirements.

The 45-minute online training is available to employers and staff at no cost to help them assess and manage challenging situations that may arise during their daily operations.

The training includes information and resources that workers need to keep themselves and customers safe while implementing COVID-19 safety requirements, such as requesting proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test, physical distancing or masking.

Employers can visit alberta.ca/restrictions-exemption-program-safety-training.aspx to learn more about the training and how to enrol their employees.

Federal government introduces bill with targeted pandemic aid for businesses

The Trudeau government have outlined their latest aid package for an economy recovering from COVID-19, proposing targeted support to severely affected businesses, locked-down workers, and extra weeks of benefits that expired just days ago.

The legislation introduced Wednesday in the House of Commons is one of four bills the government wants MPs to pass before the middle of December ahead of a scheduled winter break. The bill will

  • Extend the Canada Recovery Hiring Program until May 7, 2022, for eligible employers with current revenue losses above 10% and increase the subsidy rate to 50%.

Deliver support to businesses through the following three programs:

  • Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program — this will provide support through wage and rent subsidies to, for example, hotels, tour operators, travel agencies, and restaurants, with a subsidy rate of up to 75%. The types of business that would be eligible are detailed in the proposed legislation and in the backgrounder associated with today’s announcement.
  • Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program — this will provide support through wage and rent subsidies to other businesses that have faced deep losses, with a subsidy rate of up to 50%.
  • Local Lockdown Program — this will provide businesses that face temporary new local lockdowns up to the maximum amount available through the wage and rent subsidy programs.

The bill would let cabinet decide which regions are considered in lockdown, defined as an order for businesses to close and workers to stay home for at least 14 straight days. It would block benefits to those who refuse to get vaccinated.

Payments would be retroactive to Oct. 24 when the Liberals let a pandemic-era benefit for the unemployed expire. The Canada Recovery Benefit's siblings -- sickness and caregiver benefits -- would each get revived after expiring this past weekend with two more weeks of eligibility until May 7.

Many business groups have complained that the the high bar for revenue losses leaves out too many small businesses.

The government also wants to extend to May a hiring credit for companies that add to their payrolls by boosting wages, rehiring laid-off workers, or new hires. The credit doesn't require as deep a revenue loss to qualify.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the economy is no longer in the same crisis that gripped the country at the onset of the pandemic when three million jobs were lost over March and April of 2020. "I see this legislation as very much the last step in our COVID support programs. It is what I really hope and truly believe is the final pivot," Freeland said.

Employment has since rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, although the ranks of Canada's unemployed, including those who have been without a job for six months or more, remain higher than before COVID-19.

Canadian law firms critical of Ontario’s error-plagued registry system

A group of Canadian law firms have sent a letter to Queen's Park critical of the recent changes to its business registry system, stating a list of broad-ranging issues which is negatively affecting business in the province. 

The letter - co-signed by 16 law firms said that the changes to the registry system have led to "system shutdowns, technical glitches and substantive problems," which have delayed the completion of some company transactions while raising costs for businesses or imposing unplanned tax implications. As a result, these law firms are now recommending their clients do their registry services through federal agencies or in other provinces.

The province unveiled a new registry service in October aimed at moving businesses away from paper-based filings to digital services available at any time while reducing legal costs. The registry system, which typically handles such services as registering a new business or dissolving an existing one, previously took weeks to process filings that were submitted by fax or mail, the government said in a statement

In an appendix attached to the letter, the firms outline more than 50 outstanding technical and form issues tied to the new registry service that range from data migration errors to incorrect formatting to the entire registry system being offline during business hours. 

In addition to the complaints lodged against the registry service, the law firms urged the government to revisit launching a committee that includes industry participants to help figure out how to solve the myriad of issues the users are currently grappling with. 

The letter was co-signed by the following legal firms: Aird & Berlis LLP, Bennett Jones LLP, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, Dentons Canada LLP, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, Goodmans LLP, Gowling WLG, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, McMillan LLP, Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, Stikeman Elliott LLP, Torys LLP, Wildeboer Dellelce LLPa

Sask. government extends COVID-19 health measures until Jan. 31

Saskatchewan's current COVID-19 public health measures — including mandatory masking and the proof-of-vaccination program — are being renewed into the new year, the province announced Thursday.

The public health orders were set to expire on Nov. 30, but the province has now extended them until Jan. 31, 2022. At that point, they will once again be reassessed.

Cargill strike threat rises at Alberta plant as workers snub deal

Cargill Inc.’s unionized workers in one of Canada’s largest beef processing plants rejected the company’s latest wage offer, prompting the meatpacker to consider shifting operations to other facilities as a strike deadline looms.

The union representing workers at Cargill’s plant in High River, Alberta voted on and rejected a contract offer by a 98 per cent margin, the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union Local 401 said in a late Wednesday email. The union said members will go on strike at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 6 unless a deal can be reached, affecting operations at a plant that accounts for roughly 40 per cent of Canadian beef processing capacity.

Cargill is “optimistic” it can reach an agreement before the deadline and is willing to keep meeting with the union to avoid a labor disruption that “is in no one’s best interest during an already challenging time,” company spokesman Daniel Sullivan said Thursday in an emailed statement.

Quebec deficit shrinks as province shows strong pandemic rebound

Quebec's economic future is brighter than expected with the post-pandemic deficit expected to be $6.8 billion for this fiscal year — about $5.4 billion less than forecast in March — according to the government's latest economic update.

Finance Minister Eric Girard presented the update, saying the government will use the extra cash to invest in health care, create incentives to combat the labour shortage, as well as offset daycare costs and the impact of inflation on low-income people.

Girard announced an additional $10.7 billion in additional spending over the next five years, since the March 2021 budget, bringing total investments announced this year to $13 billion. 

The update also gave a clearer picture of just how much the pandemic has cost the Quebec economy. So far, the government has spent $7.6 billion on pandemic response and is expecting to spend another $6 billion in 2021-22.

In all, COVID-19 will likely cost Quebecers as much as $17.3 billion, according to the update as spending is expected to continue until 2026, including financial incentives tied to recovery, as well as nurse-retention bonuses. 

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COVID-19's impact on the world is creating waves across all sectors and industries.

Every member of the CFA community is dealing with an issue that is affecting the world, our industries, our communities, our businesses, and our people.

We would like to hear from you if you have any topics, issues or questions to navigate turbulent times in order to support you further: 

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