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Internal government analysis shows depth of reliance on now-defunct recovery benefit

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OTTAWA — The majority of Canadian residents who received the federal Canada Recovery Benefit were continuous or repeat recipients of the now-ended aid program, An internal government analysis reveals.

The assessment from Employment and Social Development Canada found that by early June, 1.5 million, or about 75 per cent of the 1.8 million unique recipients of the benefit, were continuous or repeat beneficiaries.

Among them were some 627,000 recipients who applied and received the benefit for months at a time, never once taking a break.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the briefing note to the top official at the department under the access to information law.

Experts who reviewed the document suggested the analysis hints at the level of need for the income-support program, which came to an end over the weekend.

As of Oct. 10, the CRB had paid out just over $27 billion to nearly 2.2 million applicants since launching in late September 2020, but had seen a steady decline in demand from its peak of 1.22 million recipients in January.

By the end, there were about 800,000 people reliant on the payments who only had 48 hours to adjust their finances when the Liberals announced a change in the benefit package on Thursday.

“Workers need the Canada Recovery Benefits to pay rent and not lose their housing. Many workers can only find part-time work & are not getting enough shifts to make ends meet. The pandemic is not over,” Deena Ladd, executive director of the Toronto-based Workers Action Centre, wrote in a tweet Sunday asking the Liberals to reinstate the benefit.

The government said the CRB was no longer needed because the Canadian economy was faring better than a few months ago, including a labour market that had recovered the three million jobs lost at the onset of the pandemic last year.

Similarly, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said, the wage subsidy was no longer required as she proposed a broadened credit for companies that hire new workers.

Jennifer Robson, an associate professor of political management from Carleton University in Ottawa, said the Liberals’ announcement didn’t signal anything about the need for retraining or job-search services to help unemployed workers.

“The hiring credit might, in theory, help some kinds of employers hire more staff, but there’s nothing here that would suggest this will do much in the short-term to help CRB users,” Robson wrote in an email.

In their analysis, federal officials noted the number of first-time applicants for the CRB decreased starting in mid-January. The document also said more than 600,000 recipients who were paid in the first four months of the CRB’s life were off the benefit by the start of June.

A similar trend was noticed among employment insurance claimants, “which indicates that Canadians have been steadily returning to work,” officials wrote, adding that EI claims for sales and service jobs “have yet to recover as quickly as other occupations.”

CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld wrote in an end-of-week analysis that there is now a risk that workers supported by the wage subsidy or CRB “will be added to the ranks of the job hunters” and affect progress on bringing down the national unemployment rate.

In place of the CRB, the Liberals introduced a rejigged $300-a-week benefit that would only go to workers who lose their jobs or income because of a government-ordered lockdown.

In a television interview aired Sunday, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough told CTV’s Question Period that the benefit would only go to those affected by a full lockdown and not tightened restrictions that limited capacity at restaurants, for instance.

“I’m not sure if there are any lockdowns presently in motion, in which case that is an effective shutdown to the CRB with no additional benefits,” said David Macdonald, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 24, 2021.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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CFL leaves door open for Argos' quarterback Bethel-Thompson playing in East final

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TORONTO — The CFL has left the door open to McLeod Bethel-Thompson playing in the East Division final Sunday.

The Toronto Argonauts starting quarterback was held out of practice and sent home Friday after attending the Toronto Raptors 97-93 home win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night.

That violated the CFL’s COVID-19 protocol, which would’ve normally meant Bethel-Thompson having to quarantine for four days and provide two negative tests before being able to resume team activities.

But Toronto hosts the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the conference final Sunday afternoon at BMO Field.

The CFL announced Friday afternoon Bethel-Thompson will be allowed to play Sunday if he produces negative COVID testing following a 48-hour quarantine at his residence.

Argos Dexter McCoil, Charleston Hughes, Llevi Noel and Jeff Richards also attended the basketball game and will be subject to the same requirements as Bethel-Thompson.

Toronto (9-5) finished atop the East Division standings to secure home-field advantage for the conference final.

Bethel-Thompson was 7-2 as Toronto’s starter this season.

Both the Argos and Raptors are owned by Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment.

If Bethel-Thompson can’t play, Antonio Pipkin will start for Toronto on Sunday.

The six-foot-three, 225-pound Pipkin started Toronto’s season-ending 13-7 home loss to Edmonton on Nov. 16, completing 10-of-22 passes for 111 yards and an interception while rushing for 78 yards and a TD on nine carries.

Video of Bethel-Thompson holding his infant daughter at the NBA game was carried on the Argos’ Twitter account Thursday night but was no longer available Friday.

But it was present long enough for Hamilton receiver Brandon Banks to notice.

“Wow when I tried to go to raptors game the @cfl told me I couldn’t go!” Banks tweeted. “I ain’t snitching but shit fishy ! #Protocol #tier1.”

Bethel-Thompson also appeared on TSN’s broadcast of the Raptors-Bucks game.

TSN is the CFL’s broadcast partner.

“So lemme get this straight,” TSN’s Kayla Grey, who interviewed Bethel-Thompson during the broadcast, tweeted Friday. ” … a starting quarterback goes on a national broadcast to promote an East Final that he is now forced to miss because the league is forcing him to quarantine for going to a game to promote said East Final?

“Baby what a mess.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Canada buying up to 1.5 million courses of oral antiviral drugs to fight COVID-19

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OTTAWA — Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi says Canada has signed agreements to buy up 1.5 million courses of oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19.

The government has signed up for an initial one million courses of antiviral treatment, once Health Canada endorses their safety and efficacy.

Pfizer submitted a request for Health Canada approval earlier this week.

Canada has also purchased 500,000 courses of Merck’s oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19, with the option to purchase another 500,000 once Health Canada approves the drug.

The drugs are designed to block the enzyme essential for viral replication.

Merck’s clinical trial showed a 50 per cent reduced risk of hospitalization or death compared to placebo patients with mild or moderate COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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