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Canada Offers $19B In Aid, Tax Breaks To Counter Pandemic

By Joseph Boris · March 19, 2020, 8:30 PM EDT

Canada’s government has pledged CA$27 billion ($18.6 billion) in direct aid to workers and businesses, as well deferrals in filing income taxes, so that they can cope with the economic strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that tax payments worth an estimated CA$55 billion could also be deferred until August. The combined total of CA$82 billion equals 3% of Canada’s gross domestic product.

The government plan, which is subject to a vote in Parliament, calls for extending the tax filing deadline for businesses and individuals to June 1 from the usual April 30 cutoff. Taxpayers also would be allowed to defer until after Aug. 31 any tax payments that are due between Wednesday and Sept. 1.

Low-income Canadians would also get a credit to help them pay goods-and-services taxes that are administered at the federal and provincial levels.

“This is a time where you should be focused on your health, not whether you're going to lose your job or not whether you're going to run out of money for things like groceries and medication,” Trudeau told a news conference near his residence in Canada’s capital, Ottawa.

The prime minister and his family were self-isolating after his wife, Sophie, was diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. As of Thursday, official estimates were that confirmed and presumed cases of COVID-19 in Canada had risen above 700, with nine deaths.

The aid money will be disbursed through existing social programs, the government said in its plan.

Another measure would temporarily provide an extra CA$2 billion in payments under the country’s child benefit program. In addition, a new emergency care benefit of up to CA$900 paid every other week for up to 15 weeks would provide income support to workers, including the self-employed, who must stay home and don’t qualify for paid sick leave or unemployment insurance. The measure could disburse up to $10 billion, the government said.

There also would be a six-month, interest-free reprieve on student loan payments for Canadians under the plan.

The announcement built on billions in funding already released to strengthen Canada's public health response to the pandemic and to bolster the country’s banking system and help stabilize the economy.

“Our government is prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our economy strong and stable,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said in a statement.

Parliament could be recalled as early as next week to pass legislation to enshrine the aid measures into law, Trudeau and legislative leaders have indicated. Canadians could be receiving the money immediately thereafter, the prime minister said.

Pablo Rodríguez, a member of Parliament from Trudeau’s Liberal Party who represents the government in the House of Commons, said Thursday that his counterparts from other parties had expressed a desire to collaborate responsibly to enact the emergency legislation swiftly.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said his party would cooperate with the government because it supports measures that directly assist Canadians.

--Editing by John Oudens.

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