With 2020 drawing to a close, we reached out to some of our first FPR contributors to ask them to look back on what they wrote in the early days of the pandemic and reflect on what’s happened since then.

Noah Zon’s original piece about the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) ran on April 15, 2020. You can see the rest of our Q&A series here.

More businesses are now eligible for Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy but uncertainty remains

Q: Why did you think federal support for employers was a policy priority at the beginning of the pandemic? Do you still feel that way? Why or why not?

A: At the beginning of the pandemic, we were seeing evidence of a staggering collapse in the labour market. We were asking businesses to shut their doors, with no clear end date, to protect public health. And it was clear that to keep both businesses and non-profits open and workers connected to those employers, a rapid intervention was important.

The continued wage subsidy program and other supports like the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy have probably gone a long way in keeping those employers afloat. But at the end of the year the problem is still live. And going into 2021, with a vaccine on the horizon, many of those employers will still need support if we don’t want the sectors to disappear altogether. Targeted support for hospitality, live events and others that will be the last to return to normal will likely be needed for a while after the vaccines start to roll out.


Q: You called for graduated thresholds of CEWS eligibility and support, and adjustments to eligibility requirements that would exclude certain types of businesses. What actually happened?

A: The changes to the CEWS in July 2020 and again in fall 2020 did make many of these adjustments. Instead of the cut-off “cliff,” there is now a graduated set of support that adjusts depending on the size of the revenue drop. These and other changes have helped more businesses qualify. But one thing the government has struggled with is reducing uncertainty, something I wrote about more here. Because the extensions of the program have often been delayed and retroactive, smaller businesses with greater uncertainty are more likely to be left behind.


Q: What expectations about the pandemic did you have that contributed to your recommendations? Did they come to pass?

A: My recommendations were less about expectations than experiences. For the last two years, in addition to being a policy wonk, I’ve also been running a small startup organization. And I know that the kind of clarity we need to make decisions looks very different than what the government was describing as “simple.”


Q: If the policy approach you recommended was pursued, how do you think it has worked out? If not, how do you think it would have compared to the approach that was eventually pursued?  

A: I think the policy flexibility and creativity for CEWS has probably saved a number of jobs. It’s far from a perfect program, but it was built quickly. But I think that with some better communication around the program, it could have been more effective.


Q: What should policy-makers’ priorities be in this space in the coming months?  

A: Start planning ahead to the recovery and how these supports will be pulled back carefully while still encouraging hiring.


Q: What policy position or assumption did you hold heading into 2020 that has been most challenged by the pandemic?

A: If you told me that I would be supporting an $80 billion-plus, rapidly built handout to businesses of all sizes, I would have laughed at you. But strange times call for strange measures.


Q: Finally, it’s time to share a plug: What’s a new information source, advocacy campaign or group, book, etc., that you discovered this year that you think more people in the policy community should know about?

A: Lots of people (especially on First Policy Response) have done a great job in their spare time helping us understand the pandemic and its effects. Not all new, but I’d highlight Zeynep Tufekci on the pandemic itself, Mikal Skuterud on Canadian labour markets, and Frances Donald on the economy.

And my “soundcloud” is PolicyJobsTO, for readers looking for policy work opportunities or talent.


Noah Zon is the co-founder of Springboard Policy, a public policy research and advisory firm based in Toronto. He has spent his career in public policy in the non-profit sector, think tanks and public service.


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Noah Zon is the co-founder of Springboard Policy, a public policy research and advisory firm based in Toronto. He has spent his career in public policy in the non-profit sector, think tanks and public service.