By Jessica Smith Cross and David Hains
May 1 could be a day of "rent reckoning" in Canada, according to a report from RBC Economics looking at the crisis in rental markets.
Canada's 5 million residential and more than 1 million small business tenants in are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 shutdowns, as they're concentrated in industries such as accommodation and food services and retail that have been most affected, the report says. However, it found that those who rent from large corporate landlords paid their rent as usual in April, with major residential REITs collecting 95 per cent of gross rent or more, while smaller landlords with the Canadian Federation of Apartment Association collected only 80 per cent of gross rents, with the lowest rate among small building landlords.
It found commercial collection rates were much lower, from 55 to 70 per cent, with high rates of deferrals. RBC expects more deferrals in May. The report notes there are moratoriums on residential evictions in some places, including Ontario. It also says the Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program announced last week could compensate for some losses, but cautions restrictive parameters could result in low uptake.
The availability and standards for personal protective equipment were raised as major issues today as the premier fielded questions from reporters, including about how some workers are wearing the same mask on the job throughout the day, and then on transit for their commute home.
Premier Doug Ford reiterated his standard for PPE, which has become a scarce resource since the pandemic hit more than six weeks ago. "It's critical that frontline health care workers get the PPE they need."
He also positioned the responsibility on the workplace, saying that if there's a shortage they should contact the government, because the inventory should be fine.
The opposition immediately criticized the premier for what it considered to be an inadequate response, saying that the buck stops with him.
"In one breath the Premier will refuse to take over problematic long term care homes, in the other he will say the onus is on long term care facilities to contact him - even though frontline workers are begging for proper access to PPE," stated Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca.
"Waiting by the phone is not a plan, it is not a strategy for success, and it is not good enough for frontline workers. The province needs to take action now. Frontline workers are terrified that their health and safety is at risk," he added, noting that the Liberals flagged the lack of availability of frontline PPE as an issue in an April 23 letter to Health Minister Christine Elliott.
Ontario Chief Medical officer of Health Dr. David Williams said Friday he'll be looking for the number of cases of COVID-19 in the community to continue to drop over the next two weeks to the point where the province's public health system can keep the spread of the coronavirus contained.
That is a key factor in the discussions about the province's re-opening timeline, the top doctor said.
The province reported 421 new cases confirmed Friday, for a total of 16,608 cases, a 2.6 per cent increase. Williams said about half of the new cases come from spread within the community, as opposed to institutions, primarily long-term care homes. The province needs the number of daily community cases to be close to 100 before the contract tracing and containment efforts of public health units can keep up.
Meanwhile, the province's testing capacity has increased to nearly 20,000 tests a day, Williams said, with 16,532 conducted the day prior. The order to test every resident of the province's long-term care homes — about 78,000 people in total — has taken up a large share of that capacity, and Williams said those efforts so far haven't uncovered "huge rates of high infection" that weren't already known.
To date, 2,722 cases are long-term care residents and 1,482 are long-term care staff, with 861 resident deaths and two long-term care staff deaths. There have been 1,121 COVID-19 deaths in Ontario overall.
Late Friday the government announced that Class B hydro ratepayers would receive a partial break.
As first reported by QP Briefing, small commercial and industrial businesses that make up the ratepaying category were concerned about big jumps in the Global Adjustment due to decreased energy demand across the province from the pandemic. Energy consumption had dropped by over 12 per cent in mid-April, but because a large part of the province's electricity system costs are fixed, and residential ratepayers are protected, businesses would have to make up the difference.
In order to alleviate this pressure, the government said Friday that a portion of the global adjustment for Class B ratepayers can be deferred until 2021, giving them some relief at a time when the economy is soft and people are still reeling from the pandemic.
"This would provide immediate financial support for more than 50,000 companies when they need it most: as they do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and as they prepare to help get our economy moving again," said Energy Minister Greg Rickford in a statement.