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Not surprisingly, for the past 4-6 weeks, HRAI’s government relations work has been focused primarily on assisting members in dealing with the greatest economic disruption to the global economy since the Second World War.  In recent days, however, some of the focus has shifted from reacting to and managing this crisis (and all the “mini-crises” that arise on a daily basis) to engaging with government on a plan for economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic abates.

In the early days of the pandemic, HRAI focused on protecting members’ collective interests in being recognized an “essential service” in the face of expected shut-downs of most major sectors of the economy.  HRAI submitted letters to all provincial premiers stating the case for including HVACR in the list of essential services and, for the most part, all provinces have followed that advice (albeit, to different degrees and  not always with absolute clarity).

HRAI is now monitoring government actions related to COVID-19 in all provinces, especially regarding the (sometimes changing) definitions and policing of “essential services.”  All of this information is being compiled and reported on the COVID-19 Resource center on the HRAI website.

At the federal level, HRAI has monitored on a daily basis -- and tried to influence where necessary -- the rollout of government support programs for displaced workers (e.g. the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit) and for employers affected by the downturn in business activities (e.g. the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy), ensuring that members are properly informed as information becomes available.  The association has worked diligently to obtain and share clarifications on program details (most notably via webinars and, again, through almost daily updates to the COVID-19 Resource Centre).

Where programs have gaps, HRAI has communicated industry concerns to the government, with positive results.  For example, the initial rule for CERB that workers cannot book any hours -- even for essential services they might be expected to provide on demand -- was modified in response to industry concerns.  Similarly, HRAI expressed concerns (alongside CIPH and EFC) about the Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program discriminating against companies that have experienced significant losses, but only in parts of the country,  and this issue is now also being addressed, we are told.

HRAI also appealed to the federal government (directly and through CSAE) to give special consideration to the needs of not-for-profit associations suffering from cancelled events, trade show and training.  And, more recently, HRAI has been engaged in some potentially productive discussions with NRCan and ESDC (both directly and through Efficiency Canada) about securing financial support for the delivery of online industry training (especially when such training helps to meet specific government policy objectives). 

At the request of the governments, HRAI has also made efforts to assist in securing specific products that are desperately needed by the healthcare sector. For example, HRAI reached out to wholesalers/distributors with a presence in Ontario in an attempt to secure specific models of pressure sensors needed for the manufacture of ventilators.  We are also able to connect the Ministry to a manufacturer member with a unique no-contact temperature sensor that might be useful for screening people for fever symptoms. 

Looking Forward

These activities have kept HRAI’s team of GR professionals fully engaged for more than a month.  And there will be more of the same to come, no doubt. 

However, with the urgent questions around essential services having mostly been answered for the time being, a new (if disquieting) “normal” has been established in most parts of the country.  Like some other industry associations, HRAI has turned its attention to engaging with government on how best to re-ignite the economy when the time comes.

The federal government has told HRAI that it remains fully committed to the promises of the 2019 election campaign and its GHG reduction targets, so there is now an expectation that the economic stimulus programs that will inevitably come in the wake of the pandemic will include a significant emphasis on incentivizing expenditures on home energy retrofits and building upgrades with a focus on energy efficient and low-carbon technologies.

The federal government has also signalled that it would like to see all Provincial governments pursue similar programs (and not ruling out the option that the federal government might fill the gap where provinces fail to do so).  The Ontario Government, for one, has announced an “Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee” of ministers tasked with developing a recovery plan (see related story).

HRAI will be working hard to ensure that the design, timing and rollout of stimulus programs will meet the needs of the HVACR industry – this will be a major focus in the months ahead.

Some early signs of a new day dawning.

For more information, contact Martin Luymes at 416-453-5899 or email mluymes@hrai.ca.