The Big Spend

On Nov. 30, the federal government provided a fiscal update, highlighting the $322.3 billion it has committed to fighting the coronavirus pandemic. But specific information about who has received the emergency funds, and in what amounts, has been hard to come by.

Over the past two months, CBC News has been tracking publicly verifiable federal coronavirus expenditures and has identified $240 billion of the spending that has coursed through more than 100 different measures and programs.

Here’s a look at what we’ve found, using figures from the Parliamentary Budget Office and other government and public sources, between March 13 and Nov. 20, 2020. (See methodology below.)

Size of bubbles represents dollar amount

Legend for bubble chart $1 billion $500 million $100 million Legend for bubble chart $1 billion $500 million $100 million

$105.66 billion


$16.17 billion

Government departments or agencies

$118.37 billion

Private businesses, non-profits and charitable organizations

The government spent over $240 billion on COVID-19 relief between mid-March and the end of November 2020, based on Parliamentary Budget Office estimates and numbers compiled by CBC News. That works out to around $6,320 per Canadian. Those funds were spread across 107 government measures.

But can be divided into three main groups.

$105.66 billion went directly to individuals.

$118.37 billion went to businesses, non-profits and charitable organizations.

$16.17 billion went to government departments or agencies.

Hover over the circles to see the names of any of the programs or keep scrolling to learn more about where the money went.

We’ll be focusing on the first two groups.

Here's a look at a few, high-profile pandemic-fighting measures that targeted individuals.

$81.64 billionThe Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) offered monthly payments of $2,000 to Canadians who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. CERB is the costliest federal COVID-19 measure to date. A third of all Canadian adults, some 8.9 million people, received these payments.

$7.7 billionWhen the temporary CERB program ended on Sept. 26, Ottawa beefed up employment insurance. The minimum benefit was increased to $500 per week (up from $400) while the number of work hours needed to qualify for the program was reduced.

$5.66 billionA doubling of federal GST credit payments made to eligible 2019 tax filers. These one-time bumps — single people got $886 instead of $446, married and common-law couples received $1,160 instead of $580 — were handed out in May.

$2.94 billionThe Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) targeted post-secondary students who didn't qualify for the CERB program, and more than 700,000 people received its $1,250 payouts for a four-week period, with a maximum of 16 weeks. Almost 2,300 CESB payments went to students outside of Canada.

$2.7 billionThe Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), replaced CERB and provides income support for employed and self-employed individuals, as well as those not eligible for employment insurance benefits. As of Nov. 15, this program has received 2,717,260 applications.

$2.01 billionMore than 6.6 million seniors received a one-time $300 bonus payment from Old Age Security at the beginning of July. And those who qualified for the guaranteed income supplement received an additional $200 while those with a spousal allowance got $500 more. Just over two per cent of the OAS payments — 159,000 of them — went to seniors who live outside Canada.

$105.66 billion$105.66 billion over just eight months represents a new benchmark for direct payouts to Canadians. It's $9.5 billion more than the combined cost of all major federal transfers to individuals in 2018–19, which included employment insurance as well as benefits for children and the elderly. It's a part of the COVID-19 response that has helped push federal spending to levels not seen since the Second World War.

The money that went to businesses, charities and non-profits was spread across more than 60 measures.

These seven high-profile programs show where some of the money was spent on the business/non-profit side.

$49.27 billionThe Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) is Ottawa's largest support measure for businesses, with more than 344,000 enterprises having qualified so far. More than 22 million paycheques have been subsidized to date.

$31.55 billionThe Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) provides interest-free loans to help companies deal with unavoidable expenses — such as rent payments, property taxes and utility bills. The maximum amount is $40,000. Almost 790,000 businesses have been approved so far.

$9 billionThe funding for youth employment and skills development programs was spread across 11 federal departments and agencies and supported things such as green jobs, enhanced training and for-credit internship programs for students.

$6.107 billionThe Safe Restart Agreement has seen the federal government transfer over $6 billion to provinces and territories for the procurement of personal protective equipment, such as gloves, gowns, face shields and N95 respirators. This funding supports bulk purchases as well as efforts to ramp up domestic manufacturing capacity.

$5.8 billionThe insured mortgage purchase program (IMPP), run by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, is designed to help stabilize banks and other lenders via the purchase of insured mortgage pools. The CMHC has so far spent only a fraction of what was initially envisioned as a lifeline of up to $150 billion, paying out $5.8 billion for 31,857 mortgage-backed securities.

$2 billionThe Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) measure incentivized landlords to offer rent relief to their small business tenants — but it required cash-strapped businesses to pay their full rent first, and there was less uptake than expected. It was recently replaced by the Canada emergency rent subsidy.

$320 millionThe Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF) provides support to companies with $300 million or more in annual revenues and a significant workforce in Canada. The minimum loan is $60 million, and it comes with several strings attached, including the co-operation of private sector lenders.

Overall, the government's spending on business-related COVID-19 aid is equivalent to almost 30.5 per cent of all overall federal spending in 2018–19. Much of this money was delivered through programs that had to be created from scratch, which may not have been the most efficient method. According to the International Monetary Fund, nations that had pre-existing measures to deal with recessions, such as Germany’s Kurzarbeit program, delivered the most effective government aid.

A once-in-a-century threat to human health has unleashed an enormous federal response. Over the period from July 5 to Aug. 1, 2020, Ottawa was directly supporting 11,721,827 individuals via CERB and CEWS. That means almost 40 per cent of all Canadian adults were receiving government help.

CERB was the program with the greatest number of recipients and the highest total payout. This measure helped 8.9 million people. A slim majority — 51 per cent — were women. And the biggest beneficiaries were those between the ages of 25 and 34 — 2,114,750 unique recipients.

Number of CERB recipients by province and territory

Number of CERB recipients by age

Number of CERB recipients by gender

Here's how CERB payments were divvied up between the provinces and territories from March 15 to Sept. 28.

The CERB money was spread proportionally, with provinces and territories receiving amounts in line with their share of the population.

Here’s a breakdown of CERB recipients by age. The younger part of the workforce, 25–34, make up just under 14 per cent of the population but received 23.76 per cent of the payouts. More than 488,000 recipients were past official retirement age, 65 or older.

Service jobs in sectors such as retail, hospitality and restaurants — where women are more highly represented — were the hardest hit by pandemic shutdowns. But the CERB payments were almost evenly split between women and men, although 4,680 people did not disclose their gender.

While the federal government provides overall spending numbers, there has been a lot less transparency about just how this money has been allocated — especially when it comes to businesses. With little being said about which companies have received assistance from the CEWS program and how much.

CBC News has examined the financial reports of publicly traded companies and found over 400 that have disclosed that they accessed at least one government assistance program. Air Canada appears to be the largest CEWS beneficiary, having received $492 million in wage subsidies. Imperial Oil was second at $120 million. The top 20 recipients identified by CBC News received a total of $1.693 billion in government assistance.

Many listed companies have yet to publicly report whether they received government aid, and private corporations have no such obligation.

According to the government's official figures, 380 companies received more than $5 million each in CEWS assistance while close to 3,500 businesses have received between $1 million and $5 million.

Here’s a look at the overall government numbers:

CEWS funding by province and territory

Number of employee payments supported

Average pay per employee supported

The highest average payments were in the Northwest Territories at $2,245. The lowest were in Prince Edward Island, at $1,636. The national average was $1,906.29

How much is $240 billion?

It's more than the country spent on the Second World War and its aftermath — $21.786 billion at the time and about $232 billion in today's dollars.

Total COVID spending to date represents about 64 per cent of all federal spending for 2019, which was reported to be $373.5 billion.

And according to projections released this past summer, these COVID-fighting measures will push Canada's national debt to $1.06 trillion – a $343 billion increase from fiscal year 2019–2020.


CBC News has compiled these spending figures from federal government websites, financial reports and through access to information requests. CBC News has concentrated on the amounts actually spent as opposed to the money allocated for these measures and programs. Sources include, but are not limited to, the Parliamentary Budget Office, Statistics Canada, the Senate of Canada's finance committee and government web pages for individual support measures.

Correction: A chart in a previous version of this interactive mistakenly had the title "Number of employees supported." In fact, the title should read "Number of employee payments supported." An employee can be supported with multiple payments.