New Report Bashes Quebec Long-Term Care; Trudeau Says Seniors “Deserve Better”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, outside Rideau Cottage for his daily media briefing, said governments at all levels are feeling pressure to improve the way we care for our elders. Photo: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent the bulk of his daily media briefing today calling on the provinces to drastically improve the way they care for their elderly, especially in Ontario and Quebec.
“I intend to raise the situation in seniors homes and long-term care facilities when I have my weekly call with the premiers of the provinces and territories,” said the prime minister, referring to a damning Armed Forces report on the elder care situation in Quebec, which follows closely on the heels of yesterday’s horrifying revelations about the long-term care in Ontario.
“As I’ve said many times,” he continued, “we need to do a better job of caring for seniors. They raised us, they built this country, they deserve better.”
In April, Quebec Premier François Legault asked the federal government to sent in the military to help stabilize it’s most overwhelmed long-term care homes. In response, Ottawa deployed more than 1,000 troops to help the province get its situation under control.
The military’s report on their experience in Quebec, while less shocking than Ontario’s, points out severe shortcomings in the way that province’s long-term care system handled the COVID-19 outbreak. The more serious allegations revolved around severely understaffed homes, lack of personal protective equipment for staff and alarming instances where seniors who had tested positive for COVID-19 were not isolated from those who hadn’t.
“There are some very concerning issues raised,” said Trudeau. “I believe that all levels of government — including municipal governments and indigenous governments — are feeling the pressure of their citizens to improve the services provided to our seniors.”
While the prime minister stopped short of calling for a national enquiry into the state of long-term care — a sector, he continually noted, that falls under provincial and territorial governance — he admitted there is mounting demand for a national conversation on how to improve the situation and offered federal support if needed.
But before those conversations take place, said Trudeau, the federal government’s main objective is to ensure that “all of our elders who contributed so much — who built this country — get the proper care that they so richly deserve.”
But other than noting that the federal government had boosted federal health transfer payments to the provinces to the tune of $50 billion in response to the pandemic and providing military assistance, Trudeau avoided making any long-term commitments to improving the system.
“There will be many important discussions going forward in how we establish a better system in Canada,” he said. “I’m not going to short-circuit that conversation by putting forward aggressive proposals now but I will say that the federal government is there to work with and support provinces to ensure … they are able to give Canadians the care they and their families expect.”
“Everything is on the table,” he continued. “If there’s a need for greater federal leadership, we will certainly respond to those requests. We will be there to support the provinces as they reflect on this and we will be there to participate wherever possible and based on needs.”
Acknowledging that both Ontario and Quebec had requested that the Armed Forces mission be extended for another 30 days, he suggested that before the troops would stay the foreseeable future — “We need to see conditions improved.”
However, Trudeau noted that military assistance in elder care homes was not a long-term solution. “The discussion we’re having with the provinces right now is how we will move beyond the need for military support. How they will get their systems back under control. We are happy to be there — and it is extremely important that we be there during this crisis — but it’s not a long-term solution.” —Peter Muggeridge
As Economies Reopen, Trudeau Calls on Provinces to Boost Testing, Tracing and Data Sharing
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today laid out three main conditions that need to be in place so that businesses can reopen and Canadians can finally begin adapting to the “new normal” of post-pandemic life.
“Over the past few months, Canadians have been doing a great job staying at home, maintaining physical distancing and listening to public health advice,” said Trudeau in his daily media briefing, before adding his usual caveat: “we’re not out of the woods yet.”
“COVID-19 remains a serious health threat,” he continued. “We have to proceed with caution and keep listening to science or we risk losing the progress we’ve made.”
The prime minister outlined three objectives that the provinces need to put in place in order to reopen their economies safely and for Canadians to “adjust to the new normal.”
1. Increased Testing
Trudeau said that the provinces must continue scaling up their COVID-19 testing capacity “so we can quickly identify new cases and isolate them.” He stressed that the federal government will aid provinces and territories to expand testing by procuring the necessary materials to “ramp-up testing” and “protect Canadians and effectively manage future outbreaks.”
2. Expanded Contact Tracing
The prime minister said the provinces must also expand their ability to do contact tracing. Once new cases have been confirmed and isolated, he said provincial public health agencies must “get in touch with everyone who may have been exposed to the virus and make sure they take measures to quarantine and monitor themselves for symptoms or get tested.” To alleviate the stress this task puts on provinces, Trudeau offered the assistance of trained federal employees who can make 3,600 contact tracing calls a day, seven days a week. And he noted that Statistics Canada has an additional 1,700 interviewers ready to go who can make up to 20,000 calls a day. “These federal resources are available to assist provinces and territories with any surges, backlogs or challenges they may have in contact tracing,” he said.
3. Sharing Information
The prime minister’s third condition on the provinces is that the contact tracing data collected be shared across all jurisdictions. “This will help us track the spread of the virus, adapt our response accordingly and save lives,” he said.
“Canada is a vast country and some regions have been hit harder than others by the pandemic. That’s why plans to relax restrictions vary from one jurisdiction to another. But in order for people to move around freely and start getting back to normal life, we have to improve our ability to pinpoint the virus and isolate it,” he continued.
He suggested that focussing on these three goals will ensure that “Canadians and businesses to have confidence that we’re on the right foot,” adding that the measures will put in place a system that is able to, “rapidly detect and control any future outbreaks.”
He also noted that the government is working closely with Apple and Google on the development of an app to help governments and individuals battle the virus by tracking its spread.
Trudeau closed his briefing by addressing the rise in racism against Asian Canadians, who have seen acts of vandalism and experienced acts of physical and verbal abuse.
“It’s unacceptable,” said Trudeau. “Hate, violence and discrimination have no place in Canada. To Asian Canadians across the country, know that we stand with you. We will not let hate divide us.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Announces Landlord-Tenant Relief Program; Says Wearing a Mask Is His “Personal Choice”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began his daily media briefing with some promising updates on the country’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and announced his government’s long-awaited rent relief program for landlords and tenants.
“In different parts of the country, we’re getting this virus under control,” said an upbeat Trudeau. “But it doesn’t mean we have to let down our guard. What our progress does mean is that where it’s safe to do so, we can gradually and carefully restart some of our activities.”
On the subject of restarting economic activity, the prime minister unveiled yet another measure to help embattled small businesses survive the economic shock caused by the shutdown.
The newly unveiled Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program will provide forgivable loans to landlords so they can reduce the rent for their small business tenants, particularly those that have lost a majority of their revenue because of COVID-19.
While the terms of this long-awaited relief plan haven’t been finalized, Trudeau said that federal and provincial governments will help landlords by covering 50 per cent of the rent for financially distressed tenants. Landlords, he said, will absorb 25 per cent, and tenants are expected to pay the rest, using one of the government relief programs, such as the Canadian Emergency Business Account. (Full details of CERCA will be available on the CHMC website starting May 25.)
Trudeau also faced a number of questions, as he does on a daily basis, about the growing concern from opposition parties that he’s dragging his feet on resuming Parliamentary sessions.
Saying that his party continues to “defend our democratic institutions and ensure that our Parliament is working,” Trudeau reiterated his belief that the House of Commons meeting three times a week (once in person and twice virtually) is sufficient to “ensure that MPs from right across the country continue to be able to share the concerns of their constituents, ask questions of the government programs and also highlight solutions that will help Canadians as we move forward.”
The Liberal leader added that while he wants to resume full Parliamentary sessions, he would only act on this when he could ensure that everyone participating could do so safely.
He also noted that all parties are exploring other solutions that might help the democratic process resume on a regular basis. “There’s a lot of interest in a ‘hybrid parliament’ model where some people will be there in person while others call in via video-conferencing screens,” he said. “I think there are ways of making it work and ensuring that MPs from every part of the country get to participate … and not just those who live in the Ottawa capital region.”
Trudeau on masks
Trudeau was also asked about whether he will be wearing a mask when he appears in live sessions of Parliament. He responded that it was his “personal choice” to wear a mask but that he would only do so when it was impossible to keep social distancing practices.
Explaining his reasoning, Trudeau said: “In situations where I’m either walking through the halls of Parliament or going to my office and coming in proximity with people, I’ve chosen to start wearing a mask. I will be wearing a mask as I go into Parliament this afternoon. Once I’m at my desk in Parliament and two metres distant from people, I will take off my mask so I can engage in parliamentary discourse. As soon as I leave my seat and walk past people and walk through potentially busier hallways, I will be wearing a mask. That’s my personal choice. I think we all need to adjust what works in our circumstances and keep safety at the forefront.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Pays Tribute to Pilots in Snowbird Crash; Extends Canada-U.S. Border Measures Until June 21
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today paid tribute to the Snowbird pilots who crashed in Kamloops, B.C., on Sunday and announced that current border measures between the Canada and the U.S. would remain in place for another 30 days.
“My thoughts and the thoughts of all Canadians are with the families of Capt. [Jenn] Casey, Capt. Richard MacDougall and the entire Snowbirds team,” said Trudeau at his daily media briefing. Capt. Casey died in the plane crash while Capt. MacDougall suffered serious injuries that aren’t thought to be life-threatening.
The prime minister noted that it has “a difficult few weeks for the members of the Canadian Armed Forces,” referring to the helicopter crash that killed six naval service members in early May.
“As we mourn, we remember Capt. Casey as a proud Nova Scotian and an outstanding servicewoman,” said Trudeau. “A journalist who turned her talents to the forces, she will be remembered not just for her professionalism but for her sense of humour and for her kindness.”
Besides honouring Capt. Casey, Trudeau saluted all members of the armed forces. “As we honour her, we pay tribute to the bravery of all those who serve today,” he said. “Our women and men in uniform are always there for us. Serving overseas to defend the values we hold dear or working here at home to care for our seniors or lifting our spirits with their flyovers. To everyone who so proudly wears the Maple Leaf, thank you. You do your country proud, today and every day.”
Border measures to remain in place
The prime minister also announced that the current measures that restrict all non-essential travel across the border between Canada and the U.S. will remain in place until June 21, at which point they will be reassessed.
Explaining how the government came to its decision to extend border closures, Trudeau noted that there was a “clear desire” by the provinces to keep the current measures in place at the border, recognizing that an open border would be “a source of vulnerability for all of us in terms of cases of COVID-19 coming into our country.” He added that “the Americans were completely open” to the extension.
He wouldn’t, however, make any definite predictions on when the borders between the two nations would reopen to everyone. Noting that, “the situation is changing rapidly,” he suggested that both countries are trying to strike the right balance between keeping people safe and restoring a semblance of normality and the economic activity.”
“We’ve given ourselves another month before we have to have the right answers to those questions on non-essential travel,” he added, emphasizing that when the border finally does reopen, there will “strong measures in place” to ensure that travellers don’t spread the disease from country to country.
While the borders remain closed, some provinces across the country are slowly reopen their economies. In light of this, the Liberal leader said that the federal government will be working with the provinces towards the goal of “ramping up massively” the capacity to test for and trace new cases COVID-19.
“We need to make sure that right across the country we have a strong capacity to respond wherever there might be a resurgence or flare up,” said Trudeau, explaining that the federal government is offering to “invest in a national framework to lead the way on testing and tracing.”
Trudeau also offered more aid to small business, saying that his government will soon expand the eligibility requirements so that more companies can access Canada Emergency Business Account, a relief program that offers $40,000 interest-free loans.
While the full details of the expanded program are not yet available, the prime minister hoped that smaller companies that rely on contractors or family businesses that pay their employees through dividends would find it easier to qualify for the interest-free loans.
“Businesses like yours are the backbone of our economy and the lifeblood of our communities,” said Trudeau. “The way our economy will recover and the way our country will remain resilient and successful is by getting Canadians back to work.” – Peter Muggeridge
“Please Bring Back Your Employees,” Urges Trudeau, Extending Wage Subsidy Program To August
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that the government will extend its wage subsidy program until August.
Speaking to business owners across the country in his daily media briefing, Trudeau said, “You now have some runway to catch your breath as you get restarted. So please bring back your employees.”
Approved by Parliament in mid-April, the government’s $73 billion wage subsidy program, which covers 75 per cent of a company’s payroll up to a maximum of $847 per employee per week, was originally set to expire in June.
Trudeau defended a three-month extension of the costly plan, saying that continuing assistance should provide a boost to businesses that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 economic shutdown and offer them some cushion as they slowly start to reopen.
“When we launched this program, I talked about the neighbourhood spots it would support, the local restaurant, the salon, the gym that had been forced to close or see business dry up,” said Trudeau. “We wanted to keep you connected to the job you love and to the workplace where you contribute everyday.”
“Today, a lot of those places are looking to reopening,” he continued. “And they need to bring back workers and even hire more.”
To facilitate this, the government will not only extend the wage subsidy program but also adjust it so that more businesses qualify. The Liberal leader promised to work with business and labour stakeholders on ways to tailor the program to better meet employers’ needs.
And he assured Canadians that the government will “figure out solutions where needed while continuing to support employers and employees.”
The prime minister also revealed that in an effort to support scientific research, the government will be granting $450 million to help researchers and their affiliated institutions “bridge to better times.”
“Science and research is our door to a brighter future. But because of the pandemic many labs have closed or are at risk of imminently closing. Understandably, people are worried about their jobs and future,” he said. – Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Unveils Aid for Fisheries, Indigenous Groups; Says National Parks to Reopen By June
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today new programs to help Indigenous communities, fisheries and a partial reopening of national parks and historic sites.
“A number of industries are going through tough times right now and the fisheries are no exception,” said Trudeau in his daily media briefing. “You can’t harvest lobster form inside your house. That leaves you either trying to figure out how to space people on a fishing boat or cancel your operations.
Citing that a decline in demand and price on seafood is putting pressure on workers and families, Trudeau announced a $470 million program that will help the industry weather the economic crisis.
The Fish Harvesters Benefit will provide up to $10,000 in assistance to fishers that expect to see a 25 per cent drop in revenue. And it will give an additional $10,000 for those who own their own fishing business. As well, the government will change Employment Insurance rules to allow fishers to apply for benefits based on earnings of last year.
Trudeau encouraged everyone to show their support for the struggling agricultural and fishing industries by picking up “Canadian cheese to help out a local dairy farmer, have a fish fry or buy Canadian lobster.”
The prime minister also announced new funding for indigenous peoples, “who are having particular difficulties during this pandemic.” The government will set aside $300 million to provide interest-free loans and non-repayable contributions to indigenous businesses. Additional supports include $75 million to help First Nations, Inuit and Metis students find a job this summer as well as $10 million that will go to emergency shelters for victims of domestic abuse.
Shifting gears, Trudeau spoke about the partial reopening of national parks in Canada, which unfortunately won’t take place in time for the Victoria Day holiday.
“The May long weekend is coming up,” he said. “It will be different than normal because lots of places, including our national parks are still closed.”
However, Trudeau said that the federal parks system will be partially reopened as of June 1, “so that people in the area can use trails and green spaces where physical distancing is possible. Getting fresh air is important but we all have to be responsible about it.”
By the beginning of June, Canadians will be able to visit up to 38 parks and 171 historic sites — lighthouses, forts, canals and monuments across the country.
Trudeau reflected on the difficult balancing act that all governments are currently facing — while they want to offer a return to normalcy as quickly as possible, they must always keep our safety in mind.
“Getting that balance right is something we’re doing in the short-term but obviously there will be plenty of reflections over the coming months, and indeed years about how we make sure that Canadians and people around the world are kept safe in this pandemic or from the potential next pandemic,” he said.
And he suggested that behavioural changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic will likely become permanent and that governments must respond to this reality.
“There will be adjustments,” he said. “We know that there are things that we took for granted, last year and years before, that have changed. We have seen this world change rapidly. You used to be able to get on a plane without taking off your shoes.”
“COVID-19 will be one of those things that creates changes in our society. Our responsibility as a society, as a government is to try to figure out how to minimize the negative impact of those changes while maximizing the safety of Canadians.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Announces Regional Aid Package, Dodges Questions on Border Closures and China
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today discussed the roll-out of a regional funding program to help Canadians who aren’t covered by current aid programs. However, he was less than forthcoming on questions about the re-opening of the Canada-U.S. border and he refused to get drawn into the growing controversy surrounding China’s role in spreading COVID-19.
In his daily media briefing, Trudeau explained how the government’s Regional Relief and Recovery Fund will provide assistance to Canadian workers and businesses not covered by the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit or the wage subsidy efforts. The previously announced program will provide $1 billion that will be administered by six regional development agencies across Canada. These agencies, said Trudeau, “can help you with your most pressing needs, whether it’s covering costs or keeping employees.”
The plan is to spread money to rural or remote areas of the country and to provide relief for workers in the tourism or seasonal industries, both of which have been hit hard during the economic lockdown. Encouraging those not covered by previously announced aid programs, Trudeau said that these agencies “understand the economic realities and the specific challenges facing your region and your business.”
Regarding the re-opening of the U.S. Canadian border, the prime minister wouldn’t directly answer questions on how and why the decision was made to keep the borders closed to non-essential travel until June 21. Reference was made to a recent statement by Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s public health officer, that until the U.S. starts doing a better job managing outbreaks, the border should remain closed because “they present a risk to Canada.”
“As we control our domestic situation, we are vulnerable to international travellers. Different countries are facing different challenges and, as we manage the spread of COVID-19, we will want to make sure that we’re not becoming vulnerable from travellers arriving from elsewhere,” said Trudeau. “As we move forward, we will continue to work with the U.S. administration. I’ve spoken several times to President Trump in recent weeks, and those discussions have all been very positive.”
He added: “Conversations are ongoing all the time on a range of measures, including border measures. I see no reason for that to change. We’re focussed on keeping Canadians safe every step of the way and we’ll make the necessary decisions at every different step.”
Trudeau also refused to be drawn into a debate on a Globe and Mail report on statements made by Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to Beijing. The article quotes Barton calling for a “rigorous review” of the controversial role China played in failing to contain the outbreak of the pandemic.
“It’s clear there are many questions around the origins and behaviour in early days on the COVID-19 situation, particularly questions for China that need to be asked in the coming months so we can get answers,” said Trudeau, before repeating the non-answer using different phrasing. “The countries out there who are not behaving as they should will be receiving questions, and people will be drawing conclusions about the way they behaved.”
In light of the fact that Canada is relying heavily on China for procurement of personal protection equipment (PPE), the prime minister obviously decided he needed to tip-toe around this incendiary issue, instead emphasizing that the behaviour of other countries wasn’t his current focus.
“My responsibility first and foremost as prime minister is to look out for Canadians, to make sure we’re keeping Canadians safe and healthy and whole as much as possible in good times and in times of crisis,” he said. “Of course, we will have very strong questions to ask of many different countries about how this pandemic began and propagated around the world. My focus needs to be on keeping Canadians safe, and that’s where it will stay.” —Peter Muggeridge
Finally, Trudeau Announces Assistance for Low-Income Seniors. But Is It Enough?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $2.5 billion government aid package for low-income seniors, an age group that has been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19. However some seniors groups, including CARP, are asking why the government didn’t go further with measures to help all older Canadians weather the pandemic.
The emergency assistance will be in the form of a one-time tax-free payment to older low-income Canadians. Seniors who currently qualify for Old Age Security (OAS) will be eligible to receive $300 while those who qualify for Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) will get an extra $200. (Those who are eligible will automatically qualify and will not have to apply for the program. The cheques should begin going out within the next few weeks.)
Earlier today, Deb Schulte, the minister for seniors, explained that since the pandemic hit, many older Canadians have incurred extra expenses, like paying for grocery deliveries, higher dispensing fees for prescriptions and taking taxis instead of public transportation.
“It’s all small amounts but it adds up,” said Schulte.
In his daily media briefing, Trudeau said that the past few months been particularly tough on seniors and their families. “The challenges of the pandemic for seniors aren’t just limited to what’s happening in seniors homes. The lockdown is weighting heavily on seniors right across the country.”
“There’s no question COVID-19 has been taking a toll on seniors both emotionally and financially,” said Trudeau, suggesting that the aid package will help offset the extra costs they’ve had to incur because of the pandemic and “alleviate some of the stress they may be feeling.”
Included in the package is a $20 million dollars for the New Horizons for Seniors program, which will allow organizations to “adjust their services based on the reality of the pandemic” and “counter the isolation of seniors and improve their quality of life.”
Too little too late?
When asked about why it took so long for the federal government to announce a relief package for seniors, Trudeau argued that in responding to the crisis, immediate attention had to be paid to companies and workers who had lost their paycheques. “Seniors are not generally in a situation where they have lost their income,” he said, explaining why they came so low in the pecking order.
Responding to the aid package for older Canadians, CARP’s Chief Policy Officer Marissa Lennox said while the supports “are welcome,” she questioned the amount, saying it was “unclear how long this will last.”
Lennox further felt that the government should have explored measures that provide meaningful relief for all seniors, such as waiving mandatory RRIF withdrawals this year; eliminating withholding tax on RRSP withdrawals for 2020 and following through on its pre-election commitment to boost GIS and OAS.
Trudeau didn’t counter suggestions that a one-time payment of $500 (which works out annually to about $10 a week) isn’t enough to make a big difference. Instead, he admitted that it was only a “short-term fix” and that “if the situation continues for six months or a year, we will have to introduce new measures and have an additional reflection on how we’re going to support seniors, young people, businesses, workers.”
The prime minister spoke at length about the terrible situation in nursing homes across Canada, with many facilities struggling with rampant outbreaks and huge death tolls, accounting for more than 80 per cent of all fatalities.
“Right across the country, long-term care homes and seniors homes have been the most hard-hit by the pandemic, exposing the failures of a system that must be strengthened,” he said. “We’ve seen heart-breaking tragedies in long-term care facilities and nursing homes right across the country.”
He noted that the pandemic has exposed some “uncomfortable truths” about how we care for seniors: too many instances of “overworked staff, understaffed residences, grieving families,” said Trudeau. “There are serious underlying challenges facing these facilities and, in the coming months, the federal government will be there to help the provinces find lasting solutions.”
One solution (voiced recently by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh) suggests that provinces end for-profit long-term care residences, which have struggled mightily during the pandemic, and bring all elder care homes into the “public realm.”
Trudeau dodged this question, saying, “It’s not up to the federal government to provide solutions” to long-term care because that responsibility “falls within provincial jurisdiction.”
However, he said he is aware of the increasing public debate about improving long-term care and said the federal government has a role to play in finding solutions.
“I think Canadians right across this country are asking just how we should be looking after our elderly and, in the coming months and years, there have to be improvements,” he said. “It will be up to the provinces to determine what needs to be done, and the federal government will be there to support the provinces with the assistance they need and the changes they need to make.”
The prime minister closed his comments by exhorting Canadians to play a part “in supporting our seniors during this pandemic.” Saying that a lot of older people – especially single seniors – are “feeling pretty lonely right now,” Trudeau asked us to call our parents and grandparents, write a letter or postcard or volunteer for a local program that fights seniors’ isolation.
“We need to be there for those who have built this country for the rest of us,” said Trudeau. “Together we will get through this.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Says New Financing Assistance for Larger Companies Will Provide “Bridge Loans, Not Bailouts”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a new emergency loan program aimed at staving off bankruptcies in larger Canadian businesses that have seen their revenue demolished during the COVID-19 economic shutdown.
In his daily media briefing, Trudeau unveiled the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF), a program that will provide loans to companies with annual revenues of $300 million or more that need emergency credit they are unable to access through banks and other lending institutions.
“We are helping Canadian business through this extraordinary time … to ensure that workers across Canada can keep their jobs and so we can come roaring back after this difficult time is behind us,” he said. “We need to make sure there is an economy to come back to.”
Calling it a “bold step,” Trudeau emphasized that that under the LEEFF program, the government will provide loans but not cut cheques to larger corporations. And the Liberal leader stopped short of describing the government’s latest relief program as a corporate bailout.
“These are bridge loans, not bailouts,” he said, later doubling down on that statement. “I want to be clear: this is bridge financing not a blank cheque.”
Trudeau defended the measure, saying, “We need to make sure we’re supporting these employers so Canadians will have jobs when we bounce back from this pandemic.”
The prime minister didn’t put a dollar figure on the amount the government is putting on the table for corporate Canada, instead saying the credit will be available to all sectors and in any province. Presumably, this could mean airlines and the energy industry, two sectors that have been devastated by the crisis but have yet to receive any detailed government support.
He described the ultimate goal of LEEF as helping distressed companies weather the COVID-19 storm and protect workers. “We are providing support to these large employers to protect jobs across the country,” said Trudeau. “The goal is not to fund non-viable businesses or allow them to restructure. It is not our intention to provide low-interest loans to companies that don’t need them.”
The prime minister added that he preferred companies to go to the banks for private financing and, if that route fails, the government will be a “lender of last resort.”
He also further cautioned that that these loans would come with strings attached. Any company that receives tax-payer financed support will have to abide by three conditions, including:
- maintaining jobs and investments
- respecting collective bargaining agreements and pension obligations
- honouring environmental and climate commitments
And he said that companies guilty of ducking taxes in the past need not apply. “To stand strong against tax avoidance and tax evasion, we will require companies to share with us their complete financial structure as they apply for funding,” Trudeau claimed.
Trudeau also assured taxpayers that the loans would have to be directed toward the workers. “If a company wants to access taxpayer-funded financing, the money has to go to support employers and not high-paid executives,” he said. —Peter Muggeridge
On V-E Day, Trudeau Draws Inspiration From the “Valour” and “Sacrifice” of Those Who Gave Their Lives
On the 75th anniversary of the Allied Forces’ Victory in Europe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians who are battling COVID-19 today should draw inspiration from the “valour” and “sacrifice” shown by past generations who helped secure our peace and freedom.
“It’s hard to think of tougher times for our country,” said Trudeau in his daily media briefing. “But as our elders remind us, Canada has faced challenges before. And we’ve always overcome them.”
Recognizing those who fought and lost their lives leading up to the Allied Victory in Europe – the day recognized as the end of the Second World War on the continent – Trudeau said that 75 years ago, times must have been especially grim.
“After six years of war, it must have felt like that day would never come,” said Trudeau. “But it did. And it came because of the courage of all who served and because of the sacrifice of all who gave their lives.”
“It has been 75 years since our grandparents and great-grandparents stood up to do their part, 75 years since they stood united and strong to ensure that we would live in peace and freedom,” he continued.
Recognizing that the current generation faces its own battle against COVID-19, he went on: “Let us be inspired by them and their valour as we protect them and all Canadians. This is our challenge, and I know we will rise to meet it.”
The prime minister said he was aware of the bad news on the employment front, referring to yesterday’s Statistics Canada report that reveals the country lost two million jobs in April alone, bringing the total of jobs lost to three million since the crisis began.
He noted that these depressing job numbers “tell us what we already know – Canadians are hurting because of this pandemic. Everyone has their own story, but it all boils down to a very difficult time for a lot of people.”
But he remained optimistic that the government’s response will help the country get through the crisis, pointing out that seven million Canadians are receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (a monthly $2,000 support payment); two million others are being covered by the government’s wage-subsidy program; and well over 500,000 businesses have accessed the Canada Emergency Business Account, which provides interest-free loans to help struggling companies.
Still, in light of the stark unemployment figures, Trudeau announced that the government will be extending the wage subsidy beyond June to help “kick-start our economic re-opening and boost jobs.”
He called on businesses to apply for the program and to rehire workers they may have laid off. “If you had to let people go, try to bring them back. It’s those workers who will drive our economy’s short- and long-term recovery,” he said. “Canadians want to work so we’re going to help them return to work.” —Peter Muggeridge
New Federal-Provincial Agreement Will Top Up Wages of “Essential Workers,” Including LTC Staff
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal and provincial governments have hashed out an agreement that will top up the wages of low-paid “essential workers,” including personal support workers at long-term care facilities.
At his daily media briefing, Trudeau praised the efforts of front-line health-care workers (especially nurses, personal support workers and support staff in long-term care facilities) “who continue to work harder than ever to keep our seniors safe.”
He said that too many front-line staff in our health and long-term care systems are “making very low wages while doing extraordinarily important work.” He feels that we must support these essential workers during the pandemic – “Now, more than ever, we need them.”
Acknowledging their hard work and contributions during this crisis, the prime minister noted, “You deserve more than just our gratitude. You deserve to be properly paid for the essential work you are doing.”
In order to do this, Trudeau announced that the federal government has almost finalized a deal between all the provinces and territories “with a view to topping up the wages of essential workers.”
In this $4 billion plan, the federal government will direct money to the provinces that will be earmarked to top up the wages of essential workers.
Trudeau said it will be up to the provinces to determine which workers qualify for the wage increase. But he suggested that minimum-wage workers who are “risking their health to keep this country moving” to work in this crisis “deserve a raise.”
“Long-term care homes are the facilities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19,” said Trudeau. “You are a source of motivation for all of us. You are fighting the good fight against COVID-19 and have been since the beginning of the crisis.” He added that this extra support “will make a big difference.”
Trudeau also said that yesterday he attended a ceremony to honour the lives of the six military service members who died when their CH-148 Cyclone helicopter crashed into the sea off Greece after completing training exercises.
“I was grateful for the opportunity to pay my respects. All of the families were heartbroken, but all of them were also immensely proud of the life of service chosen by their loved ones, as are we all. We will never forget their service,” said Trudeau. —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Announces $252 Million Aid Package for Farmers, Agricultural Group Claims $2.6 Billion Is Needed
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced a $252 million aid package for farmers and producers who have been hit hard by the disruptive impact COVID-19 has had on the agricultural industry.
However, a group representing farmers and agri-businesses says the amount announced today falls well short of what the sector needs to weather the disruption COVID-19 will have on their operations.
With restaurants and hotels closed and global food distribution chains choked off by border restrictions, many cattle, fruit and vegetable and dairy farmers are anticipating a grim summer ahead. In the face of declining demand and snarled distribution channels, many have resorted to simply destroying the produce they can’t sell.
“Everyone working in the food industry is working harder than ever to fill the shelves of our grocery stores, and they work long hours to feed us,” said Trudeau at his daily media briefing.
“Today, we are announcing a new investment of $252 million to help the agri-food industry get through this crisis,” he said, saying the money will help “support the people who keep our groceries stores stocked and our families fed.”
Out of this newly announced program, which must first be approved by Parliament, $77 million will be allocated to food processors to “help protect workers,” said Trudeau. Another $125 million will be available to “help farmers adapt to market changes.” And the government will spend a further $50 million buying surplus food from famers that would otherwise be destroyed.
“Unfortunately, there have been a number of farmers who have had to throw out surplus food … and destroy some of their products,” said Trudeau. He explained that under the newly announced “agri-recovery system,” the government will purchase that surplus supply of meat, vegetable and dairy and direct it to communities and families that need support with food security.
While the relief package is welcome, the total falls well short of what the farmers were asking. Earlier this week, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, a lobby group that represents Canadian farmers, asked the government for $2.6 billion to “help maintain food security in Canada in response to COVID-19.”
Acknowledging that this program was only an “initial investment” and that more aid will be made available as the need arises, Trudeau said, “It’s not a perfect situation by any stretch but we’re trying to do all we can to ensure people are rewarded for their hard work.”
Responding to a question about whether the lengthy delay in getting aid to farmers (not to mention the relatively small size of the relief package) may have been motivated by the fact that many rural communities didn’t vote Liberal in the last election, Trudeau defended his government’s actions, saying that it has “continued to work with farmers and food producers right across the country to respond to their needs. We have a large and varied country in terms of the challenges faced in different regions,”
Today’s press conference was shorter than usual as the prime minister prepared to attend the second virtual meeting of the House of Commons, which is taking place this afternoon. —Peter Muggeridge
On the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Netherlands, Trudeau Calls for Similar Collaboration to Fight Pandemic
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that as we mark the 75th anniversary of the allied liberation of the Netherlands in the Second World War, the world should draw on that same spirit of “collaboration” to defeat COID-19.
“It’s not the first time that Canadians have been called to do their part,” said Trudeau in his daily media briefing.
“From the fall of 1944 to the spring of 1945, thousands of Canadians pushed back the occupying forces, road by road, town by town. They fought, and many died, to defend the values we hold dear – peace, democracy, the rule of law and human rights.”
He called on Canadians today to observe two minutes of silence at 2 p.m. (ET) for the veterans who helped liberate the Netherlands. “As we pause, let’s reflect on how each of us can live up to their example.”
Trudeau said that he had discussed the shared history between the two countries with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte earlier in the morning. “We talked about the close, lasting bond and friendship that exists between our two countries. We talked about how we collaborated together in years past … and how we are doing that again today in this global crisis.”
The prime minister reflected that it is through this spirit of collaboration that countries can defeat COVID-19. Before the press conference, he had been on the phone encouraging political and business leaders to pledge money to help fund research to find a vaccine. “COVID-19 is a global challenge that requires a global solution,” he said.
“We need to defeat this virus not just within our borders but wherever it will be found,” he continued, noting that the government has already pledged $850 million to vaccine research and testing. “We all share a common goal – ending this pandemic, and Canada is stepping up to do its part. The more we co-operate, the more likely we find a cure and find it quickly.”
Trudeau also fielded questions about Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s statement made earlier today calling on the government to present its budget to Parliament, which it usually does in March or April.
“Normally the budget presents a projection for what’s going to happen in the coming year and the actions we’re going to take as a government,” explained Trudeau, who didn’t rule out a budget but not committing to one either. “But we’re in a period of tremendous uncertainty as to what’s going to happen in the next week or a few months from now,” he said.
The Liberal leader added that his government will continue to “be open and transparent about our measures and our projections for the economy” and that they will continue to “share more information with Canadians” – whether it comes in the form of an official budget or as an economic update.
Trudeau was also asked (as he is many times) about whether there will be second-guessing about the measures and spending programs his government has put in place to fight the pandemic.
“Are there things we could have done differently? Certainly,” he responded. “But in an unprecedented crisis like this we are doing the best we possible could.”
“After this is all over, there will be people will be making recommendations and checking things and looking at how we can be better prepared the next time,” he continued. “But for the time being, my priority is what I need to do today and tomorrow to help Canadians, to protect people and to ensure that we get through this properly. I don’t spend a lot of time looking in the rear-view mirror.” —Peter Muggeridge
“You Don’t Need an AR-15 to Bring Down a Deer,” Says Trudeau, Announcing Immediate Ban on Assault-Style Weapons
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a break from updating the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to announce that his government is immediately banning the use of all military “assault-style” weapons in Canada.
In a press conference today held alongside Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair, Justice Minister David Lametti and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Trudeau announced that the government would use its regulatory powers to ban 1,500 military-grade weapons.
Trudeau began the press conference by remembering the moment he first learned about the 1989 École Polytechnique shooting in Montreal, where Marc Lepine gunned down 14 female engineering students using a semi-automatic rifle. Trudeau, 17 years old at the time, recalled being shocked by the incident: “I couldn’t understand that such an act of violence toward women could happen in a country such as ours.”
Trudeau also listed off the many mass shootings that have taken place since, many of which were carried out using assault-style firearms, including the recent Nova Scotia tragedy that killed 22.
“These tragedies reverberate still,” he said. “They shape our identity. They stain our conscience. They make adults out of children. And the heart-breaking truth is that they’re happening more often. It needs to stop.”
Saying that assault-style weapons “are designed to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time,” Trudeau declared that “they have no use and no place in Canada.”
So, starting immediately, the government will prohibit the buying, selling, transporting, importing or using of more than 1,500 models of military assault-style weapons, including the M16, M4, AR-10 and AR-15 rifles. While acknowledging that the majority of Canadian gun-owners use their weapons responsibly to hunt or for target practice, Trudeau argued, “You don’t need an AR-15 to bring down a deer.”
Blair said that assault-style weapons have become “more and more prevalent on the Canadian market.” Saying that shooting rampages are carried out by “evil people wielding powerful guns,” he said that we must ban “guns that belong on a battlefield and not on our streets.”
Lametti explained that there will be a two-year amnesty period for those who legally own assault-style weapons to comply with the new regulations. During that time, however, they will not be allowed to buy, sell, transport or use them. And by the end of the amnesty period, all “owners will have to be in compliance with the prohibition.”
Freeland noted that the victims of many shootings are women and girls. “Femicide has long been a scourge in our society. We must stop it. In saying no to assault-style weapons, we are putting feminist ideas into practice. We are acting to ensure that our sisters, our mothers, our grandmothers our daughters – that all women who have been victimized, frightened, threatened, harmed, brutalized and killed by gun violence – have not suffered in vain.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Addresses Wednesday’s CAF Helicopter Crash; Looming Federal Deficit
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid his respects to the men and women who went down in a Canadian military helicopter crash Wednesday in the Ionian Sea off the coast of Greece.
The CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, which was performing a NATO training exercise in international waters off the coast of Greece, went down on Wednesday night with six crew members on board. The chopper had completed its mission and was returning back to the HMCS Fredericton when it lost contact with the ship.
So far, one body, that of Abbigail Cowbrough, has been recovered and a search mission by aircraft from Italy, Turkey and the U.S. is currently underway.
Appearing at a press conference alongside Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan, Chief of Defence of Staff General Jonathan Vance and Deputy Minister of National Defence Jody Thomas, Trudeau called the missing crew members “heroes.”
Trudeau said that the “civility, compassion and courage” of our Armed Forces are a “concrete expression of our valour and values.” He praised the Armed Forces for “always putting their shoulders to the wheel,” whether battling terrorism, supporting peace-keeping missions overseas or helping out in long-term care homes in Canada. “The men and women of the Armed Forces stand tall,” he said. “They step toward danger so the rest of us can stay safe.”
Defence Minister Sajjan also expressed his condolences to the families of the helicopter crew, whom he thanked for their “selfless service.” Sajjan said that a rescue mission was still underway and that more information would be released when it became available.
Gen. Vance said that the helicopter’s crew was taking part in “inter-ship training,” part of the Navy’s Operation Reassurance mission that was being carried out with NATO allies and due to end in July. He said at the current time, he doesn’t know the reason the helicopter went down on its way back to the HCMS Fredericton.
Expressing his sympathies to family members and the sailors on the mission, Vance said, “There’s nothing worse than to lose contact with a crew member.” He added that the flight recorder had been recovered and that it is being flown back to Canada for a full investigation.
Trudeau also answered questions about a new report by the Parliamentary Budget Office that suggests that due to the massive government spending in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s federal deficit could reach $252.1 billion, or 12.7 per cent of Canada’s GDP. The report also noted that these costs could increase if the current relief programs are extended beyond June.
Trudeau said his government was concentrating on getting through this pandemic and would address these issues later. “First, we’re remaining focused on this crisis. We have to invest to ensure that an economic recovery will be possible, as quickly as possible.”
When asked whether this meant new austerity measures or taxes, Trudeau said, “Of course, we’re going to have to think about this but, for the time being, we are focused on what we have to do now to help Canadians to get through this crisis.”
The prime minister said that Canada’s economic strength going into the pandemic would help it come out of it. “Our economy was in great shape going into this,” said Trudeau.
And he expressed confidence that the economy would come back “quickly and strongly” after the pandemic passes. —Peter Muggeridge
“The Curve Has Flattened,” Says Trudeau, Urging Canadians to “Keep It Up”
In a short media briefing before heading off to Parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced good news on the COVID-19 front.
According to the latest modelling, Trudeau said, “In many parts of the country, the curve has flattened, so we have to keep it up.” Praising Canadians for stepping up to “keep each other safe,” Trudeau acknowledged those who are “making sacrifices and following public health rules.” But he urged us not to let our guard down yet, saying “Let’s stick to it.”
“To salute Canadians doing their part to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Trudeau noted that, starting this weekend in Nova Scotia, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Snowbirds will begin a cross-country tour of air shows. “As we watch the Snowbirds fly over our homes, let’s remember we are all in this together,” he said.
Trudeau also announced that the federal and provincial governments have agreed on a set of guidelines on how each region will begin to re-open their economies. He described the guidelines as a “road map” that should allow provinces to “keep their citizens safe while looking at ways to re-open the economy safely.”
However, Trudeau would not set out a timeline on when this will happen, instead saying that that decision will be up to the provinces and largely depend on how well they are coping with COVID-19 outbreaks.
But he added that he was happy to see the provincial and federal governments working so well together. “It’s not often in this federation that the provinces and federal government can come together as collaboratively as we have. We’re working together with common goals. It’s something to note and something to celebrate.”
The prime minister noted that after the press conference he would make his way to the House of Commons, where an in-person sitting was scheduled today. He said he hoped to pass the $9 billion Canada Emergency Student Benefit.
However, the program’s passage is no slam-dunk as all the opposition parties have objections that could change the shape of the legislation. In spite of this, Trudeau expressed confidence that he would get the bill through. “We’ve been working with the opposition parties on legislation that will get this help to young people as quickly as possible,” he said.
Trudeau was also asked several times about the safety of our food supply system, especially in light of the closure of several meat-packing plants in Alberta due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Saying “Agriculture Canada is very much on this issue,” Trudeau assured Canadians that the government’s two main priorities are “keeping workers safe and ensuring a good supply of food to Canadians.” —Peter Muggeridge
As Provinces Plan to Re-Open Economies, Trudeau Cautions “Normal Is a Long Way Off”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed today how his government is co-ordinating efforts to re-open provincial economies and when life can return to a semblance of normalcy.
However, in his daily media briefing, Trudeau was quick to caution, “Normal is something that’s a long way off for all of us.”
“As we move forward over the coming months, we will be able to see careful re-opening in certain sectors of the economy,” said Trudeau. “But until we have a vaccine for COVID-19 or a system of treatments that are equivalent to a vaccine … we’re going to have to be very careful.”
As some provinces (Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, in particular) begin loosening public health restrictions with an eye toward gradually re-opening their economies, which have been shuttered since mid-March, Trudeau said he is working closely with the premiers on “shared guidelines” for how that will proceed.
But he warned Canadians that “different provinces and territories will be able to move at a different pace” on restarting their economies and that people must continue to adhere to local guidelines no matter what is going on in different provinces. “If we get this wrong, everything we have done, everything we have sacrificed these past weeks could be in vain. We need to ensure we do this safely based on the best scientific advice.”
While highlighting the importance of planning a co-ordinated national approach to gradually restarting economies, Trudeau was quick to point out that the timing of such moves will ultimately be up to the provinces. “The provinces have the authority to determine what is in their best interest,” he said.
When asked whether the shortage of personal protective equipment (masks, shields and gloves) and a shortage of test kits will prevent certain sectors of the economy to even consider re-opening, Trudeau pointed out that recent shipments from China as well as increased domestic production will help out. “Every single day, we’re ramping up our supplies of personal protective equipment. We know there’s going to be increased demand. That’s one of the things: will there be enough PPE for various sectors?”
The prime minister also announced that Parliament will finally resume meeting, with a virtual sitting on Tuesday and an in-person sitting on Wednesday. “It is our intention to move forward with that legislation to help students,” he said. “Over the weekend, we discussed the situation with the other parties, and we’re working with them to get that legislation passed.”
He noted that today businesses can begin applying for the government’s $73 billion wage subsidy program, which will cover up to 75 per cent of wages for qualifying businesses. “It means helping employers not just stay afloat through a tough time but be ready to gear back up when things get better,” said Trudeau.
When asked where the promised support for older Canadians, a group which has been greatly impacted by COVID-19, was, Trudeau said, “We’re looking for further supports for the most vulnerable seniors who are truly challenged.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Announces Moment of Silence for N.S. Shooting Victims; Rent Relief for Small Business
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in his daily media briefing that at 2 p.m. (Atlantic) today, Canadians will observe a moment of silence to remember those who died in the deadly shooting rampage in Nova Scotia.
Trudeau also encouraged everyone to wear red today in a show of solidarity for “Constable Heidi Stevenson and all the victims of the Nova Scotia shooting.” And he reminded everyone that at 7 p.m. (Atlantic) tonight, he will be taking part in a virtual vigil for the victims and their families. (For more information on the vigil, click here.)
“This past week has been very painful and heartbreaking for all Canadians and the people of Nova Scotia,” said Trudeau. “Let’s come together to support these communities, which suffered immeasurable loss. Let’s celebrate the lives of those who left us too soon. Let us remember the families and friends who lost loved ones whose absence will linger for years.”
Trudeau also unveiled the government’s long-awaited plan to provide rent relief for small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) that have been walloped financially by the COVID-19 shutdown.
The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program will lower rents for April, May and June by 75 per cent for qualifying SMEs that have been “strongly affected” by COVID-19. Under the program, the federal and provincial governments will cover 50 per cent of the reduction with the property owners covering the remaining 25 per cent. Businesses paying less than $50,000 a month in rent will be eligible to receive this support.
One of the big questions at the top of everyone’s mind, of course, is when the country will begin returning to normal. Trudeau noted that later today, he will be talking to the leaders of the provinces and territories about the “gradual re-opening” up of their economies.
“Canada is a vast country, and it’s clear that the pandemic has not hit each region the same way,” said the prime minister. “We are a federation, and that means we have to adjust our response to the realities in each province and territory.”
Cautioning that “we’re not out of the woods yet” and that “we’ve got a long way to go,” Trudeau confirmed that a “gradual approach” must be followed in order to ensure that “the progress achieved has not been lost.”
And before we see any kind of return to normalcy, there must be significant co-ordination at the national level to “establish principles and recommendations to ensure the safety of Canadians,” he said, explaining why it will not happen overnight. “It has to be done one step at a time. If you do not want us to start from scratch, every single person must continue to be vigilant and to follow public health recommendations.”
The government, he continued, is observing the challenges that Singapore, South Korea and Japan is currently facing in re-opening their economies and reinforced that, in order to come out of this “moment of hibernation,” we must remain vigilant and “be very, very careful” before undertaking the next big step.
Trudeau issued a warning to Canadians that every province will take different approaches and operate under different timelines.
“So if you see that one province is relaxing its rules, you must still continue to follow the rules in place where you live. Otherwise, there’s a real risk that we’ll lose everything we’ve done thus far.” —Peter Muggeridge
As Death Toll Mounts in Elder Care Homes, Trudeau Says “We Are Abandoning” the Greatest Generation
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted today that we are “abandoning” seniors to COVID-19, which has cut a devastating path through elder care facilities across the country.
“We’re seeing terrible tragedies in long-term care facilities across the country,” a remorseful Trudeau said in his daily media briefing. “This is unacceptable.”
A day after Ontario became the second province to ask for the army to step in to help its overwhelmed long-term care homes, Trudeau did not mince his words when describing the terrible damage the pandemic has wrought on our most vulnerable.
“If you’re angry, frustrated, scared – you’re right to feel this way. We can do better. We need to do better,” he said.
“We are abandoning our parents, our grandparents, our elders – members of the greatest generation who built this country,” he added. “We must look after them as they deserve to be looked after.”
While acknowledging that the army is available to help provinces “get control of the situation,” Trudeau noted that this is not a long-term solution. “In Canada, we shouldn’t have soldiers taking care of seniors.”
After the crisis has passed, Trudeau claimed, “We will all have to ask tough questions about how it came to this.” But until then, he said, “We will all have to do more to get through this terrible situation.”
Trudeau also announced the government will launch a $1.1 billion medical and research strategy to address COVID-19. He said this new program will have three pillars that will focus on:
- vaccine research
- clinical trials to test the vaccine
- expansion of testing and modelling
The new strategy, he said, will provide vital data that will allow us to better understand the virus and its effects on vulnerable populations. “The better we understand this virus, its spread and its impact on other people, the better we can fight it and eventually defeat it.”
Trudeau also noted that today is the second anniversary of the van attack in Toronto that took the lives of 10 innocent bystanders and injured 16 others. Along with this event and the weekend shooting in Nova Scotia, he said, “Together we are mourning and together we will come through this.”
The prime minister also took the opportunity to send his greetings to the Muslim community, marking the beginning of Ramadan today. He offered his gratitude to the many “Muslim Canadians who are working on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 as nurses, doctors and essential workers.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Announces $9 Billion for University Students, Says Help for Seniors Is Coming
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced a $9 billion emergency aid package for secondary students and promised that help for seniors was on the way.
“Right now, you might be worried about how to make ends meet,” said Trudeau, addressing university students at his daily press briefing. “You probably can’t work your normal job, and that might be a big problem for rent or groceries.”
To alleviate this, the government has unveiled the Emergency Student Benefit, a $9 billion dollar program that will provide post-secondary students with $1,250 a month between May and August, more if they’re a caregiver or disabled.
The government will also create 76,000 summer jobs through the Canada Student Service Grant, which will reward students monetarily for volunteering in COVID-19 relief efforts. The prime minister also said that next year the federal government would double the amount of money the government usually provides for student grants.
“Your energy and skills can do a lot of good right now,” said Trudeau. “These measures will help you get through this so you can build the career and the future you’ve been looking forward to. And on the other side of this, when the economy comes roaring back, you will define our path forward.”
While all the big government programs so far have been aimed at supporting employers, workers and students, Trudeau promised, “Help is coming for seniors.”
He noted that the government’s first priority was providing income support to businesses and individuals to help weather the crisis. But he assured seniors that support will be announced in the upcoming days.
“Though many seniors continue to have the same fixed income they get from the government, there are concerns about their long-term savings,” he said. “We also recognize that the cost of living has gone up for seniors as they are facing challenges because COVID-19 targets seniors to a great degree.”
Trudeau also fielded numerous questions concerning the number of deaths at elder care homes in Canada due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He said the government is prepared to offer help when asked by the provinces, as it did last week when it sent medical personnel from the Canadian Armed Forces into Quebec. However, because elder care falls under provincial jurisdiction, he said the government could only react if requested by the provinces.
But Trudeau did say his government was working with provinces to support low-paid workers in long-term care. ” I think the larger question we’re all facing is an understanding that the people who care for the most vulnerable are themselves quite vulnerable.”
Trudeau closed his press conference by recognizing that today is Earth Day. “We are reminded that the way forward includes a healthy environment and a strong, sustainable economy,” he said. “Although our immediate focus is on the fight against COVID-19, we will always do our part to build a better future.” —Peter Muggeridge
“This Week, We Are All Nova Scotian,” Says Trudeau, Offering Condolences to Families
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his “sincere condolences” to the families in mourning for loved ones lost in the horrific weekend shooting in Nova Scotia.
“Nova Scotia is a special place where people stick together and look out for each another,” said Trudeau, in his daily media briefing outside Rideau Cottage. “This week, we are all Nova Scotian,” he said, assuring the victims’ families that they can count on the “unwavering support of not only their neighbours but every single Canadian.”
The shooting has renewed calls for stricter gun laws that ban assault-style weapons, and several reporters asked Trudeau when he would move on it. “Obviously, we are reeling from the tragedy in Nova Scotia,” said the prime minister. “But our focus right now is on supporting the families as quickly as possible.”
He said that his government had already made strong commitments on moving forward on gun legislation and that “it did not take this tragedy” to act.
Moving on to the pandemic, Trudeau said he was guardedly positive about how well the country is overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that in the six weeks since we began to self-isolate and following public health guidelines, “Our efforts are now bearing fruit.” Noting that the provinces are reporting “fewer and fewer cases each day,” Trudeau said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the “positive signs that we’re moving in the right direction.”
But he reiterated that if we loosen up our vigilance too quickly, “We could see a return spike of COVID-19 for citizens and the economic recovery.”
The prime minister also announced a new program that would give charities more resources to continue to do the “crucial work to help our communities.” The $350 million Emergency Community Support Fund will inject money to support charities and non-profit organizations. The bulk of the money will flow through national organizations like the United Way and the Red Cross to “train volunteers, increase deliveries at home for seniors or provide transportation services for people with a disability.”
The prime minister further announced that starting next Monday, companies will be able to begin applying for the Emergency Wage Subsidy, a program that gives eligible employers up to $847 per week per employee to keep them on the payroll. He said that CRA website now has a calculator that will allow businesses to calculate exactly what the wage subsidy will cover.
Trudeau also addressed questions on why three planes that were supposed to have been filled with masks and medical supplies purchased from China returned to Canada empty. He explained, “It’s always a challenge to get personal protective equipment to Canada” because we’re “fighting in a very competitive international environment where everyone is looking for PPE.” —Peter Muggeridge
“We Grieve With You,” Says Trudeau, Devoting Entire Media Briefing to N.S. Victims
Today, instead of providing his usual update on the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dedicated his whole media briefing to express his condolences to the victims of this weekend’s Nova Scotia shooting. (Read the full story here.)
“We stand with you. And we grieve with you,” said the visibly shaken prime minister.
On this terrible day, Trudeau said he wanted to put aside “partisan bickering” on how Parliament will reconvene to “focus on the victims.”
“We are so sorry for your loss. Such a tragedy should never have occurred,” the prime minister continued, noting that the shootings took place in small communities “where people know their neighbours and look out for one another.”
Addressing his closing remarks directly to children in Nova Scotia, the prime minister said, “I know the world can seem like a mean and ugly place right now, but there’s a whole lot of good in the world, too. You’ll see it in your neighbours and in Canadians in the days and weeks and months ahead. This is a difficult time, and it can be a scary time too. But we’re going to get through this together. I promise.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Extends U.S.-Canada Border Closures for “Many Weeks”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that border restrictions between Canada and the U.S. will remain in place for another 30 days.
“This is an important decision that will keep people on both sides of the border safe,” Trudeau said in his daily press briefing. “It’s another example of the excellent collaboration between our two countries.”
The move comes several days after U.S. President Donald Trump had suggested that the two countries might open their borders sooner than expected.
Trudeau wouldn’t explain why it was necessary to extend the border closures other than saying we must “continue to take measures to keep Canadians safe while ensuring the flow of the essential supply chains on which so many Canadians depend.”
Trudeau also confirmed the new border-closing agreement would follow the same mechanisms as the first. “We expect that essential goods, medical services and other items will continue to cross the border between our two countries,” he said.
With today’s announcement, Canadians should not expect to travel to the U.S. anytime soon. “We will continue to remain vigilant on our borders,” said Trudeau. “Non-essential travel across the border will not be permitted.” The prime minister would not put a date on when the borders would open, saying he expected “we will keep them in place for many, many weeks to come.”
Trudeau also answered questions about reconvening Parliament, noting that the Liberal plan is to have Parliament meet once a week “in a modified way” while they sort out a working concept for a virtual Parliament. However, he said one opposition party he didn’t name (but was obviously referring to the Conservatives) was raising objections to the government’s planned course of action and was holding up the agreement.
He agreed with the need to “keep our institutions and our Parliamentary principles strong” but said the idea of having all 338 MPs gather in Ottawa for a session “is not something from a public health standpoint that we want to see happening.”
Trudeau also announced a $300-million spending program to help Indigenous businesses “bridge the gap to better times.”
And he closed by mentioning Canadians should watch for new federal public health ads featuring former astronaut Chris Hadfield and former women’s hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser that will air nationally during tonight’s broadcast of the “One World: Together at Home” concert. The brainchild of Lady Gaga, the global extravaganza will bring performing artists, comedians and celebrities together to thank and support frontline health-care workers and the World Health Organization. —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Sends Armed Forces To Help Support Quebec’s Overwhelmed Elder Care Homes
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that troops are on their way to help Quebec cope with the devastating COVID-19 crisis in the province’s seniors homes.
“I can now confirm that approximately 125 members of the Canadian Armed Forces with health-care training will be providing support to workers in Quebec’s long-term care facilities,” said Trudeau. “We continue to work with the government of Quebec to find other ways to support them including with the Red Cross and specialized volunteers working with Health Canada.”
The announcement comes one day after Quebec issued an urgent request to the federal government for immediate assistance in supporting the province’s beleaguered nursing homes, which have been completely overwhelmed by the spread of the deadly virus.
“As early as this afternoon, there will be numbers of the Armed Forces that will be on the ground to assess the kind of approach that’s needed and what their posture will be,” said Trudeau.
Trudeau also announced his long-awaited plan to help the energy sector remain in operation in the face of revenue challenges due to the pandemic and a global price war, which has seen a massive drop in the price of oil.
Trudeau said that to help workers in the oil and gas sector, “our government will invest $1.7 billion to clean up orphan and abandoned wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and B.C.”
Under this plan, the government will free up money for oil companies by shouldering the massive costs of cleaning up old drilling sites. It is aimed at helping “families who are particularly hard hit” by creating or perserving “5,200 jobs in Alberta alone,” Trudeau said. He added that further initiatives, like the Emission Reduction Fund, with create 10,000 jobs in oil producing regions.
Both programs will have a two-fold effect of creating jobs and improving the environment. “Just because we’re in a health crisis doesn’t mean we can neglect the environmental crisis,” said Trudeau.
The Prime Minister further unveiled another big spending program that will see $962 million start flowing through regional development agencies to help those not covered by the wage subsidy relief program, such as innovators, entrepreneurs and start-ups.
And, he said the government will also provide $500 million dollars to Heritage Canada to support art, culture and sports not able to receive announced government assistance. “People who work in the arts, cultural and sports sectors share their passions with us and allow us to dream,” said Trudeau.
When asked about when the House of Commons would resume sitting on a regular basis, Trudeau said that he was working with opposition parties to figure out what a virtual Parliament would look like. Until then, he said his government is devising a plan so that the House could sit every single week. “It’s important for our democracy to continue to work and Parliament resume its work every week to pass legislation and, ensure there’s accountability and questions can be asked of the government. We hope the opposition will agree,” Trudeau said.
And he closed his press conference by recognizing that today is the 38th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document that was ushered in when his father, Pierre Elliott, was prime minister.
Noting that the Charter was established to protect our rights and who we are as a people, Trudeau said that “as our country confronts this pandemic, I’m especially grateful that Canadians have chosen to protect each other and care for one another.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Calls Senior Home Outbreaks “Horrific” as Quebec Pleads for Army’s Help
With health-care workers struggling desperately to contain COVID-19 outbreaks in seniors residences, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today said the situation has become so “horrific” that Quebec has requested the federal government to step in.
“It’s horrific what they’re living through,” said Trudeau in his daily press briefing. “It’s impossible to imagine the anguish that families and elders in long-term care are going through. And the conditions are getting more and more difficult.”
Trudeau confirmed that the situation has become so dire in Quebec that Premier François Legault has asked federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to send in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to help the province’s beleaguered long-term care system deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.
Trudeau called the request for CAF assistance “unprecedented,” explaining that the army is usually called in to deal with forest fires or floods. However, he said the government is considering ways that the army’s medically trained personnel might help Quebec’s overwhelmed elder-care homes.
The prime minister admitted that the country was caught off guard by the pandemic’s affect on seniors residences, nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
“We’ve seen over the last number of weeks a far more severe impact on seniors residences and long-term care homes than we had hoped for and more than we feared,” continued the prime minister. “Therefore, we need to take more measures to protect our seniors,” he said, adding that he will be speaking to the premiers tonight to implement efforts that will “ensure better protection for our elders in long-term care.”
Moving on to government relief efforts to help small businesses, Trudeau said that since the government’s programs were announced, 195,000 small-business loans have been approved, amounting to about $7.5 billion. He also said his government was changing the eligibility rules to receive an interest-free loan through the Canada Emergency Business Account, widening it to help more companies.
And he announced that rent relief is coming for small business owners who cannot pay their landlords due to COVID-19 revenue loss. The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program will provide loans to commercial property owners so they can lower the rent small businesses will have to pay in April, May, and June.
Responding to the now daily questions about when the COVID-19 restrictions will be eased and the economy can begin operating again, Trudeau warned Canadians, “I don’t think we can talk about reopening it yet.”
Nor would he elaborate on what conditions would have to be met to allow the provinces to push the button to restart the economy, saying that that will depend on how well different regions are dealing with the outbreak. While acknowledging that conversations with the premiers about when the economy can start up are ongoing, he cautioned, “We’re going to need to be extremely vigilant, extremely prepared,” in the event of multiple outbreaks. “We can’t open things until we have a plan in place,” he adds.
Trudeau was also asked about comments made last night by U.S. President Donald Trump, who hinted that travel restrictions between the two countries could be eased soon. Trudeau responded, “We’re still weeks away from talks of opening the border.” He was quick to add that relations between the two countries have been “exemplary” on most issues but as to when the border might re-open, he said there’s still “a need to protect our citizens, as every country is doing.”
Trudeau also mentioned that he spoken to G-7 leaders about international efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. When asked whether Trump’s criticism of the way the World Health Organization came up in the phone call, Trudeau would only say that most leaders continue to recognize that the WHO plays an important role in coordinating the world’s response to the pandemic. —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Vows To “Do Better For Seniors;” Ontario Amps Up Long-Term Care Safety
Following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments this morning that federal and provincial governments “must do better for seniors,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford has announced that his government is enhancing safety measures to fight COVID-19 in the province’s long-term care homes, 114 of which are experiencing an outbreak of the virus.
“We owe it to our most vulnerable, we owe it to their families and loved ones, to fight this terrible virus until the end,” Ford said at his daily briefing, where he appeared alongside the minister of health, Christine Elliott, and minister of long-term care, Merillee Fullerton.
To show just how devastating an effect that COVID-19 is having in seniors homes, of the 496 new cases in the province today, more than 200 were from long-term care staff or residents.
In order to combat this, Ford announced that within the next 24 to 48 hours, so-called SWAT teams of infection prevention experts and health care workers will be dispatched to support some of Ontario’s 600-plus elder care residences.
This comes on top of yesterday’s changes to the emergency act, which the province has implemented to limit long-term care staff to work in just one facility.
Ford confirmed that workers will be permitted to take a leave of absence from secondary facilities they may be working in and he said he was in discussions with the federal government to ensure lost wages are covered by the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.
“We shouldn’t be in this situation to begin with,” said Marissa Lennox, CARP’s Chief Policy Officer. “But now that we are, we need to pull out all the stops to protect our most vulnerable older people.”
Ford’s move, while important, comes weeks after Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical health officer, made the same recommendation. When reporters asked if this would be a permanent move, Fullerton would only say that is a temporary, 14-day measure.
The new measures, which include more testing of long-term staff and residents, also come two weeks after an outbreak in Bobcaygeon’s Pinecrest Nursing Home, where more than 20 residents died in a matter of a week. When asked about why it took so long for the province to enact this enhanced plan, Ford said this isn’t the first thing but an “enhancement of what’s been done since the get-go.”
Reporters also wanted to know why the province cancelled comprehensive annual inspections for long-term care homes last year. To this, Fullerton would only say that the province moved to a risk-based assessment process, adding “This is a global situation happening to long-term care homes.” – Tara Losinski
April 15 1 p.m.
Vowing to “Do Better For Seniors,” Trudeau Pushes Wage Hike for Long-Term Care Workers
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that the devastating stories emerging from seniors homes and long-term care facilities ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic are “disturbing” and admitted that the federal and provincial governments must “do better for seniors who built this country.”
In his daily press briefing today, Trudeau said that the “Greatest Generation who grew up in the Depression and fought in the Second World War” are now living out their days in long-term care and seniors homes across the country. “But the uncomfortable and tragic truth is that the very places that care for our elderly are the places most vulnerable to COVID-19.”
Saying that he will be discussing this matter in his weekly phone call with the provincial leaders, Trudeau promised that he would discuss how to implement wage hikes for long-term care workers to avoid staff shortages that continue to dog seniors facilities across the country.
“For many workers [or “heroes” as he called them] looking after the most vulnerable Canadians, including seniors and those with disabilities, we know conditions have gotten more difficult over the past few weeks. You need support right now,” said the prime minister.
Calling long-term care workers “our most important line of defence,” Trudeau said he will call on the premiers to put a “wage boost in place as quickly as possible.” And he assured these low-paid, over-worked health-care workers that the government “will help you do your job and support you through this time.”
When asked whether his government had considered sending in the armed forces to help out in under-staffed seniors homes – like Résidence Herron in Montreal where 30 patients died during a COVID-19 outbreak, while many workers abandoned their jobs and left the remaining patients unfed and unwashed – Trudeau said it’s up to the provinces to make a request and that assistance will be provided “when it’s required and necessary.”
When asked what he would do if his own mother, Margaret Trudeau, were in a seniors home, the prime minister didn’t answer directly but said, “I can’t imagine what so many Canadians are going through right now with loved ones who are suffering.”
On a day when the Bank of Canada announced that our GDP suffered a staggering nine per cent drop in March alone, the prime minister took a firm line on reporters asking when the lock-down restrictions will be eased and when the economy could begin functioning again.
“It’s not happening yet,” he said bluntly. “We’re far from that stage.”
And he warned that attempts to fast-forward our return to normal life will have dire consequences. “We’re making sacrifices and we need to hold on still and then, once we’re ready, once we feel we’re through, once the experts say we can re-open the economy a little bit, we’ll take steps to do that,” he said. “If we move too quickly, everything we’re doing now might have been for nothing.”
And Trudeau reiterated that the government’s goals remain ensuring that our health-care system isn’t overwhelmed and keeping mortality rates at one to two per cent, not like the 10 per cent we’ve seen in other countries. —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Calls Senior Home Deaths “Terrible” and Offers “Deepest Sympathies”
The day after horrifying details emerged about a Montreal seniors home devastated by COVID-19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his daily press briefing to offer his “deepest sympathies” to families who lost a loved one.
“This is a terrible situation,” said Trudeau of Résidence Herron, a long-term care seniors home in Montreal, where 30 people were basically left to die, unfed and unwashed, with many of the home’s staff abandoning their posts. “We want to express our deepest sympathies to the families who have been affected, not only [in Montreal] but right across the country,” said Trudeau.
However, other than pointing to new federal guidelines regarding care in nursing homes, the prime minister offered little in the way of federal support for the beleaguered long-term care sector, several times noting that these facilities operate under “provincial jurisdiction.”
When asked whether the his government could assist provinces in overcoming a dire shortage of staff in seniors facilities, Trudeau suggested that his government would consider sending money to the provinces to help cover the cost of hiring new workers. He felt that by offering staff higher wages, as they are currently doing in Quebec, workers might be “motivated and encouraged financially to continue caring for our most vulnerable.”
Trudeau began his press conference by announcing a $130 million aid package to northern communities to help them deal with COVID-19, including support for small businesses, assurance that food and essential goods remain in good supply and for the region’s health-care needs.
He also announced that four planes carrying N-95 masks have landed in Canada, and the masks will begin making their way to the various provinces along with domestically produced test kits. And he said that his government was increasing enforcement of the Quarantine Act to all people returning to Canada – if they can’t provide border officials with a “credible quarantine plan” at home, they will have to isolate in hotels for two weeks.
Several reporters prodded Trudeau about when the economy would be restarted and people return to their jobs. To this, the prime minister was vague, saying, “The reality is it’s going to be a few weeks still” and “We must remain in this phase for some time to come.”
He also said that border restrictions with the U.S. would continue for “a good while still.” He assured Canadians that he is already having discussions with provinces on the question of when a phased-in return to the workplace would happen and how it would look. —Peter Muggeridge
COVID-19 Devastates Montreal Seniors Home; Small Business Appeals For Urgent Financial Relief
The grim news today that yet another Canadian seniors facility has been devastated by a COVID-19 outbreak has left public health and government officials scrambling to provide explanations.
Today, it was revealed that the Résidence Herron seniors home, a 154-bed facility on Montreal’s West Island, has reported 31 deaths since March 13. (While only two of the deaths were confirmed as being related to COVID-19, 30 residents have tested positive for the respiratory illness.)
The tragedy in Montreal was worsened by reports from family members that staff at the home abandoned their posts during the outbreak and, in some cases, left the residents unfed and uncleaned as the disease spread throughout the building. It’s also alleged that the facility operators refused to share medical files with government inspectors.
Quebec Premier François Legault said the province was stepping in to take control over the province residence and that a police investigation would take place.
“It certainly seems like gross negligence. When our people got there, the majority of the staff were gone,” he said, adding, “It’s not acceptable the way we treat our elderly in Quebec.” The province is also inspecting 40 privately owned long-term care facilities in a matter of days.
New interim public health guidelines for long-term care providers were released this past weekend. These include: restricting volunteers and family members from visiting; improving the screening of staff and residents; and supplying staff with better protective equipment.
However, on Monday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam failed to explain why these measures weren’t put in place sooner before massive outbreaks occurred in Montreal and Ontario homes.
Tam also refused to take responsibility, other than saying that lessons have been learned from such outbreaks and the “collective wisdom” has gone into the guidelines. Protecting seniors will “absolutely have to be a priority as this epidemic evolves,” she said.
Tam confirmed that close to half of COVID-19 fatalities in Canada have occurred in long-term care residences. She said it isn’t easy implementing federal policy when oversight varies by province and where facilities are both publicly funded or privately run. She also pointed out that staff working in more than one home represents a challenge in containing spread.
Staff and residents will remain a priority for testing; however, Tam expects the case fatality rate in these settings to increase.
When asked whether the federal government could make the guidelines mandatory for the provinces, Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte said the government preferred not to take an aggressive approach.
“We’re coming at this from a co-operative way,” she said. “And that is the best thing for our partners right now.”
Schulte also pointed out that the new guidelines will limit staff to working in one facility, where possible.
It’s unclear why it took federal officials so long to follow the lead of B.C.’s Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who banned staff from working in multiple seniors facilities back in March after a staff member at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver — the site of Canada’s first death from COVID-19 — spread the virus to another care home. —Tara Losinski
April 13 2 p.m.
Battered Small Businesses Urge Government to “Speed Up” Financial Relief Efforts
On a day when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a break from his daily COVID-19 briefings to Canadians, the Conservative Opposition filled the space by calling on the government to “speed up” support for the thousands of small businesses that have been devastated by the government’s economic shutdown.
The call comes at a time when small businesses are reeling, with many pondering whether they will survive the pandemic. The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses is circulating this petition, which calls on the government to expedite relief efforts or, “many firms will not survive without significant support to help pay staff and cover fixed costs like rent.”
Today, the Conservatives joined the call to help out. “It has been almost a month since governments shut down the Canadian economy and our small businesses have not received a single penny in rescue assistance,” said Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative’s financial critic said in a press conference today. He compared that to the response from other countries like the U.S. and Germany where businesses began receiving emergency financial assistance in early April.
Saying that small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are the “life blood of our economy,” Poilievre suggested that despite the wage subsidy bill that was passed on the weekend, relief money won’t begin flowing to Canadian businesses until May. “This is not sustainable,” he said.
“If a third of these businesses close now and never re-open, millions of working-class people will fall deeply into poverty,” he said. “And no government program could possibly replace the jobs they will have permanently lost.”
Poilievre illustrated this point by saying that businesses are facing “a real crisis,” because they not only must make wage payments but also cover rent, utilities and sundry other expenses at a time when “revenue has dropped to zero.” And he warned that “time is running out to save them.”
In order to offset this impending disaster and save millions of businesses from going under, Poilievre said the government must make changes to the Canada Emergency Business Account, which right now provides up to $40,000 in interest-free loans to SMEs.
Instead, he said that the Conservatives are proposing that the $40,000 loans fall far short of what companies need to pay the bills. Instead, they should be unlimited. Under his plan, companies would be able to apply for immediate loans through banks and credit unions (available in days rather than weeks) and that companies can pay these emergency loans back with the money they receive when the wage subsidy program finally starts flowing.
“It’s a simple, practical solution that will bring urgent assistance to SMEs,” said Poilievre. “We’re calling on the government to execute this immediately.” —Peter Muggeridge
Parliament Passes $73 Billion Wage Subsidy; Trudeau Pays Tribute to Greatest Generation
In an unusual Easter weekend sitting of the House of Commons today, Parliament unanimously approved Bill C-14, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) legislation that will help businesses and employees get through the devastating effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the economy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been in isolation at Rideau Cottage since the beginning of the outbreak, showed up to the near empty House of Commons today to help usher the legislation through Parliament, the huge $70-billion wage subsidy program.
The bill will be voted on later today Senate. Once the Senate approves, it will receive royal assent later in the evening and the federal government can begin rolling out money to businesses.
The Liberals hope the wage subsidy will encourage businesses to keep its employees on the payroll by guaranteeing up to 75 per cent of all qualifying employee wages up to $58,700. This will account for up to $847 per week, per employee for up to 12 weeks. The subsidy is retroactive to March 15. Qualifying businesses will have to show that they have lost 15 per cent of their revenue in March or 30 per cent in April or May.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau said that the money could begin flowing to businesses in two to five weeks. “We’re aspiring to do that as rapidly as possible. I’m assured we will be closer to the short end of that time,” said Morneau.
The wage subsidy’s passage was in doubt yesterday with the Conservative Opposition threatening to hold up the bill until all parties could come to an agreement about how Parliament will meet in the near future. However, this morning, the Conservatives agreed to put off making a final decision on this and instead focus on passing the wage relief program.
Instead of his usual briefing outside of Rideau Cottage, Trudeau addressed the country from the floor of the legislature today, saying that the fight against the novel coronavirus is “not a war,” adding that it “doesn’t make this any less dangerous, less destructive.”
By Saturday, the virus had infected 23,195 Canadians in every province and territory but Nunavut, and killed 648. The federal government’s epidemiological data shows those aged 50-59 account for 18.3 per cent of cases, while those aged 60 and up account for a third.
Trudeau said he was thinking of those who lived through the Great Depression and fought in the Second World War, including at Vimy Ridge from April 9 to 12, 1917.
“Today, across this country, the last members of this Greatest Generation live in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. They’re in their apartments and small homes they built so long ago with their own hands. They are the ones most threatened by this disease. They fought for us all those years ago. And today, we fight for them. We will show ourselves to be worthy of this magnificent country they built.” – Peter Muggeridge
Bleak News, For Sure, But Trudeau Invokes Vimy Ridge and Sees “Light at the End of the Tunnel”
On a snowy day in front of Rideau Cottage, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that while today’s news was indeed “difficult,” we’re also beginning to see “light at the end of the tunnel.”
The difficult news: not only are the cases of COVID-19 continuing to rise and the death toll mounting but the economic shutdown measures taken to fight the disease are causing severe job losses – putting more than one million Canadians were out of work in March. On top of this, federal spending on relief programs could cause our deficit to balloon to more than $180 billion this year alone.
However, the prime minister drew inspiration from today being the anniversary of Vimy Ridge, and he remembered those soldiers who fell at this First World War battle. “Thousands of Canadians gave their lives so the world would know peace,” said the prime minister. “They fought to defend the values we hold dearly. It was a moment when ordinary people did extraordinary things.”
He said their legacy lives on today in the “women and men who continue to step up and serve us” – especially doctors and nurses – “who put themselves in harm’s way for us to stay healthy.”
Alluding to pandemic modelling figures that were released today, Trudeau said “our health-care systems across the country are coping for the time being.” But, he added, “we’re now at a fork in the road between the best and worst possible outcomes.”
He suggested that in the best scenario, we’ll reach the initial peak of the pandemic – “the top of the curve” – by late spring, with the end of the first wave occurring by the end of the summer. However, he cautioned that there will likely be smaller outbreaks after that. “This will be the new normal until we discover a vaccine.”
For those who are growing impatient with living under public health restrictions for the next while, Trudeau said, “I know it isn’t easy, but it won’t last forever. Eventually we will be able to go back to restaurants, parks and movie theatres. But in order to do that, everyone has to do their share now and in the ensuing weeks.”
However, Trudeau said he was confident that the disease will be easier to manage when these mini-outbreaks do arrive. “We will have developed knowledge and equipment, and Canadians will have developed the habit of implementing preventative safety measures.”
Trudeau felt that once we get through the first wave, “We’ll be able to open the economy somewhat. At that point in time, we’ll have a bit of an economic relaunch.” However, once again, he would not speculate when that will happen. But, he said, “there is a light at the end of this tunnel – if we are able to minimize this wave of COVID-19.”
Trudeau also responded to news from earlier today that the Conservative government would only pass the wage subsidy relief legislation if the government agreed to the Conservative plan on how Parliament will be restructured going forward. Trudeau said his party is working to ensure democratic debate and accountability will return soon but that he hoped the “Official Opposition will choose to realize that we need to pass this [wage subsidy] legislation quickly.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Defends Relief Programs, Sends Passover Greetings to Jewish Canadians
Before defending the government’s COVID-19 financial relief programs, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reached out to Jewish Canadians who begin celebrating Passover tonight.
“Usually, this is a time for family and friends to gather around the Seder table,” said Trudeau. “I know that staying in tonight and not gathering with family will be hard. But it’s the best way to keep yourselves and your loved ones safe. I hope you still find a way to connect to family and friends.”
The prime minister then moved on to a barrage of questions regarding the government’s three-point COVID-19 relief program: loans for small businesses, the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit and the wage subsidy program to help companies keep workers on the payroll.
He was questioned multiple times about the seemingly over-complexity of these programs, the fact that many don’t qualify for any relief and the length of time it takes to start receiving benefits, especially the wage subsidy program. Several media members also pointed out that a easier way to do it would have been to mail out a relief cheque to all Canadians and then claw it back at tax time from those who didn’t qualify.
In answer, Trudeau said he knew “there were going to be gaps” in the relief plan and that it was “impossible to have a perfect system.” However, he said the programs were rolled out in order to “reach the largest number of Canadians as quickly as possible.” He also promised that extra measures were on the way for those who slip through the cracks, including seniors and students whose prospects for summer jobs aren’t great.
Thanking the civil service for their “Herculean efforts” in getting the relief programs working, Trudeau also noted that Parliament would reconvene to iron out the details and pass legislation for the wage subsidy program. Because of this, he said, it could take three to six weeks before businesses start receiving the benefit so they can “rehire and pay their workers.” He implored businesses to “pull together in these difficult times so that our economy will come roaring back when the crisis passes.”
With regards to when the COVID-19 crisis will pass and restrictions will be eased, Trudeau said his government is right now planning a “measured and graduated” approach to how workers will begin returning to their jobs and the economy will start functioning again. But on the day when the Chinese government lifted the lockout in Wuhan, Trudeau couldn’t forecast when Canada would follow suit. And even when the immediate crisis passes, he said that because of the threat of future spikes of the disease, “Even when things get back to normal, they won’t be back to normal.”
The prime minister refused to say when the federal government would release their modelling projections, other than reiterating that “where we are on the curve” largely depends on how well Canadians continue to follow public health guidelines on social distancing and staying at home.
“Millions upon millions of Canadians are following the instructions of public health officials,” he said. “That is what is getting us through this and will ensure Canadians are kept as safe as possible and that our economy comes back.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Wishes Boris Johnson “Speedy Recovery” and Salutes Canadian Caregivers
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began his daily press briefing today by saying his thoughts are with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been hospitalized after contracting COVID-19.
Johnson, 55, is the only world leader to contract the illness. He was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London yesterday where he is listed in stable condition and is receiving “standard oxygen treatment.”
“I’ve worked with Boris for some time now and I know how committed he is to serving the people of the U.K.,” said Trudeau, assuring Britain that all Canadians wish him a speedy recovery. “He’s a fighter and he will be fighting now to regain his health and get back to the job he loves.”
With today being World Health Day and National Caregiver Day, the prime minister used the opportunity to thank “health-care professionals and caregivers who are working day and night to keep us safe and care for our most vulnerable.” Noting that “our health care system is only as strong as the people it employs,” Trudeau offered his gratitude “for everything you have done for us.”
The stress of these gruelling press briefings appears to be wearing on the prime minister. Today, he lacked the cheerful optimism he usually shows during his daily addresses and several times ignored questions, stumbled over words or failed to find the right turn of phrase that usually comes so easily.
While answering a question about the advisability of wearing non-surgical masks, Trudeau said they can prevent people from “breathing or moistly speaking” on others. Realizing what he had just said, the prime minister shuddered and added, “What a terrible image.”
However, even without his A-game, he pressed on, offering Canadians encouragement that the government is working hard to overcome the “scarcity” of testing kits, respirators and protective equipment for frontline medical health workers.
He noted that 3M had agreed to release 500,000 masks, which had been held up at the border, and said his government was “in touch with suppliers around the world.” He also announced that manufacturers here have struck a deal with the government to produce 30,000 “made-in-Canada” respirators, which should begin making their way off the assembly line in the coming weeks and months.
Trudeau said he hoped there wouldn’t be a need for so many respirators but that it was “better to be prepared for a worst-case scenario.” He deflected questions about Canada’s lack of preparedness for medical and protective equipment to deal with the outbreak, concluding, “We’re seeing now that the entire world was unprepared.”
When asked about whether he agreed with police forces and by-law officers who are issuing tickets to Canadians who don’t abide by COVID-19 self-isolation restrictions, Trudeau said, “I believe it is important for people to be motivated and encouraged to abide by the directives and need to know there are consequences when they don’t.” However, the prime minister said he also expects police forces to “use their good judgment about issuing tickets.” —Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Discusses Humboldt Anniversary, Credit Card Interest Relief, U.S. Mask Shipments
In his daily press conference, Prime Minister Trudeau alluded to Queen Elizabeth’s emotional “We’ll Meet Again” broadcast where she alluded to the specifically British qualities that will help England get through this agonizing crisis.
Trudeau said that our own indomitable Canadian spirit is particularly evident today, the second anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos’ bus crash that took the lives of 16 players and coaches from that small Saskatchewan town. He said that the “incredible strength and resilience” shown by the people of Humboldt and the outpouring of support the town received from communities across Canada remind us that “no one should feel alone” and that “together we can get through the darkest of times.”
And Trudeau also addressed the growing controversy of U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to block the shipment of masks and protective equipment to Canada. Earlier today, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that unless a blocked shipment of three million masks crosses the border, the province could run out of masks by the end of the week.
The prime minister said that his government has had “productive and positive conversations” with U.S. officials about the delayed shipments of crucial protective equipment. With mask shortage “a reality around the world,” Trudeau said, “we are expecting these shipments to be delivered.”
The other big announcement from today’s press conference is that Canada’s big banks have agreed to reduce interest rates on credit card debt for people “experiencing financial difficulty as a result of the pandemic.” While details of the credit card interest rate cut were vague (more information can be found at ratehub.ca), Trudeau said, “We need to see even more action like this going forward because this is a time to think about each other, not about the bottom line.”
Trudeau announced that the government relief for those who’ve lost their jobs due to COVID-19 is finally beginning to flow. According the to the prime minister, 240,000 applications for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) have already been processed as of Monday morning and that the money will be in bank accounts in three to five days.
Applicants can apply online at Canada.ca. If you are unable to apply online, you can call 1-800-959-2041. The government is accepting applications based on the month you were born:
- For Monday, April 6, Canadians born in January, February and March are able to apply.
- For Tuesday, April 7, Canadians born in April, May and June are able to apply.
- On Wednesday, April 8, Canadians born in July, August and September are able to apply.
- Thursday, April 9, Canadians born in October, November and December are able to apply.
For those who aren’t covered by the CERB, Trudeau assured them they won’t slip through the cracks. “Whatever your circumstances are, we’re working hard to help you,” he said, making special mention of those who can’t benefit from the CERB or Wage Subsidy Program.
The prime minister, who noted that he will be visiting his office more often now that his 14-day period of self-isolation has ended, said that in the coming days he will reconvene Parliament to debate and pass legislation on the government’s wage subsidy program, which has taken on a different look than the proposals passed in the original relief bill, C-13. He also noted that in order to “give confidence to the people of Canada that Parliament is working for you,” he and the opposition parties are working on ways to “virtually reconvene” Parliament so that all MPs from across the country can participate.
And he also assured Canadians that provinces across Canada will soon have access to more COVID-19 test kits, saying, “Large-scale testing is a key element to flattening the curve” of the coronavirus and that “testing will be an essential part of how we get through this.” –Peter Muggeridge
Ontario Advises “Protecting the Elderly” And Releases Modelling Numbers; Trudeau Condemns Trump’s “Huge Mistake”
Ontario public health officials unveiled new provincial models for the COVID-19 pandemic this afternoon, projecting up to 80,000 new cases and 1,600 deaths in the month of April if current intervention and prevention techniques remain in place. The models show that the numbers of new provincial cases could drop as low as 12,500 and deaths as low as 200 with updated intervention and prevention techniques.
“We are following a trajectory somewhat similar to that in the United States, not quite as good currently as that as in British Columbia,” Dr. Peter Donnelly, president and CEO of Public Health Ontario, said during the press conference. He cautioned, though, saying, “When one tracks cases, it really is rather difficult to know where exactly you stand. You have to watch it extremely carefully because it is rather dependent on who you test for the disease.”
Currently, Ontario has 3,255 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 67 confirmed deaths. Donnelly noted “the high mortality rate of those over the age of 80,” which is currently at 16 per cent and remains slightly lower than the global tally of 20 per cent.
“It tells us,” he said, “we must focus on protecting the elderly.”
That includes, he suggested, putting a “ring of steel” around long-term care homes in an effort to protect residents. He also added that snowbirds returning to Ontario must go directly home and isolate rather than interacting with members of their community and asked neighbours to provide assistance by picking up groceries and other necessities for them.
Ultimately, the models show the potential for anywhere between 3,000 and 15,000 deaths in Ontario over the course of the pandemic, which Donnelly pointed out could last between 18 months and two years due to “a smaller second or tertiary wave” before it’s completely gone from the province. How much people adhere to the guidelines on isolation and social distancing accounts for the wide gap in the projection numbers. Officials also noted that the models are not predictions but rather warnings of what could happen.
The good news, however, is that models show that up to 100,000 Ontarians could have died from COVID-19 had no preventions been put in place, indicating that initiatives to promote self-isolating and social distancing are working.
In a follow-up press conference, Ontario Premier Doug Ford noted that he wanted Ontarians to see the same statistics he’d seen and acknowledged the stark reality of the situation. But he also thanked doctors and health experts for their help in aiding the government in doing everything possible to protect the province.
“The numbers also show that everything we’ve done so far, everything we’ve done together since this started, is working,” Ford added. “The numbers clearly show that we have collectively saved thousands of lives. But we also know that we can’t stop now.”
Donnelly, meanwhile, praised early provincial initiatives, including the closure of schools, limiting visitations to long-term care homes, the encouragement of social distancing, prohibitions on large gatherings and the closure of non-essential workplaces and parks and recreational activities. But he pointed to additional public health measures that he hopes will blunt the impact of COVID-19 on the province even more.
“This is not about flattening the curve,” he said. “It’s about chopping the top off the curve.”
According to the modelling charts, immediate new public health measures include an enhanced capacity for case and contact tracing and increased testing for COVID-19, with a focus on long-term care, retirement homes and other congregate settings.
The charts also provided guidelines for future measures, which include:
- Reducing the number and types of essential workplaces.
- Enhancing a focus on enforcement and fines for non-compliance.
- Expanding direction/guidance on physical distancing, including retail settings.
- Enhancing support for elderly, homeless and other vulnerable populations and communities.
- Considering entry restrictions in some communities including First Nations.
- Managing human resources (movement of health-care workers between settings).
- Using technology to reinforce self-isolation (alerts).
- Additional public education and communication (shelter-in-place with limited exceptions).
To that end, Premier Ford announced the shutdown of more non-essential businesses including all industrial construction beginning on Saturday, April 4 at 11:59 p.m.. Critical construction projects, including the building of hospitals and necessary housing, will remain in operation, though Ford said new inspections of ongoing construction sites will take place and new inspectors added, with sites shut down if they don’t meet the required safety conditions. Essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open, as will restaurants doing delivery and pick up.
The premier also said his government is prepared to take every step possible to ensure public safety and asked the public to do more to help their own communities.
“If they don’t do it, we’re going to be in serious, serious trouble,” he said in response to a question about people congregating in public as the weather gets nicer. He added that he wants to avoid having to take emergency measures to force people to stay home. “The vast majority are listening.”
Trudeau Calls Trump’s Order to Halt Shipment of Masks to Canada “A Huge Mistake”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that it would be a “huge mistake” for the U.S. administration to block medical supply manufacturers from exporting their products to Canada.
Addressing U.S. President Donald Trump’s order to prohibit 3M, a company that manufactures health-care protective equipment (notably masks) that are in huge demand, to stop exporting goods to Canada, Trudeau said, “We’re working very closely with the U.S. in order for them to understand that trade between Canada and the U.S. is a two-way street, especially for critical and essential goods and services.”
“We have thousands of nurses from Windsor who work in Detroit daily, and the Americans depend on them,” said Trudeau. “It would be a huge mistake for both countries to restrict staff and services across the border, both ways.”
The prime minister said his government was “working very closely with the Americans highlighting that the level of integration between our economies goes both ways. We are receiving essential supplies from the U.S. But the U.S. also receives essential supplies and products – and health-care professionals – from Canada.”
When asked whether Canada would retaliate to the Trump order – either by not allowing health-care workers to cross the border or stopping shipment of medical supplies to the U.S. – Trudeau responded, “For the present, we are confident that we will continue receiving what we need.”
“3M has indicated how important it is to continue delivering on orders to Canada,” said Trudeau, adding that any disruption of the supply chain could end up “hurting Americans as much as it does anyone else.” He said that Canadian government officials are reinforcing this point with the U.S. administration and feels “that message is getting through.” He predicted that the “close and deep relationship with the U.S. will hold strong and that we will not see interruption of supply chains in either direction.”
The prime minister also announced that an agreement had been made with Amazon Canada to use its “wide distribution network” to guarantee the supply and delivery of medical equipment to wear it’s most needed.
And he noted that the premier of Quebec, François Legault, has requested the federal government to deploy the Armed Forces to “isolated and remote” communities in that province. – Peter Muggeridge
Trudeau Explains Why Government Won’t Release COVID-19 Projection Models
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent most of his press conference today fending off questions about why the government won’t release projections on the number of Canadians who may become infected by COVID-19.
Trudeau said that in a phone call with the premiers tonight, he would discuss both the medical equipment needs for each region as well as data sharing and modelling. “Provinces have been making significant progress on testing backlogs, which is giving experts important data to analyze,” he said.
Although he admitted that Canadians “want to see the numbers and predictions,” these projections will have to wait until all the data was “analyzed and validated.”
While other countries, such as New Zealand and the U.S., have been very upfront with their own projections, Canada still hasn’t released any infection-rate models. As to when these projections would be forthcoming, the prime minister again wouldn’t be specific, other than saying they were coming “soon.”
In terms of the raw data on the number of cases and where the cases are, “We’re making sure that those numbers get out there,” said Trudeau. “We’re going to continue to work on those analyses and to crunch the data and continue to be open with Canadians about the projections.”
“Those models depend on the behaviour of Canadians today, yesterday and tomorrow,” he said, again encouraging people to follow self-isolation and social distancing rules.
When asked whether the government was not releasing infection models for fear of causing “anguish and panic,” the prime minister ducked the question, saying that in order to give “clear information to Canadians,” the government needs to “analyze all the data.”
Another reporter pushed Trudeau on why his government, which has its own internal COVID-19 models, isn’t releasing them to the public. The prime minister said that when he talks to the premiers tonight, he will discuss “how to make sure all our various sources of data are aligned so that we can get more accurate models.” But before releasing this “sophisticated modelling work,” the government must ensure that it “makes sense” and “reflects what’s going to happen in Canada and various regions across the country.”
While infection-rate projections dominated today’s press conference, Trudeau also addressed other matters. He said he was “very concerned” with reports that medical supplies bound for Canada were being diverted to the U.S. Trudeau noted that his government was in contact with U.S. officials on the matter, saying, “We need to ensure that equipment destined for Canada makes its way to Canada.”
The prime minster again said that he didn’t feel it was yet necessary to use the federal Emergency Act to enforce Canadians to stay at home and self-isolate. He would consider such a move only when the provinces have exhausted all their powers they have in their respective emergency measures acts. —Peter Muggeridge
The big question on everyone’s mind is how long the COVID-19 public health measures will last.
Today, in his daily press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed this monumental question, saying the government has developed a “range of scenarios” that could see self-isolation measures last “a number of weeks, perhaps months.
“We will only know when we get there,” he said, noting that the duration will depend largely on the “choices and behaviour of Canadians.”
Trudeau also announced that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, monthly payments to help unemployed workers get through the COVID-19 crisis, will be available starting April 6. This is available to workers who are not covered by the government’s wage subsidy program.
To begin receiving CERB payments, the prime minister explained, unemployed workers must register online at the government’s website, Canada.ca. For those who have already submitted a request for Employment Insurance, you do not have to register again. You should begin receiving your payments in three to five days by electronic deposit or 10 days by mail. If you are unable to register online, you can call the Canada Revenue Agency for help.
“Everyone will get their money,” promised Trudeau, adding that it is the largest economic program in our nation’s history. “Canada hasn’t seen this type of civic mobilization since the Second World War. These historic measures will help Canadians stay at home to defeat COVID-19.”
Earlier this morning, Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer noted in a press conference that many of the new measures being announced by the government are not contained in the original relief legislation Bill C-13, passed last week by Parliament. In response, Trudeau said he would reconvene Parliament so it could vote on the expanded plan. “This must be a Team Canada effort,” he said.
When asked about overcoming the shortage of medical protective equipment — which is becoming a major problem in Quebec and Ontario – Trudeau assured health professionals that “equipment will be arriving shortly” and that it will be sent to the provinces most in need. He pointed out that some companies have stepped up and offered to manufacture masks, respirators, gowns and other medical supplies. However, he stopped short of saying that his government would force companies to begin producing these products.
Trudeau also fielded questions about the wisdom of allowing Canadians who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to re-enter the country. Trudeau said the government would continue to allow Canadians to come home. “We want Canadians to come home. But we expect and demand that they self-isolate in rigorous conditions for two weeks. We would much rather people be at home rather than stranded elsewhere.”
The prime minister closed his press conference by appealing to all Canadians to “answer the call of duty” and “serve your country” by observing public health rules. “We must fulfill our collective responsibility to each other.”
“How well we do this right now will determine where our country will be in two weeks and two months,” said the prime minister. “We all have a moral obligation to stay at home and protect each other. By working together, we’ll get through it.” —Peter Muggeridge
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his daily press conference to thank and praise Canadian entrepreneurs and manufacturers that have “stepped up to the plate” to help overcome the shortage of supplies desperately needed by front line medical workers.
“In difficult times, we don’t back down from a challenge,” said Trudeau. “We roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
“We know that the demand for critical equipment and supplies will grow in the coming weeks,” said the prime minister. “So we need a sustainable, stable supply of these products. We’re optimistic that they will be available in the coming weeks.”
Trudeau said that the government’s plan to mobilize industry to fight COVID-19 are bearing fruit. Many businesses responded by retooling their operations to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – surgical masks, face shields, respirators, hand sanitizers – for health care workers. He thanked the more than 3,000 companies that have “reached out to offer their help.”
At a time when some hospitals are asking nurses to take home their masks and wash them for re-use, Trudeau announced agreements with three Canadian companies to manufacture medical equipment, surgical masks, tests and respirators. “By mobilizing industry, we’ll be able to produce, here at home, the goods that our health-care professionals need to protect their own health and treat patients suffering who are suffering from COVID-19.”
Trudeau said his government is in constant communication with medical officials in all the provinces in order to “make the determination where supplies are most needed.”
He also said the government has freed up $2 billion for provinces to purchase more masks, face shields, gowns, respirators, swabs and hand sanitizers. While he emphasized the need to produce these PPEs in Canada, he also said that the government will continue efforts to purchase them from global suppliers. “We’re expecting shipments to arrive in the coming days,” he said.
When asked whether a mini-war among countries (especially the U.S.) to snap up much needed medical supplies was hindering Canada’s chances, “The entire world is trying to get their hands on the equipment needed to fight this virus,” said Trudeau. “I’m incredibly proud of Canadian companies, suppliers and manufacturers who are stepping up. It has been a truly amazing and inspiring story to see.”
“We are, of course, working to make sure that we receive shipments of needed supplies in the coming days,” he said, “by ensuring that we have solutions in Canada to cover our needs. Our priority every step of the way is to ensure that Canada is able to take care of its own.”
Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today more details on how the government will help businesses and individuals “weather the storm” of COVID-19 and position the economy to “roar back” once the crisis has passed.
This Prime Minister’s announcement followed up on comments he made on Sunday, where he assured vulnerable groups — including seniors — that help is on the way. “While the COVID-19 pandemic affects all Canadians, some people and communities are more at risk to its impacts,” he said.
As seniors are considered the group “most at risk,” Trudeau announced a $9 million package that would go toward ensuring that “community supports” — such as delivery of groceries, medications or other needed items — remain operating during the crisis. The money will be administered by the United Way Canada, which will funnel the money to local organizations that assist seniors in communities across Canada.
As part of the effort to help the vulnerable, Trudeau also announced further supports, including $150 million to help the homeless, $50 million for women’s shelters and sexual assault shelters and $7.5 million to Kids Help Phone to keep up with increased demand for mental health support.
Federal Seniors Minister Deb Schulte noted that while “physical distancing is essential to protecting seniors from COVID-19, it risks isolating them from their community.” She says that the new money will go toward making sure that older Canadians are not cut off from much needed supports in their communities and continue to receive help “tailored to the unique local needs of seniors across the country.”
In his Monday morning press conference, the prime minister clarified details about the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, a program that is there to ensure that workers “have money to buy groceries” for the time being and that they’ll have a “job to come back to” when the crisis passes.
“We know what businesses are going through,” said Trudeau. “For people to get through these tough times and for the economy to rebound, people have to keep their jobs.”
The wage subsidy program will soon be available to qualifying businesses (to all businesses of any size) that can show their revenue has decreased by 30 per cent because of COVID-19.
Under the wage subsidy program, the government will cover up to 75 per cent of the wages of employees (for qualifying companies) on the first $58,700 that you earn. This will result in a maximum of $847 a week for affected employees. As well as noting that this assistance will be back-dated to March 15, Trudeau called on companies to top-up the remaining 25 per cent.
“This subsidy will make a real difference in your lives and help everybody bridge to better times,” said Trudeau.
The prime minister called on businesses to make sure that every dollar of government support received goes to employees, suggesting there will be “serious consequences” for companies that try to “game or take advantage” of the system. In a callout to all business leaders, he pleaded: “We trust you to do the right thing.”
The prime minister also noted that the Canadian Armed Forces are “gearing up to support communities as we fight COVID-19.” While the government hasn’t received any request from the provinces for military assistance, if that situation changes, “the Armed Forces will be prepared to answer the call as they have done throughout our history.”
During questions, Trudeau downplayed the mounting costs that battling COVID-19 is putting on the treasury, saying the important focus right now is on protecting Canadians, keeping health-care workers safe and making sure that everyone keep their jobs. “We will get through this. That’s what this is about,” he said.
When asked whether Canada was doing a better job than the U.S. in battling the spread of COVID-19, Trudeau said, “We are not on the same trajectory as the U.S.” because we were “quicker to get the screening done” and that we’ve had “more success in getting people to self-isolate.” But he admitted that, in a week or two, we will know whether “our efforts have borne fruit.”
Trudeau concluded his comments today by thanking all those front-line workers who are “doing an incredible job helping all Canadians.” He acknowledged that “going to work right now is stressful” but that we need “your essential work to keep us safe. We cannot thank you enough.” —Peter Muggeridge
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces new domestic travel restrictions to slow the rate of COVID-19 infections between provinces, an epidemiology update confirms most of the country’s cases are in people aged 40 to 59, but those aged 60 and older are more likely to end up in the ICU.
On Friday, the Public Health Agency of Canada said 34 per cent of the country’s 4,043 COVID-19 cases were in the 40 to 59 age bracket. Meanwhile, the country’s total number of cases jumped to 5,153 with 55 deaths on Saturday.
The public health data showed 28 per cent of cases are in those aged 20 to 39, while older adults 60 to 79 represent just 23 per cent of infections. Canadians 19 and under are at 5 per cent.
But the latest hospital data for 1,413 cases confirm what we already know: Although 28 per cent who went to hospital were 60 and up, a much higher proportion of those older Canadians – 56 per cent – were hospitalized and 52 per cent were admitted to intensive care units.
When asked how she would summarize the data, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said at a press briefing on Saturday: “This is a serious illness. The picture it will paint is that there are serious consequences of hospitalizations.
“It would also tell us that even though severe impacts are on the older population, it doesn’t mean the younger population is not affected. The bulk of the illness is in the younger demographic, while the heaviest impacts are on the older age groups.”
The briefing followed Trudeau’s announcement that, starting Monday at noon, all people travelling within Canada by train or plane will be screened for COVID-19, and if they show any signs of illness – such as a fever, cough or difficulty breathing – they will not be allowed to board.
“It will be important for operators of airlines and trains to ensure that people who are exhibiting symptoms do not board those trains,” he said in his briefing outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Saturday. “It will be a Transport Canada rule that will be enforced, but at the same time, we’re telling people stay home if it’s not absolutely essential for you to travel.”
It doesn’t apply to bus trips or commuter trains, which are regulated by provincial and municipal governments.
Transport Canada published “guidance material” on health checks for airline operators under the interim order from the minister. It asks them to look for visible signs of illness and to ask questions about a passenger’s health. Boarding will be denied if people refuse to answer the questions or if they admit to having COVID-19 symptoms, and they won’t be allowed to travel for 14 days.
The directive comes as Canadian flight crews fear for their health and safety on the job, after CBC reported more than a dozen attendants and one Air Transat pilot is sick with COVID-19. Some are demanding haz-mat suits rather than just masks, gloves, wipes and sanitizer.
The one bright spot in the country was B.C., which is having some success in flattening its curve.
Still, Tam cautioned Canadians not to let their guard down and continue to practice social distancing in public – which means staying at least two metres away from other people – and to stay at home if they are sick.
“I want to emphasize that, of course, if the trends are slowing down a bit, our key message is not to relax. Our key message is to double down,” she said. “Right now is an absolutely critical time.”
On Friday, B.C. provincial health minster Dr. Bonnie Henry said the provincial government’s modelling showed cumulative cases had slowed compared to the rest of Canada.
“Our rate of growth is being impacted in a positive way by the measures we have adopted in the last few weeks, which is good news,” Henry said at a briefing in Victoria. “We are not out of the woods by any means yet. We will still need to track this carefully and still need to continue these measures that we’re taking.”
The province’s Centre for Disease Control released a technical briefing that showed, as of March 23, B.C.’s cumulative confirmed cases were following a similar trajectory as South Korea, where 9,241 people have been infected and 131 have died, but new cases decreased to 104 today, down from a peak of 909 on Feb. 29.
B.C. announced 67 new cases Friday, bringing the total to 792 and 16 deaths, compared to Quebec, the hardest hit with 2,498 cases and 22 deaths, and Ontario, with 1,118 and 18 deaths.
Meanwhile, a group of Ontario experts called the COVID-10 command table cleared 400 hospital beds by cancelling elective surgeries in anticipation of a spike in cases, according to the Toronto Star. –Kim Honey
Friday, March 27 2:30 p.m.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz held a joint press conference to explain how the government and central bank are making every effort possible to help the economy survive the impact of COVID-19.
Assuring Canadians that “your government will back you up all the way,” Morneau said the government spending measures amount to more than $100 billion dollars (in benefits and deferred taxes) so far and that more will come if needed. “We have not put a cap on what we might spend or on what we might need to spend,” said Morneau. “The spending is very significant now, and it’s possible we’ll need to make it more significant.”
Besides reiterating the wage and loan subsidy measures announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this morning, Morneau said the government will unveil further relief packages for the airline and energy industries, two sectors that have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 fallout.
Poloz said his job during the crisis is to stimulate the market and “maintain the flow of credit so that banks can operate” throughout these difficult times. By lowering interest rates to 0.25 per cent today, Poloz said he hoped to “buffer” the markets through this “economic shock.”
Acknowledging that it’s unlikely interest rates can go any lower, he further announced that the central bank will step up its quantitative easing efforts, buying commercial paper assets and government bonds to ensure the banks remain liquid until the “economic recovery is well underway.” He feels these measures are necessary to ensure a “robust return” when things normalize and to “limit or avoid permanent damage to the economy.”
Poloz defended the aggressive moves by the Bank of Canada and the government, saying “no firefighter has ever been criticized for using too much water.”
Morneau and Poloz also discussed joint efforts by the government and central bank to ensure that provinces don’t run out of money.
March 27 1 p.m.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced emergency funding today to help small and medium-sized businesses continue to operate over the next months and to keep their workers on the payroll.
During Trudeau’s daily press conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa where he remains in self-isolation, the prime minister directed his comments to the small businesses and entrepreneurs, noting “For many of you, the past few weeks have been heart-breaking” as this “climate of uncertainty threatens everything you have worked for.”
Saying now is the time for “strong fiscal action,” Trudeau announced new measures that will allow companies to avoid laying off workers during a time when “the pandemic has destabilized the world economy.”
The new business subsidy program is called the Canada Emergency Business Account. It will provide qualifying small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) with up to 75 per cent of wages. “This means people will continue to be paid even though their employers have to slow down or stop their businesses,” said the prime minister.
As part of this relief plan, Trudeau noted that SMEs, which he called the “backbone of our economy,” will also be able to apply for one-year interest-free loans of up to $40,000 as well as an initiative by the Export Development Bank to provide government-backed loans to distressed SMEs. As well, the government will defer GST/HST payments until June, which Trudeau said would provide SMEs with a further savings of up to $30 billion.
The full details of the Canada Emergency Business Account will be announced on Monday.
“We hope these measures will encourage employers to reconsider laying off employees,” said Trudeau, while issuing a plea to SMEs: “Please keep your employees on the payroll.”
Noting that the country had a healthy balance sheet before entering this period of crisis, Trudeau said, “We are confident we can continue to support people in their time of need. We will support you through this time.”
And he struck an optimistic tone, saying, “Our economy will bounce back. We will return to prosperity. We can come back stronger than ever before.”
When asked by a reporter how long Canadians and the economy will remain in shut-down mode, Trudeau said, “We’re talking about weeks and possibly months.” But he noted that it largely depends on us. “If we continue to listen to the experts, we will get out of this much more quickly.”
Trudeau ducked questions on when the government will provide a budget or fiscal update concerning the billions of dollars in new spending measures. He also refused to say whether he will drop the planned increase to the carbon tax, which is due to kick in on April 1.
He also said that his government had expressed to the U.S. that posting troops along the borders between the two countries would be a “mistake.”
March 27 10 a.m.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for COVID-19, the first world leader and second major public figure in the country to be infected with the novel coronavirus. Earlier this week, Prince Charles also tested positive after he arrived at his home on Balmoral estate in Scotland.
In a video posted on his Twitter feed, Johnson said he was experiencing mild symptoms of the coronavirus, namely “a temperature and persistent cough.”
The 55-year-old prime minister who, in the early days of the pandemic, was accused of not taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously enough is in self-isolation at his apartment at 11 Downing Street, where his meals are being dropped off at the door. His pregnant fiancée, Carrie Symonds, is in self-isolation as well, although it is not clear whether she is living at the Downing Street flat.
“Thanks to the wizardry of modern technology,” Johnson says he will continue to “communicate with my top team to lead the national fight against coronavirus.”
If Johnson’s illness forces him out of action, a government spokesperson confirmed that Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State Dominic Raab will assume prime ministerial duties.
Johnson took the opportunity in his video to thank the “amazing staff” of the National Health Service, the police, social workers and “everyone who is working to keep the country going through this epidemic.”
He concluded by urging residents to stay at home to stop the virus from spreading from household to household. “The more effectively we comply with [public health] measures, the faster our country will come through this epidemic and the faster we’ll bounce back. We’re going to beat it and we’re going to beat it together. Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”
As of this morning, the U.K. had 11,658 cases of COVID-19 and 578 deaths.
Earlier in the day, it was announced that England’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock had also tested positive for COVID-19.
Back at home, the Bank of Canada cut its key lending rate half a percentage point to 0.25 per cent in an effort to cushion the financial shock caused by COVID-19 pandemic and ease the burden of borrowing money.
The U.S. government has shelved a plan to station troops along the border with Canada after Deputy Prime Minster Chrystia Freeland made it clear Canada does not approve.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the two countries discussed a White House proposal to beef up its border presence in order to intercept illegal crossings at a time when COVID-19 cases are ravaging cities and states south of the border, Freeland was emphatic Canada is not on board.
“Canada is strongly opposed to the U.S. proposal, and we’ve made that very clear to our U.S. counterparts,” she said at a press conference that followed Trudeau’s daily briefing outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.
The United States now has 80,071 confirmed cases of COVID-19, third highest in the world behind Italy, with 80, 589 and China with 81,285.
Freeland said Canadian officials first became aware of the plan a few days ago. Although cabinet ministers and diplomats have been talking with their U.S. colleagues, they have not yet gone up the chain of command to the level of Secretary of States Mike Pompeo or U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence.
“We are very directly and very forcefully expressing the view I shared a moment ago, which is that in Canada’s view, this is an entirely unnecessary step, which we will view as damaging to our relationship.”
At the same briefing, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam confirmed most Canadians returning to Canada – there have been a million since March 14 — were complying with a recommendation to self-isolate for 14 days, but a minority were not.
Now that the Quarantine Act has been invoked, anyone caught defying the 14-day self-isolation edict — which means staying home and not going out at all, even for groceries — could be fined or even arrested.
Both symptomatic and asymptomatic people arriving at borders and airports will be instructed to get home as quickly as they can, without stopping for groceries or to see anyone, and stay in and around their homes for 14 days. Transportation assistance will be provided for those arriving with symptoms of COVID -19 and, where possible, deliver them to their homes.
After that, local public health authorities will be doing spot checks by phone and possibly in person to ensure the quarantine is being observed.
Those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms who share a residence with vulnerable people, including the elderly and those with underlying health issues, cannot go home. They will be sent to quarantine sites being set up across the country and could include hotels as well as sites like CFB Trenton in Ontario, where hundreds of returning Canadians have already completed quarantine. Incoming travellers who are seriously will be sent to hospital.
When asked what penalties people may face, Tam would only say: “There can be hefty penalties … and hopefully that will not happen. This is a serious deterrent, a reminder.”
The good news is that Canada’s current fatality rate from COVID-19 is just one per cent, but she said no one should should assume it will stay that low. As of this morning, Canada was reporting 35 deaths and more than 3,400 confirmed cases.
“Anyone unconvinced about the seriousness of the situation should look to countries like Italy.” —Tara Losinski
March 25, 3 p.m.
The government will be enforcing the Quarantine Act at midnight Wednesday, which means it will be mandatory for all travellers to Canada to go into self-isolation for 14 days upon their return.
That means they are to stay at home, monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and avoid contact with other people when they go outside the house, which means staying at least two metres apart from others and washing hands frequently.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told a press conference Wednesday the edict is not retroactive, and only applies to Canadians returning from abroad, including the U.S., beginning at midnight.
The government will collect the contact information of all returning passengers and will follow up with them as they self-quarantine. Freeland said Health Minister Patty Hajdu will enforce self-isolation under the act, which allows the government to fine and even arrest anyone who violates quarantine.
“In terms of specific penalties, we will be giving more information later,” Freeland said.
In a special sitting of Senate this afternoon, Hajdu said travellers who show symptoms of COVID-19 will be forbidden from using public transit to get home or wherever they plan to go into self-isolation, and cannot quarantine themselves in a place where they will be in contact with vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. The Public Health Agency of Canada is making arrangements for the transportation and temporary housing for those who need it.
The move comes after Hajdu repeatedly warned she would take stronger measures to enforce self-isolation. “Let me be perfectly clear,” she told reporters on Sunday, “we will use every measure in our toolbox at the federal level to ensure compliance.”
More than one million citizens and permanent residents have returned to Canada since March 14, with chief medical officers and premiers across the country pleading with snowbirds and March break travellers to observe what was initially a recommendation to self-isolate.
In Newfoundland, police arrested a 43-year-old woman in Corner Brook today who was out after a trip when other citizens complained that she was not self-isolating in accordance with a public health emergency order. A hotline introduced on the weekend received 400 complaints from citizens reporting other people who were flouting the order.
On March 20, Quebec police arrested a woman who had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the Limilou area of Montreal, who defied that province’s quarantine order and went out. –Tara Losinksi
March 25, 12:00 p.m.
In his daily press conference today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that “help is on it’s way” and explained how Canadians whose jobs have been affected by COVID-19 can apply for economic relief.
Trudeau began by acknowledging that “right now, a lot of people are sitting around the kitchen table with bills, trying to figure out what needs to be paid and how to plan for the coming months.”
He noted that if you’ve been laid off, had your hours reduced or are worried about your industry, the “hard truth is that people are out of work because of this crisis and worried about what comes next.”
To help alleviate this anxiety, Trudeau said that financial aid will begin flowing, following the passage of the relief bill. This assistance will be available through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will provide $2,000 a month for the next four months for workers (full-time, contract or self-employed) who lose their income as a result of COVID-19, for those who are sick or quarantined or for those who are forced to stay at home to care for loved ones.
Trudeau said that the CERB application portal will be launched “as soon as possible” and that people will begin receiving money within 10 days of applying. In order to expedite claims, the civil service is deploying workers from different departments to process what will likely be a flood of CERB claims. Although a firm timeline isn’t in place, the first cheques should start going out by the first two weeks of April.
Other countries such as England and Germany are flowing economic relief directly to businesses so they do not have to lay off workers. Trudeau acknowledged that while his government is “working with small business groups and hearing their concerns” — and exploring models in Denmark and Germany — he feels that providing economic relief to individuals is the right way to go.
Because of the financial impact on individuals, Trudeau called on employers, landlords and family friends to help those going through difficult times. “It’s by working together that we’ll get through this,” he said.
The prime minister also told reporters that his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who was diagnosed with COVID-19, was continuing to do well. However, he wouldn’t give an indication when he would end his self-isolation, which began 14 days ago. —Peter Muggeridge
March 25, 10 a.m.
After a late-night session, filled with tense negotiations over a controversial clause, a scaled-down version of Parliament unanimously approved legislation of an $82 billion economic package to help workers and businesses impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Emergency Response Act was rushed through to ensure that $27 billion in financial assistance would immediately begin flowing to individuals and businesses affected by the virus.
The bill incorporates a variety of measures found in the Liberal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. That includes a Support for Seniors section with a proposal that would reduce the required minimum withdrawals from Register Retirement Income Funds (RRIFS) by 25 per cent, so seniors don’t have to liquidate their assets during these times of market volatility.
The plan also includes proposals aimed at helping the economy through this emergency by supporting small businesses, giving banks access to credit and supporting financial market liquidity.
The package offers a host of supports for individuals, including:
- Allowing extra time to file taxes (June 1 is the new deadline for 2019 tax returns)
- Mortgage support (payment deferral, loan re-amortization and special payment arrangements)
- Improved access to Employment Insurance
- Support for people sick or quarantined
- Support for people with low income (a one-time payment for individuals and couples who qualify)
The debate over the bill went into the early hours of Wednesday morning with just 32 MPs divided proportionally to reflect party standings. The bill’s passage was stymied by 11 Conservative MPs present who balked at a clause in the bill that would give sweeping fiscal powers to the finance minister to pass economic legislation without Parliament’s approval.
“The Liberals shamefully tried to use a public health crisis to give themselves the powers to raise taxes, debt and spending without parliamentary approval until Jan. 1, 2022,” said Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. “But after hours of negotiation, the government has backed down.”
In a press conference earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the need for the clause to allow “governments to be able to help Canadians and react to a situation that we’ve seen is moving quickly every single day.” However, he accepted Parliament’s final decision to remove the offending clause saying, “We have a Parliament that works. We have an Opposition that is doing its job of making sure that we are taking the right steps the right way.”
At 6 a.m., the wording of the legislation was finally approved and the bill passed with unanimous support. This means it will not have to go through further readings or committee but will receive Royal Assent once it’s passed by the Senate, which should happen today.
Parliament is now adjourned until April 20 but could be called back at any time to deal with developing emergencies.
As Parliament reconvened at noon today to pass legislation on COVID-19 emergency measures, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his daily press conference to double down on his warning that individuals and businesses must follow self-isolation measures.
“If people do not follow these guidelines, we will put in place much more stringent measures,” Trudeau said. This could mean instituting the Emergency Act, legislation that gives the government special temporary powers to ensure safety and security during national emergencies.
In a conference call with the premiers last night, Trudeau said there was no unanimity on whether he should pursue such a drastic move.
Trudeau also couldn’t predict when the current guidelines will be lifted. “All I can say is we don’t know yet,” he said, adding that it largely depended on whether or not Canadians adhere to public behaviour mandates. “The duration of this crisis will be determined by the choices we make right now. So, if you want this to last shorter, then do your part,” Trudeau noted.
As to what moves may come next, Trudeau said: “Nothing is off the table. We are braced for a broad range of scenarios.” He assured Canadians that the government “will respond every step of the way with the necessary actions.”
And he spoke to working Canadians, saying that assistance is on its way, whether through Employment Insurance or direct support to businesses to keep employees on the payroll.
As Trudeau wrapped up his press conference, a scaled-down version of Parliament was beginning to debate — and hopefully pass — the $82 billion emergency relief legislation. With only 32 politicians at today’s sitting (divided proportionally to reflect party standings), the House of Commons presented an eerie reminder of the troubled times in which we live. —Peter Muggeridge
March 24 10 a.m.
The Liberal government has agreed to re-draft an extraordinary bill that would have given the minority government sweeping powers to tax and spend without Parliamentary approval.
Last night, the government announced it would change the draft of proposed legislation that sought to arm the finance minister with virtually unchecked fiscal powers to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Under the wording of the original bill, the finance minister would be granted new powers to raise or lower taxes, borrow and spend — all without Parliamentary approval.
Opposition leader Andrew Scheer said in a statement released last night that while the Conservatives were prepared to work with all parties to support Canadians during the COVID-19 crisis, it “will not give the government unlimited power to raise taxes without a parliamentary vote. We will authorize whatever spending measures are justified in response but not sign a blank cheque.” And NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted, “The Liberals should drop what we don’t agree on and focus on what we were sent here to do – deliver for Canadians.”
Bowing to pressure from all Opposition parties, Liberal House Leader Pablo Rodriguez tweeted that the government would not press ahead with the measure: “We consulted with the Opposition and will bring changes to the draft legislation. We will always work collaboratively and respect the fundamental role of Parliament.”
Today, a much pared-down version of Parliament will meet in Ottawa to pass emergency legislation to help alleviate the personal and economic damage wrought by the spread of the illness. Instead of a full House of Commons, 32 MPs (divided proportionally according to party standings) will debate the relief legislation that will include many of the fiscal measures announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau in the past few weeks. —Peter Muggeridge
The Liberal government will table legislation on Tuesday that, if passed, will grant it extraordinary new powers never before held by any ruling party in Canada.
When Parliament reconvenes on Tuesday, a small number of MPs will gather to pass a multi-billion dollar support package to help individuals and businesses whose lives have been shattered by COVID-19. That part of the legislation should pass without a hitch.
However, according to Global News, the government will also ask Parliament to approve a sweeping new bill that would give the finance minister all-encompassing new powers to raise or lower taxes, borrow and spend without Parliamentary approval. The legislation also outlines that this new measure would be in place until December 2021.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux told the Globe and Mail he felt that the draft legislation was “unprecedented,” saying it “would provide powers that go well beyond the initial response to COVID-19 announced last week. It seeks to circumvents parliament, for both spending and tax, by granting extraordinary powers to Cabinet and individual ministers.”
Under normal circumstances, all spending bills must go before Parliament for approval. The request to give unlimited fiscal powers to any government – especially a minority government – is a shocking development and one that caught opposition parties off guard.
This has never happened before in Canada – not even during the two world wars. If passed, the legislation would not only give this Liberal minority unchecked spending privileges but also assures that the government will remain in power even if is defeated on a spending bill. –Peter Muggeridge
Monday, March 23 2 p.m.
A stern Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued his strongest warning yet to those who do not heed public health advice to avoid groups of people, stay at least two metres away from everyone else and stay home to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“If you choose to ignore that advice, you’re not just putting yourself at risk, you’re putting others at risk, too,” Trudeau said in his daily press conference outside Rideau Cottage on Monday, where he is in self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
“We’ve all seen the pictures online of people who think they’re invincible. Well, you’re not. Enough is enough.
Go home and stay home.”
He acknowledged how difficult it is to maintain social distance but also how crucial it is to protect those at higher risk of life-threatening complications, including health-care workers, people working in grocery stores and pharmacies and older people, espevcially with underlying health conditions. He urged families to call seniors “and tell them that you love them,” and gave a shout out to his father-in-law, Jean Grégoire, who is being treated for cancer. “Today is his birthday. He is 77. Happy birthday Jean Jean.”
His remarks came after a weekend where Vancouverites basked en masse outside and Torontonians crowded city parks and neighbourhood sidewalks on daily walks.
“When we see people out enjoying the sunshine in big groups, that is extremely concerning … we need to slow and stop the spread of this virus if we are going to come through this strongly.”
Tonight at 6 p.m., Trudeau will join a conference call with provincial and territorial leaders, where they will discuss how municipal and provincial measures like declaring states of public health emergency are working and whether they need to close provincial borders to non-essential travel.
“Nothing that could help is off the table,” he said, and that includes invoking the Emergencies Act, which gives the federal government sweeping powers that supercede any provincial and territorial legislation. The Emergencies Act, which replaced the War Measures Act in 1988, has not been used since.
Mayors and premiers across the country were in the news all weekend with pleas for residents to observe social distancing and self-isolation, with Nova Scotia restricting travel at its borders this morning. All travellers arriving by land, air or sea will be stopped, questioned and told to self-isolate for 14 days. In New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs said he will discuss invoking the same measures with Trudeau this evening.
Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart met with city council today, announcing on Twitter, “The time for asking nicely is over.” Anyone violating a city order could now be subject to a fine of up to $50,000. “This is serious. Now is the time to shut down, stay put, save lives.” It comes after a weekend where residents packed parks, trails and beaches, and Stewart saying he even saw a group of people playing beer pong outside. “We will all need to be able to say, at the end of this, that we did our best to fight this,” he told the CBC’s Rosemary Barton this morning. “And right now we can’t.”
In further efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, both Ontario and Quebec announced the order to close all non-essential businesses within the coming days.
Trudeau will also speak with cabinet later today on legislating financial support measures in advance of an emergency session of Parliament tomorrow. He announced additional loans for farmers, amounting to a total of $173 million in loan deferrals through Farm Credit Canada.
At a press conference later in the day, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government is also considering mental health in its support of Canadians and will be releasing details about tools to be rolled out over the next couple days. –Tara Losinski
Ontario to Close More Businesses; Schools Won’t Reopen
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced he is closing all non-essential workplaces at midnight Tuesday for 14 days to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It comes after 78 new cases were reported in Ontario on Monday, raising the province’s total to 503. The sixth COVID-19-related death was announced after an 80-year-old man from Haliburton was hospitalized on Thursday and died Sunday afternoon.
The province will release a list of businesses that will be allowed to remain open on Tuesday, which Ford said will include grocery stores and pharmacies. He insisted that “the power will stay on” and telecommunications will continue to run, but said it is “not realistic” that schools will reopen April 6. Education Minister Stephen Lecce will have an announcement on school closures soon.
“This was a very, very tough decision, but it is the right decision,” Ford said at a press conference at Queen’s Park on Monday. “This decision was not made lightly and the gravity of this decision does not escape me, but as I’ve said from day one, we will and we must take all steps necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
He also encouraged Canadians to do their part in preventing the spread of the virus. “Please stay home,” he said. “Only leave if necessary,” adding that snowbirds returning home “must self-isolate.”
According to officials, more than 8,000 people are currently under investigation and nearly 20,000 people in the province have tested negative.
Ahead of Ford’s update, the province announced it would commit $200 million in relief funding directly to municipalities to help protect vulnerable populations, including those in poverty, the homeless and unemployed.
The government says the funds will support shelters, food banks, emergency services, charities and non-profits. It will also help people in financial crisis who are unable to access federal assistance to cover food costs, rent, medicine and other essential services.
Social Services Minister Todd Smith said the “funding is up and running immediately” and can be applied for at ontario.ca/community.
The minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said the vast majority of the funds — $148 million — will go directly to municipal staff running shelters and other social services, who are “on the ground and know the needs of their community best.”
According to Clark, the funds are “extremely flexible” and can be used to pay for hotel and motels, or to team up with local charities to help the homeless or those at risk of homelessness. —Andrew Wright
Friday, March 20
Travel was top of mind as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed Canadians Friday about the government’s response to COVID-19.
“We are currently in discussion with Canadian airlines to help Canadians stranded abroad to come home,” he said, speaking to reporters outside his Rideau Cottage residence where he is in self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau tested positive for the novel coronavirus last week. The first plane to repatriate Canadians abroad will leave Morocco this weekend, where hundreds of Canadians are stranded after all international flights to and from the North African country were banned on Sunday.
The Prime Minister also confirmed a mutual closing of the Canada-U.S. border to non-essential travel, specifically for tourism and recreation, will go into effect at midnight Friday.
Trade and commerce will continue and exceptions will be made for essential workers, including truck drivers and health-care workers. For example, as many as 2,000 health-care professionals reportedly cross the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont. every day to work in Michigan. And in January alone, more than 200,000 trucks of goods crossed into Canada there.
Trudeau also announced a new joint measure with the United States on people seeking asylum at borders, who will be turned back on both sides. Later in the day, Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair said the measure will help maintain “order and safety,” adding that it is “in line with Canadian values on the treatment of refugees.”
The prime minister unveiled a “plan to mobilize industry to fight COVID-19” to help businesses ramp up or re-tool manufacturing to produce critical supplies now in demand such as masks, hand sanitizer and even hospital ventilators. The government is asking businesses to reach out via the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada website.
Trudeau assured Canadians that public servants are working around the clock to respond to an “historic number of calls” to Service Canada, the federal government’s central access for social programs. The number of people applying for employment insurance this week was already at 500,000 compared with 27,000 last week.
He acknowledged that the continuing social distancing measures are difficult, thanking Iranian-Canadians who postponed festivities for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which began today.
Meanwhile, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs declared a state of emergency in part because of reports that people returning to the province, including snowbirds, are not self-isolating for 14 days as all travellers are being asked to do. He advised friends and family, for example, not to greet returning residents at airports.
“We will continue to make decisions based on the needs to keep people in this province safe.”
Manitoba also declared a state of emergency today, joining Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. The move gives provinces the power to enact measures like limiting public gatherings and closing non-essential businesses. Other provinces, including Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I. Quebec and all three territories have declared public health emergencies, which, depending on their legislation, can give them similar powers to try to stop the transmission of COVID-19. As of Saturday morning, Canada had 1,087 confirmed and presumptive cases and 13 deaths.
While taking questions, Trudeau was asked whether Canadian athletes should attend the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo in July. “The Canadian team will make their decision closer to the event,” he said. “Everything depends on the situation in Japan and around the world.”
At a press conference later in the day, a reporter got three answers to the same question. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam replied flatly, “Our recommendation is avoid all non-essential travel.” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland echoed Tam, saying: “Canadians should avoid all non-essential travel.” Minister of Health Patty Hajdu promptly followed Freeland, saying: “It’s very hard to predict what is going to happen globally and it’s important for Canadians to avoid non-essential travel.”
Meanwhile, the Olympic flame arrived in Japan Friday from Greece in a sparsely attended event. The International Olympic Committee and local organizers maintain the Tokyo Olympics will open on July 24, despite increasing pressure to postpone or cancel in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Canadian hockey star and six-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser, who is studying to be a doctor, said the decision to continue with the Games was “insensitive and irresponsible.” She pointed out in a March 17 tweet that athletes can’t train because pools and sports facilities are closed, guests can’t travel and marketers can’t plan. “This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics,” she wrote. “We don’t know what’s happening in the next 24 hour let alone the next three months.”
On Friday, IOC president Thomas Bach said they were planning for many scenarios, but “cancellation is not on the agenda.” —Tara Losinski
Thursday, March 19
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday “extraordinary measures” designed to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases such as social distancing, business closures and travel restrictions could be in place for more than a few weeks.
“We’ve heard anything from weeks to months,” Trudeau said at the press conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, where he is in self-isolation. “We know this is a difficult and extraordinary time in which Canadians are taking difficult and extraordinary measures, and we will continue to do that until Canadians are safe.”
As for the Canada-U.S. border closure announced Wednesday, Trudeau said the two countries are still fine-tuning the agreement, but expects non-essential travellers like shoppers and tourists will be turned back from crossings by Saturday morning.
“My understanding is that the measures will probably come into place in the night between Friday and Saturday. So in about a day and a half.”
Throughout the press conference, Trudeau focused on measures previously announced, including financial support for parents and funding to help develop vaccines and treatments.
As part of a $1 billion fund he announced earlier this month, Trudeau said $25 million will directly support 49 researchers and their teams in an effort to help detect, manage and reduce the spread of the virus.
Trudeau also addressed the growing need for more testing kits and confirmed the Canadian government will expedite COVID-19 lab tests.
On Wednesday, Canada’s health minister signed an interim order to speed up access to COVID-19 test kits to help identify new cases of the novel coronavirus.
Health Canada said the order signed by Health Minister Patty Hajdu will help expedite the arrival of two new diagnostic tests to speed up testing in provincial labs.
“While we ramp up, we’re making sure Canada is ready to keep up,” Trudeau said.
Wednesday, March 18
The Public Health Agency of Canada said Wednesday almost 54,000 tests have been performed to date. Canada has more than 730 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Two days after exempting U.S. travellers from Canadian border closures in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Trudeau confirmed the two countries had mutually decided to close the border to non-essential traffic in both directions, but keep it open for commerce.
“I want to be clear, though, that essential travel will continue. Our governments recognize that it is critical that we preserve supply chains between both countries,” Trudeau said at the Wednesday press conference.
U.S. President Donald Trump disclosed the news on Twitter shortly before Trudeau’s announcement, following reports that the White House and the Canadian government were in talks to limit the cross-border spread of the virus without crippling vital lines of commerce.
“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic,” Trump tweeted. “Trade will not be affected.”
At the press conference, Trudeau also announced a massive $82 billion aid package to help Canadians and businesses, which includes income supports, wage subsidies and tax deferrals.
“No matter who you are or what you do, this is a time where you should be focused on your health and that of your neighbours, not whether you’re going to lose your job, not whether you’re going to run out of money for things like groceries and medication,” Trudeau said. The extensive economic package includes $27 billion in direct supports and another $55 billion to help business liquidity through tax deferrals.
Trudeau also announced an emergency care benefit, which will provide financial support to those without paid sick leave or access to employment insurance (EI). People who qualify will receive the benefit for 14 weeks for an amount comparable to what they would have received from EI. The benefit applies to Canadians who fall ill, those in quarantine or self-isolation and those looking after family members with COVID-19.
An emergency support benefit was also announced for those who lose their job but don’t qualify for EI. “This will apply to people who are self-employed and have to close shop because of the virus,” Trudeau said.
He also announced a three-month wage subsidy for employers and small businesses covering 10 per cent of each worker’s salary. “This will encourage employers to keep staff on the payroll during these uncertain times,” Trudeau explained.
The Child Care Benefit will receive a temporary boost to assist parents dealing with “school closures and additional child-care responsibilities.”
Trudeau said there is a “real” desire among opposition political parties to help Canadians, and he is confident that the new measures will pass quickly in Parliament.
Other measures included:
- Supplementing the GST credit up to $300 and $150 for every child for low-income Canadians
- A six-month moratorium on Canada student loans
- Doubling funding for the Reaching Home program that provides support for the homeless in communities across Canada
- Boosting funding for domestic and gender-based violence shelters
- Setting up Indigenous community support fund
Ontario Announces More Measures
Ontario Premier Doug Ford also announced new measures to encourage social isolation and financially support Ontarians affected by the coronavirus.
Ford said the province is suspending all renewals for driver’s licences, licence plate stickers and health cards. He also reassured Ontarians that expired and expiring health cards will continue to be accepted until further notice.
“These changes will help relieve the burden already faced by Ontarians and businesses by providing more time to renew their licences and permits without being penalized while also reducing the need for in-person visits,” Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said in a release.
Ford also announced that all eviction orders are suspended until further notice.
“We want to make sure you and your family can stay in your home at this difficult time, so you can put your health and the health of other first,” Ford said during a press conference on Thursday.
After discussions with the Retail Council of Canada and CEOs in the retail, grocery, hardware and pharmacy industries, Ford announced measures to alleviate the added pressure on Ontario’s supply chains from hoarding and panic buying.
He said municipal noise bylaws that prohibit deliveries during certain hours will be temporarily suspended “to allow deliveries 24 hours a day seven days a week.”
Once again, Ford urged Canadians to do their part in taking pressure off the supply chain.
“Please don’t hoard and don’t panic buy. If we all do our part, there should be plenty of supply for everyone,” he said.
“The last country in the world that should worry about toilet paper should be Canada. We have more pulp than pretty well any country. I’m begging the people, please do not hoard the toilet paper.”
Earlier on Thursday, Ontario’s second COVID-19-related death was reported by Halton Region Public Health.
The patient was in his 50s, and officials say he had an “underlying health condition.”
He was receiving care at an Oakville, Ont., hospital leading up to his death.
“This is the tragic proof that we need to work together as a community to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by practising social distancing and taking action to protect yourself and those around you,” Halton Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hamidah Meghani said in a news release. “This is a larger community issue and I know that everyone joins me in extending their deepest condolences to his family at this time.”
On Thursday morning, 43 cases of the virus were announced by provincial health officials, bringing the province’s total up to 257. – Andrew Wright