April 17, 2020 – Government updates on the COVID-19 pandemic
In the exceptional circumstances of the current health state of emergency, here is an update on recent decisions and actions by federal and provincial public authorities in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, announced five new aid programs totalling $4.182 billion to support the oil and gas sectors, research, small businesses and sports and cultural organizations.
The premier of Québec, François Legault, thanked physicians for their efforts to come to the aid of residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs) and stated that he should have increased the pay of patient attendants, even without the agreement of public service unions.
Canadian Armed Forces in CHSLDs
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that 125 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, with healthcare training, will lend a helping hand in Québec’s CHSLDs.
“We are continuing to work with the Québec government to find other ways to help them, through the Red Cross or through specialized volunteers,” he said.
Assistance for workers
Mr. Trudeau announced a $1.7-billion investment to maintain and create jobs to clean up abandoned oil wells in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia that could pose health and environmental risks.
“This will create jobs in the energy sector, prevent businesses from going bankrupt and support our environmental targets,” he stated.
He also announced a new $750-million fund for emissions reduction, particularly for methane. This sum includes a $75-million package for offshore oil and gas companies in Newfoundland and Labrador to protect jobs, increase competitiveness and reduce polluting emissions.
These investments will help to maintain and create 10,000 jobs across Canada. “This public health crisis must not prevent us from taking action to fight climate change,” the prime minister said.
He added that in collaboration with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export and Development Canada (EDC), the Business Credit Availability Program will be granted more readily to medium-sized businesses in the energy sector so that they can maintain their operations and keep their employees.
Assistance for small businesses
Prime Minister Trudeau announced a second assistance plan of $962 million for regional development agencies and the community futures network in order to support businesses that do not qualify for current support programs.
A sum of $270 million will be allocated to Futurpreneur and the assistance program for industrial research to support innovators and start-ups that are not eligible for the wage subsidy.
Assistance for workers in sports, leisure and culture
Mr. Trudeau announced $500 million in assistance for artists, creators and up-and-coming stars in the sports world who cannot receive the wage subsidy due to their different business and income models.
“They share their passion with us, they make us dream and they make us feel a little less alone,” said the prime minister.
CHSLDs: National emergency
Premier François Legault reiterated his electoral promise to increase the budget for CHSLDs by $245 million to convert them into seniors’ homes. Despite this budget increase, the positions were not filled because wages were too low. Mr. Legault was awaiting negotiations with the unions so that the pay increase would be part of the renewed collective agreement, which expired on March 31, 2020.
“If I could do things again, I would have increased the wages of patient attendants, even without the unions’ consent. We entered this crisis poorly equipped and the situation deteriorated,” he said, adding that 1,800 employees are currently absent in CHSLDs.
He thanked the 2,000 physicians who have agreed to lend a helping hand in CHSLDs to “perform tasks that they are not accustomed to doing.”
Following discussions with the president of the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec, Diane Francoeur, Mr. Legault said that this is not the time to negotiate physicians’ salaries for this work, adding that $211 an hour will not hold up.
“This is a time to talk about health, not money. We need your 2,000 pairs of arms, and we need your expertise,” said Premier Legault.
He added that it is important to use protective equipment properly and that physicians know how to do this, to protect the health of both staff and residents.
Prime Minister Trudeau announced Bell Canada’s donation of 1.5 million N95 masks for all the provinces.
Premier Legault confirmed that there is no shortage of personal protective equipment.
“We have enough supplies for weeks. There may be some distribution problems in some facilities, but there’s no reason for this to happen,” he said.
Offering a helping hand
Premier Legault broke down the statistic of 51,957 applications from people wanting to help. Of this number, 29,345 have been contacted, 6,773 hired and 2,097 withdrew their offer. In total, there are now an additional 4,676 people in the health network thanks to this portal.
“I asked people in the health sector to re-contact people who have applied to see if they can help us in the CHSLDs,” he said.
He called on everyone, nurses and patient attendants, to come help in the greater Montréal area.
“All of Québec thanks you in advance for your contribution,” the premier said.
Reopening of businesses
Premier François Legault stressed that the government is looking at the possibility of allowing the gradual reopening of businesses where it will be possible to maintain distancing of two metres, particularly in several regions where the situation is under control. Only the greater Montréal area, Mauricie and the Eastern Townships are problematic.
“There’s no question in the short term of reopening schools, I’m talking about businesses,” he stated.
Canada Emergency Response Benefit
Prime Minister Trudeau reported that 7.5 million payments have been made and that this data will be published three times a week.
Mr. Legault announced $45 million to support farmers and asked Quebecers to go work in the fields this summer. The government will add a premium of $100 a week to the wages of those who work in the fields, planting, harvesting and looking after animals.
“This support will bring greater food autonomy to Québec,” he said.
Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Mr. Trudeau ended his press briefing highlighting the 38th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees Canadians freedom of choice. In this context, he stressed that “people have chosen to protect each other so that we can continue to be who we are.”