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December 10 2020 – Federal and provincial government update on the COVID-19 pandemic

Here is an update on recent decisions and actions by the Canadian and Québec governments in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaccinations starting Monday

Major-General Dany Fortin of the Canadian Armed Forces confirmed that Canada will receive the first doses of the American-German vaccine from the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech in the next few days, and they will be delivered to the provinces starting Monday so that the provinces can begin their COVID-19 immunization campaigns.

Mr. Fortin revealed that threats to intercept deliveries have already been received, particularly in British Columbia, and that logistical details are being protected in order to guarantee the safe distribution of the vaccine.

A first immunization campaign will begin Monday in residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs) in Montréal and Québec City.

Premier François Legault confirmed that Québec will receive a total of 55,000 doses by January 4.

Funding for healthcare systems

Federal, provincial and territorial government leaders discussed long-term funding of provincial healthcare systems, already under severe duress due to the cost of care related to the ageing population and new technologies and medications, and exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed that there will have to be an increase in federal transfer payments for provincial healthcare systems, but he only plans to do so once the pandemic has been resolved.

“It’s too soon to do it, because we don’t know what’s going to occur in the months to come or what the state of our economy will look like,” said Mr. Trudeau.

For the federal government, the important thing is to be present to help Canadians get through the pandemic, and to relaunch the economy as quickly as possible, said Mr. Trudeau. He specified that 80% of the money invested to fight the pandemic across the country has come from the federal government since the onset of the crisis.

Mr. Trudeau committed to increasing federal transfer payments to the provinces and territories, but under certain conditions. The government leader pointed out again that the elderly were not treated as they should have been in the first wave of the pandemic. In particular, he wants to make sure that clear rules will prevent this kind of scenario from recurring before federal transfer payments are increased.

Major structural and recurring deficits

Québec Premier François Legault, who is also the chair of the premiers’ council, denounced Mr. Trudeau’s refusal to immediately commit to a “substantial” increase in federal healthcare transfers to the provinces, despite the provinces’ unanimous call for this increase.

Mr. Legault reiterated that health is the number-one priority for Quebecers and for Canadians.

The provincial leaders unanimously called on the government to increase its contribution as of 2021, from 22% to 35%, to fund provincial healthcare systems, that is, an increase of $28 billion. This would see the federal contribution go from $42 billion to $70 billion.

Premier Legault said that, in concert with all of his counterparts, he will continue to demand an increase from the federal government as soon as possible. The premiers will raise public awareness across the country on the importance of this increase.

Mr. Legault sated that due to the pandemic, the provinces will end up with annual recurring structural deficits of $100 billion in 10 years while the federal government will have achieved a balanced budget.

“In Québec, that’s $6 billion to $7 billion in structural deficit per year,” he said. This situation is the result of the federal government collecting more revenue than the provinces.