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June 16, 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.

CERB to be extended by two months

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the monthly $2,000 Canadian Emergency Response Benefit will be extended for an additional eight weeks, without other conditions.

Mr. Trudeau explained that at least three million Canadians are still unemployed due to the pandemic and are unable to find employment or return to their jobs as the economy slowly gains momentum.

The CERB cost the government $43 billion for the first three months of the pandemic. The prime minister hopes that the relaunching of the economy and the return to work will help to reduce the cost of the benefit during the two additional months.

Premier François Legault would have preferred that the extended period include incentives for people to find employment. “I’d like to see a program where people can receive part of the CERB and hold a job,” he said.

Under the circumstances, the premier must reassess whether or not to maintain the weekly $200 wage premium for workers in essential services, such as grocery stores, and $100 for agricultural workers.

Border closed until July 21

The closure of the U.S.-Canada border has been extended until July 21 for all non-essential travel.

Prime Minister Trudeau explained that this measure was taken in collaboration with the U.S. government in order to guarantee the health and safety of the population on both sides of the border.

Professional hockey may resume

Prime Minister Trudeau stated that the federal government is in favour of the National Hockey League’s proposal to have a summer season provided that local health authorities are in agreement.

Three Canadian cities have been chosen to serve as the main hub for the hockey games in order to resume the season that was interrupted by the pandemic.

Screening tests on the decline

Only 5,200 screening tests were done in Québec yesterday, which is the lowest number since April 8. This prompted Mr. Legault to request a plan to attain and maintain the objective of 14,000 tests daily, as set out by the World Health Organization in order to ensure the safe easing of isolation measures during the pandemic.

“We need a much more aggressive approach,” said Mr. Legault. An advertising campaign is being considered.

Return to school in September throughout Québec

The return to the classroom will be mandatory in Québec this September, as announced by the minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, based on new rules in terms of how schools will operate.

The usual student-teacher ratios will be maintained in preschool, elementary and high school.

Students will remain in the classroom and teachers will move from class to class.

A plan B must be prepared in case of a second wave so that distance learning could be implemented if a return to isolation is necessary.

Increased deficit and expenditures

The pandemic has resulted in a $6-billion increase in expenditures for health and support to businesses and workers, in equal proportions. Moreover, the plunge in government revenues has turned the anticipated surplus into a deficit of about $15 billion, explained Mr. Legault.

Nevertheless, it is out of the question that the Québec government will pull back on its investments and expenditures.
“When there’s an economic slowdown, the public sector must intervene,” said Mr. Legault. In his opinion, “we’re going to need a few years to get back to a balanced budget.”

Reducing timeframes, not standards

Despite the fact that Bill 61 died on the order paper, Premier François Legault insisted that the government must change its rules and legislation in order to reduce timeframes for completing projects without reducing standards.

He gave examples of expropriation processes and environmental impact studies involving procedures and timeframes that represent years before projects can start.

“We need to speed things up,” he said.

Mexico blocks the arrival of 5,000 of its workers

The death of two Mexican agricultural workers in Ontario due to COVID-19 has prompted the government of Mexico to block the arrival of 5,000 of its workers in order to shed light on what happened and to ensure the safety of its foreign nationals in Canada.

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau understands the importance of protecting the safety and health of all workers.

“This crisis is also an opportunity for us to think about a system where we would no longer be dependent on foreign workers in our agricultural sector,” Mr. Trudeau said.