June 9, 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.
Canada Emergency Response Benefit
While the easing of isolation measures and the reopening of the economy are speeding up, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted that there are still three million Canadians out of work due to the pandemic.
The prime minister reiterated that there are still many businesses whose activities are either suspended or that are operating at reduced capacity. It is still not known at what rate they will resume their activities, if at all.
“People are going to continue to need assistance,” said Mr. Trudeau, referring to the possibility of extending the Canada Emergency Response Benefit for people who are out of work because of the pandemic.
Mr. Trudeau insisted that since the beginning of the pandemic, the assistance programs have been adjusted to ensure that people receive money quickly so that they can cover groceries and rent and look after their family.
To date, 8.4 million people have received the benefit, for a total of $44 billion.
Fraud and pardons
The prime minister deplored that fraudsters have abused the emergency situation caused by the pandemic by claiming the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to which they are not entitled.
He reiterated that the purpose was to come to people’s aid quickly given that the economy ground to a halt as a result of the pandemic.
Mr. Trudeau is putting words into action, confirming that fraudsters will be pursued and punished. The government will be understanding towards those who erroneously received both the benefit and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, but “they will have to pay it back,” he said.
More than 5,000 deaths
Québec Premier François Legault stated that an “important threshold” was crossed today when the number of COVID-19 deaths surpassed 5,000.
“That’s a lot of people, many of whom were Quebecers living in seniors’ residences,” he said. He noted that the crisis in residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs) is the culmination of government inaction over the years in failing to invest in these centres and staff wages.
He said that he hopes that in September, with the hiring of 10,000 patient attendants, this drama will not repeat itself. Their paid and accelerated training starts Monday and will continue for three months.
Billions in costs
Efforts will not be limited to human resources and will cost Québec society dearly, said Mr. Legault.
In terms of hiring alone, he reiterated that 10,000 patient attendants at an annual salary of $49,000, plus benefits, “adds up to $500 million.”
In addition to this, he said “billions of dollars” will have to be added to renovate outdated CHSLDs. Even today, there are centres where people are living two, three or four in a room. “That makes no sense,” he said.
Premier Legault called publically on the three opposition parties in the National Assembly to add what they think is necessary to make it possible to adopt Bill 61 in order to accelerate the construction of $14 billion in “public, planned and necessary” infrastructure.
The opposition is concerned about cost overruns and risks of corruption and collusion, pointing to the revelations of the Commission d’enquête sur l’octroi et la gestion des contrats publics dans l’industrie de la construction, commonly known as the Charbonneau Commission.
“We want to move faster. Reduce timeframes, not requirements,” the premier said. The public sector must lead the way in relaunching the economy, the time it takes for the private sector to recover from the impact of the pandemic.
No sub-sector left behind
François Legault, as well as the national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, reiterated that lifting isolation measures is being done gradually because the COVID-19 virus is still lurking and is still present.
For bar, driving school and gym owners who are saying they have been forgotten, Mr. Legault stated that everyone must follow the directives to limit the spread.
Dr. Arruda announced that a specific plan, with dates and operating procedures, will be unveiled shortly.
The Canadian government is also working to ensure that all protective equipment as well as COVID-19 screening and test analysis tools are available in sufficient quantity in the event of a new wave of the pandemic.
National production and international supply contracts have been signed to prevent a shortage of personal protective equipment in the event of a resurgence of contagion.
For his part, Premier Legault said that Québec will be “pretty autonomous” if ever a new wave of COVID-19 or a new pandemic were to occur.
The government has concluded agreements with Québec firms to guarantee the production of masks, gloves, and protective gowns for health workers.
Understanding what happened… in Montréal
The minister of Health and Social Services, Danielle McCann, announced that a deputy minister has been appointed and dispatched to Montréal to “fully understand” what happened.
A report of the situation will be submitted soon.
In order to ensure that businesspeople receive assistance and relevant advice to “navigate the various programs” implemented by the Canadian government in the context of the pandemic, Mr. Trudeau announced the creation of a coordinating website and access to a toll-free number starting today.
“Businesspeople will be able to get advice from an accountant or a financial advisor,” said Mr. Trudeau.
Risky economic forecasts
Despite deficit forecasts of $269 billion announced by the parliamentary officer of the Government of Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau insisted that it is risky to make forecasts since it is not possible to predict with any assurance what the economic reality will look like in two months, much less two years, due to the pandemic.
Mr. Trudeau promised that his government is open and transparent and Canadians will be informed of any commitments made. He reiterated that all of the forecasts could change quickly if a second wave of contagion occurs in a few months.