May 15, 2020 – Federal and provincial 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 the Canadian and Québec governments in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wearing a mask on public transit
The premier of Québec, François Legault, “very strongly” recommended wearing a mask in the metro and on the bus and did not rule out the possibility of making it mandatory.
“I don’t see why we have to make it mandatory if people are respecting the guideline. Up until now, Quebecers have shown discipline in respecting the guidelines imposed by Public Health during the pandemic,” said the premier.
Mr. Legault’s strong reminder is intended to improve the chances of reopening businesses in Greater Montréal on May 25 and daycares on June 1 by limiting the spread of COVID-19.
1 million masks and $6 million
To encourage people to wear masks on the public transit networks, the government will give $6 M to public transit corporations to purchase masks and distribute them for free to metro and bus users.
Premier Legault also announced that one million masks will be donated to the City of Montréal so that it can distribute them to residents in the neighbourhoods most affected by the pandemic.
Wage subsidy extended
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau extended the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy for businesses by three months, until the end of August.
Mr. Trudeau would prefer that workers opt for the wage subsidy instead of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) since it helps to maintain the employer-employee relationship, which will be very useful once the economy reopens.
He pointed out that the subsidy is also more lucrative. It covers 75% of salaries up to a maximum of $847 per employee, per week, while the CERB guarantees a maximum of $500 per week.
The eligibility threshold of recording a 30% loss in order to obtain the subsidy will also be reassessed to ensure that it is not a barrier to growth. Moreover, the CERB may not be extended.
$450 M for scientific research
The Canadian government has made $450 M available to support the salaries of researchers at scientific research institutes to help them through the pandemic crisis.
“These funds will help to maintain the salaries of those who are doing research so that they can continue their essential work,” said Mr. Trudeau.
School year still to be completed
Premier Legault impressed upon parents, teachers and students in the Greater Montréal area that elementary school teaching must be maintained, because “the school year is not over.”
He reiterated that there will be report cards, since 60% to 65% of the school year was already completed. There’s homework to do, short educational videos to listen to, and Télé-Québec programming to watch. Teachers must maintain contact with their students over the phone, through virtual meetings and by e-mail.
“It’s not ideal. It’s not what I would choose. (…) It breaks my heart to know that children will not be going back to school until September,” said Mr. Legault.
Major changes in CHSLDs
The premier of Québec said that there will be a “major overhaul of residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs)” in light of the drama that has unfolded in these centres since the beginning of the pandemic.
The challenges enumerated by the premier are substantial: nationalizing private CHSLDs, building seniors’ homes and renovating existing CHSLDs, many of which are dilapidated and house two people to a room.
“This is a commitment I am making. I’m making this my personal responsibility. There are many Quebecers who are not proud of what has happened in CHSLDs, starting with me.”
Recognizing the importance of healthcare jobs
Mr. Legault also wants to encourage people to choose a career in healthcare and recognize these jobs as rewarding vocations that people can be proud of.
“Our society must place greater value on the role these people play. We have to promote this kind of work,” said the premier.
In particular, he invited youth who “often don’t know what they want to do in life,” or people who have recently lost their jobs due to the pandemic, in sectors where it will be harder to find a job, to think about investing in a career providing care and support to people who are vulnerable and sick.
The leader of Canada highlighted and saluted the sacrifices made by soldiers in the Canadian Armed Forces each time they are deployed on a mission.
Five soldiers have been infected with COVID-19 in the seniors’ residences where they were deployed. Four contracted the virus in Québec and one in Ontario.
“The women and men in our Armed Forces are always prepared to take risks to serve Canadians. Where there are risks, we take measures to minimize them. We will continue to do so and we will reinforce measures so that they stay safe,” he said.