Major economic package coming, Trudeau mulls taking new emergency steps
OTTAWA -- The federal government is set to present a major support package to both aid families and businesses, as well as stimulate the economy on Wednesday, expected to include measures to put money directly into Canadians’ hands.
It’s expected the stimulus package will be worth about $25 billion -- equal to how much some economists estimate the coronavirus pandemic will cost the Canadian economy. It will put money into the hands of Canadians and their families, and help out the country’s hardest-hit sectors.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that he is also looking into recalling Parliament for a brief period in order to pass additional legislative measures, such as changes to employment insurance and potentially even enacting some aspects of the federal Emergencies Act, as Canada continues to ratchet up its response to COVID-19.
Trudeau also implored Canadians to heed public health authorities' advice to protect themselves and others amid the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the importance of social distancing at this time because community transmission is happening.
The prime minister announced Tuesday that the Liberals are also looking at changes to the upcoming tax season and ways to grant more flexibility for people to make payments and for businesses to have more cash flow upfront, given the sweeping shutdowns impacting numerous industries.
While the government has already been granted parliamentary approvals to spend money in response to COVID-19, Trudeau said further steps need to be legislated.
The federal government invoking the Emergencies Act, formerly known as the War Measures Act, and declaring a national public emergency would grant them considerable powers to lead the nationwide response, including restriction on the movement of goods and people within Canada. Doing so would require parliamentary oversight, meaning a small number of politicians would have to reconvene in Ottawa in the coming days.
"There are economic pieces that will need quick passage in order to support Canadians," Trudeau said. "We are also examining the emergency measures act to see if it is necessary or if there are other ways that will enable us to take the actions needed to protect people."
For now, Trudeau said that his officials are exploring whether it's possible to activate certain emergency protocols or take additional safety precautions without having to go as far as declaring a state of emergency. Ministers are reaching out to all premiers about this move, as it requires their consultation.
The last time these federal emergency powers were invoked was during the 1970 FLQ October Crisis, when Trudeau's father was the prime minister.
"We are very aware that the Emergencies Act is a measure of last resort, which does grant extraordinary powers to the federal government," said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland in a press conference on Parliament Hill with key members of cabinet following Trudeau’s address. The daily update on the novel coronavirus was moved into a larger room to accommodate the social distancing required.
The latest update from the federal government comes after Trudeau promised additional measures to help families on Monday. The virus has been spreading quickly across the world, and Canada is no exception.
‘Major’ economic announcement Wednesday
The entire federal cabinet discussed what Trudeau called a "major" economic announcement on Tuesday afternoon.
The announcement, widely expected to total more than $25 billion, is meant to absorb some of the economic impact of the global pandemic that’s swept the globe and caused serious damage to major economies worldwide.
"This is economically a unique situation,” Freeland said, explaining that the measures being taken to protect people’s health are at the same time hurting the economy.
While the details have yet to be spelled out, the announcement is set to be significant given the days of pre-positioning it has received. When speaking about the scale, Freeland referenced the economic bailout package unveiled by Singapore, which includes measures totaling approximately one per cent of its GDP and focused relief for severely impacted industries.
Additional measures coming for Canadians would be on top of the previously announced $1-billion health and economic response package that includes relaxing EI rules, and would go beyond the $10 billion being made available to businesses who are being impacted by the virus.
Responding to the prospect of a parliamentary recall, Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen tweeted that "Conservatives are ready to return to Parliament to do whatever is necessary to assist Canadians through this time of uncertainty."
At the time Trudeau began speaking, there were 450 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada.
Once the federal ministers concluded their briefing, the number of confirmed cases in Canada jumped to 468.
By 7 p.m. EDT the total number of confirmed cases in Canada reached 589.
'We can make choices to save lives'
Trudeau offered thanks to all Canadians working on the front lines of this health crisis, and implored Canadians to do what they can to help lighten their load, including staying home.
"Things will get better," he said, adding that he isn't sure if that will be in weeks, or months. "Each one of us can make choices that help the people around us. In fact, we can make choices that will save lives."
Trudeau provided Canadians with an update on the federal government's COVID-19 measures from self-isolation at Rideau Cottage, emphasizing steps Canadians should be taking to limit the spread of the pandemic, like social distancing, vigilant hand washing, not gathering in groups of more than 50 people, and sneezing into your elbow.
Parks Canada will also be closing visitor services, meaning heritage sites and national parks will not be staffed.
Elaborating on Trudeau’s request for Canadians to abide public health advice, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that while it is a stressful time, and the changes to daily life are disruptive, these actions need to be taken. That doesn't mean there aren't ways for Canadians to help others, she added.
"Make sure that you are kind with one another," Hajdu said. "Think of ways you can help to ensure that we get through this together. There are scared people, there are lonely people, there are frightened people and it doesn't take a lot to reach out to them."
Freeland called the COVID-19 pandemic the "defining global health crisis of our time."
Additional border measures in the works
As the government announced this week, effective Wednesday, Canada will be shutting its border to non-citizens looking to enter, with some exceptions, and offering a $5,000 loan to Canadians trying to get home. Several new measures are also being implemented at airports to enhance screening of travellers returning from abroad.
Trudeau cautioned on Tuesday that the reality is, not everyone who is out of the country will get home in the next few weeks, though at this point no additional measures are coming to restrict who can get in after Wednesday. That currently remains open to Canadians, permanent residents, immediate family members of Canadian citizens, diplomats, air crews, and U.S. citizens.
Though given the further restrictions coming to non-essential travel between Canada and the U.S., the situation continues to evolve rapidly.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said there is now enhanced presence of border officers at all points of entry, who are on the lookout for any signs of illness in people coming into Canada.
He also clarified that should a Canadian or permanent resident present at the border with symptoms, they will be allowed in but will be taken immediately under the care of public health officials. However, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that if a Canadian tries to board a plane abroad to come home and they present symptoms, they will not be able to get on the plane