Avoid global travel, financial help coming, Trudeau says as COVID-19 shuts down Parliament
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is advising Canadians to curtail all non-essential international travel, on account of the still rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic, as both the House of Commons and Senate have been suspended for five weeks.
Speaking to Canadians from outside Rideau Cottage, Trudeau said that additional screening measures are being implemented at airports, and a “significant” fiscal stimulus package will be coming within days, in addition to the $1 billion in health and economic measures announced earlier this week.
He said his biggest preoccupation at the moment is ensuring that Canadians take seriously public health advice, but not panic.
"I know that you're worried. You're worried about your health, about your families' health, about your job, your savings, about paying rent, about the kids not being in school. I know that you're concerned about uncertainty in the global economy. The steps being taken to keep you safe, have an economic impact," Trudeau said, promising more financial help.
"We do not want any Canadian to have to worry about whether or not they're going to be able to pay their rent, whether or not they're going to be able to buy groceries, or care for their kids or elderly family members. We need to make sure that Canadians have the options and the ability to follow the best public health advice and keep themselves safe."
Trudeau is also reassuring Canadians that he has no symptoms, is “feeling good” and will continue to work from home. Later on Friday he is speaking with the premiers and Indigenous leaders.
"Addressing COVID-19 must be a team Canada effort. To keep Canadians safe and to mitigate the economic impacts of the virus, all levels of government are working together," Trudeau said.
The prime minister spoke directly to Canadians after his wife Sophie tested positive for COVID-19 late Thursday. He is going to be in self-isolation for the next 14 days, alongside his family, but will be continuing his duties.
Trudeau said so far, Sophie's symptoms are mild, but they are taking "every precaution," and are thinking about every family in Canada also dealing with a sick loved one.
The prime minister said that while it is "an inconvenience" and "somewhat frustrating," self-isolating is what he has to do.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Transport Minister Marc Garneau held a press conference to update Canada’s response to the novel coronavirus just before Trudeau's address.
Hajdu said that Canada is in a "critical window of opportunity" to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Garneau said that Canada's cruise season is being postponed and overseas international flights coming into Canada will be restricted to a smaller number of airports.
Later, Finance Minister Bill Morneau—accompanied by Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz and the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Jeremy Rudin—announced that the interest rate is being cut to 0.75 per cent as an emergency measure, and the federal government is launching a "credit facility program" to support Canadian businesses and stimulate the economy, making $10 billion available in additional financial assistance.
Morneau said the "significant" fiscal stimulus package is coming next week.
The federal cabinet met early Friday morning on Parliament Hill, led by Trudeau via teleconference.
House, Senate suspend for 5 weeks
Early Friday, The House of Commons has agreed to suspend its sitting until April 20, shutting down parliamentary business in an effort to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic on Parliament Hill.
MPs adjourned Friday's sitting after unanimously passing the cross-party agreement.
Trudeau said the agreement to suspend the House still gives them flexibility to do what they need to do to support Canadians.
The terms of the suspension of the House include:
- An agreement that the House of Commons passes the new NAFTA deal and the interim supply funds to keep the business of government rolling, into the Senate;
- Allowing the government to spend money to address the novel coronavirus, and potentially address an economic downturn, with oversight of the Auditor General and opposition parties;
- An understanding that the House could extend its suspension past April 20 and House committees could be reconvened in the interim if necessary;
- Passing, on division, the latest NDP opposition day motion calling for national pharmacare; and
- Committing to regularly update representatives from the opposition parties on the status of COVID-19 response efforts.
The suspension is to last five weeks, meaning the federal budget, scheduled to be unveiled on March 30, will not be able to be tabled in the House of Commons, though Morneau’s office says it has not yet been officially postponed.
Speaking with reporters after suspending the House, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez called it "the right thing to do," and an indication of how serious the federal government is taking the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"The priority for the government, and for all members in this House is the health and the safety of all Canadians," Rodriguez said, backed by Conservative, Bloc Quebecois, and New Democrat MPs.
The Senate adjourned later on Friday after being recalled to deal with the new NAFTA bill C-4, and the supply measures passed by the House. After the royal assent ceremony ratifying the trilateral trade deal, senators voted to extend its adjournment until April 21, "in an effort to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19."
Deliberations between political leaders and House officials had been ongoing for days and through Thursday night, weighing whether to suspend the House, or if additional precautions including more cleaning and cancelling international travel would be sufficient.
Several federal politicians are now in self-isolation, most out of an abundance of caution. Public access to the Senate has been cut off, and the House of Commons has closed visitor access to the House and cancelled tours, suspended all committee travel, and is calling off all functions in the parliamentary precinct.
The decision to shut down public access to the House was taken by the Board of Internal Economy, the governing body of the House.
"The Board is taking these measures to help ensure a healthy and safe work environment on the House of Commons precinct and to protect individuals who may be at risk for more severe complications from COVID-19," said Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota in a statement.