Feds' support plan for economic impact of COVID-19 to be unveiled Wednesday
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to announce the first set of financial assistance measures the federal government will be taking to support Canadians impacted by the global outbreak of COVID-19 Wednesday.
CTV News has learned that Trudeau will be joined by a host of relevant ministers in making what will be a three-pronged announcement on Wednesday morning. The plan will include additional funding for research, more support for provinces stocking up in anticipation of a worsened spread of the virus, and employment insurance assistance for workers who self-isolate.
Specifically, on Wednesday the federal Liberals will unveil:
- considerably more funding for research, on top of the $27 million in coronavirus research already promised last week;
- an agreement to cover costs for the provinces and territories to procure the supplies they need to shore-up their regional health authorities; and
- their intent to waive the one-week waiting period before Canadians who are not working on account of the outbreak can receive EI benefits.
The prime minister will be accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos at the press conference.
Speaking to reporters ahead of question period on Tuesday, Trudeau acknowledged that there are going to be "significant economic impacts" felt by Canada because of the novel coronavirus and that the Liberals would soon be announcing their plan to help.
This compensation and some form of fiscal stimulus has been hinted by members of the federal cabinet for several days, without details on the specifics as questions continue to circulate on Parliament Hill about when the 2020 federal budget will be unveiled and what impact the still growing outbreak will have on Canada's bottom line.
On CTV's Power Play, Duclos said the government would be announcing "strong measures in the next hours or days."
Duclos described this coming announcement as the "first set of actions" and that additional measures would be taken later on.
The special cabinet committee Trudeau formed last week met in West Block on Tuesday, and Duclos said that both the health and economic security of Canadians was discussed around that table.
As for additional health measures coming, Trudeau said Tuesday that the federal government plans to "continue to act in ways recommended by the top experts, by the top medical professionals," and align their plans with both provincial and international governments.
So far, the risk level of contracting COVID-19 in Canada remains low, though the number of cases continues to increase daily, with the first confirmed coronavirus death reported in British Columbia on Monday.
The prime minister faced an onslaught of questions about Canada's level of preparedness in light of the coronavirus "crisis," as the Conservatives are now calling it.
Hajdu vowed Tuesday to "have Canadians' back."
"We will make sure that Canadians are supported from health and safety perspective, that we have the measures in place to protect their health and with that we are able to protect them in an economic downturn situation where people have been affected by job loss or by illness," she said.
And, speaking with reporters waiting outside of Tuesday's meeting of the full cabinet, Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said that the Liberals are looking into measures to prevent workers from going into a potentially unsafe environment.
"We want to ensure that workers are supported. We do not want workers having to feel that they have to go to work if they feel they shouldn’t be going to work," Tassi said, facing questions about potential changes to the EI benefit program's waiting period as a measure the government could take.
"We also don’t want workers going to work because they feel that they need to work in order to pay for the groceries and put on the table," she said.
Meanwhile, Freeland has sent a letter to the premiers asking them for their readiness plans.
From an international perspective, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said that talks continue between Canada and its allies about the global coronavirus spread and ramifications for travelers.
Preparations on the Hill: 2 self-isolating
As for preparations underway on Parliament Hill, the House of Commons administration says they are "continuing to monitor" the situation and are in communication with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Ottawa Public Health "to ensure that we are receiving the most current information and guidance." However, no additional steps to limit public access on Parliament Hill have been announced.
Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said Tuesday that discussions are continuing daily about tourists on the Hill.
"We're looking at different scenarios, but we're taking this extremely seriously," he said.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu spoke about the reality of the lifestyles of those who work on Parliament Hill.
"Many of us, and many members of Parliament are on planes, and trains so it's really important that we take care of ourselves," Hajdu said.
House of Commons Chief Human Resources Officer Pierre Parent sent an email to employees late last week, recommending MPs and House of Commons staff take the general health precautions such as washing their hands and avoiding touching their faces. The notice also advised government staff to check travel advisories before they leave and monitoring themselves for cough and fever for 14 days if they've come back from a country with a travel advisory.
On Tuesday, federal cabinet member Seamus O'Regan announced he is taking COVID-19-related precautions.
"I've had a persistent head cold for a few days so, as a precaution, I saw a doctor. They recommended a test for COVID-19. I'm not aware of contacting anyone infected, but was told to remain in self-isolation until we get the results. Feel fine. But I'll work from home," he tweeted.
He is the second Liberal MP to take this step.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather announced on Monday that he was self-isolating "out of an abundance of caution" after attending a conference in Washington, D.C. where several participants have since tested positive for COVID-19.
The organizers of upcoming political conferences and conventions are also keeping close eyes on the evolution of the outbreak. The Broadbent Institute’s May Progress Summit has been postponed, citing public health concerns about mass gatherings, and the Conservative Party says it is “monitoring the situation closely” and will take the advice of public health officials, but for now the June leadership convention is scheduled to go ahead as planned.
With files from CTV News’ Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier