Certain regions eye re-opening of economy as cautious approach urged
By Holly McKenzie-SutterEconomy Government Canada COVID-19 Economy regulation
Trudeau confirmed the extension for the closure restricting non-essential travel across the border
OTTAWA — Canadian officials acknowledged some regions of the country could be closer to re-opening parts of the economy than others, but continued to stress a careful approach as the border closure with the hard-hit United States was extended for another 30 days during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Let us be very clear, while we want to be optimistic, we need to be absolutely cautious,” Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said April 18.
Sobering reminders of the need for patience were heard throughout the day as case numbers continued to climb in Canadian nursing homes and prisons.
At Residence Herron, the suburban Montreal long-term care home where 31 people died from COVID-19 in less than one month, 61 of 99 residents have now tested positive for the virus, according to a regional health authority spokesman.
Canadian Armed Forces members with medical expertise headed to long-term care homes in Quebec after Premier Francois Legault asked the federal government for assistance.
Meanwhile, alarms were raised about an outbreak at a federal women’s prison northeast of Montreal where 60% of inmates have been infected, according to the Elizabeth Fry Society. The organization reported 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Joliette Institution, up from 10 on April 7, and other women’s institutions in Ontario and British Columbia also reported cases.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the extension for the closure restricting non-essential travel across the border, which began on March 21 and was set to expire on April 21.
“This is an important decision and one that will keep people on both sides of the border safe,” Trudeau said.
U.S. president Donald Trump said earlier this week that the border could open soon, but Trudeau and other Canadian political leaders did not strike the same tone in comments.
The U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, with more than 700,000 positive tests. Canada has more than 33,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and is closing in on 1,500 deaths.
Despite continuing grim news, glimmers of hope emerged this week as provinces and cities reported slower growth of the virus, and officials began discussing moves towards a “new normal.”
In B.C., officials suggested some restrictions could be eased in the coming weeks in light of numbers showing a flattening of the coronavirus curve.
Prince Edward Island, where 23 of the province’s 26 confirmed COVID-19 cases are recovered, is also looking at easing restrictions on activities while maintaining self-isolation rules for those entering the province.
Toronto Mayor John Tory met with city officials April 17 to discuss when regular life can restart in the country’s biggest city, though he warned that the time has not come yet.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his province’s approach will be based on health advice and will only move forward with re-opening with medical officials’ green light. He added that there are various scenarios playing out across the province.
“What’s happening in a big urban centre like Toronto may not be happening in rural areas,” Ford said.
He said that loosening restrictions over time will have to be done in a careful and methodical way, and said it would be “twice as hard” as the current lockdown.
On April 18, Trudeau repeated the need for caution and reminded Canadians to continue with physical distancing measures.
“If we open too quickly, too soon or in the wrong way, we could find ourselves back in this situation a couple of months from now and everything we will have sacrificed during these months will have been for naught,” Trudeau said.
He said discussions with the premiers have found consensus on the need to co-ordinate how the country moves forward, but acknowledged that different provinces and municipalities are at different stages of the pandemic battle and may be able to relax measures sooner.
“The situation is very different right across the country from one region to the next and the measures that they will be able to move forward with at various moments will vary as well,” Trudeau said. “That’s going to be an important part of the recovery here.”
Trudeau’s messages of collaboration among provinces contrasted with the situation in the U.S. As protests formed against mandatory closures this week, Trump, on Twitter, urged supporters to “liberate” three states led by Democratic governors.
Trudeau’s government has so far held off on defining guidelines for provinces looking to lift restrictions, as Trump did for U.S. governors earlier this week.
At a April 18 news conference with cabinet ministers, Duclos said easing of measures will depend on factors like where the disease curve is heading, the number of deaths, equipment supply and space in intensive care units.
Meanwhile, Trudeau continued to stress he does not think it is a good idea for the House of Commons to resume business as usual April 20 — with all 338 MPs, along with their staff, clerks, interpreters, security and cleaners.
An agreement needs to be reached before then on scaled-back sittings if the plan is to change. Federal political parties were continuing negotiations April 20 about when and how Parliament should reconvene in the middle of the pandemic.
Trudeau’s Liberals are proposing one in-person sitting each week, with a small number of MPs and extended time for longer questions and more thorough answers than would normally be allowed during the daily question period. More sittings would be added as soon as the technical and logistical requirements for virtual meetings can be worked out.
All opposition parties appear satisfied with that proposal, except for the Conservatives.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is demanding up to four in-person sittings each week, with fewer than 50 MPs in the chamber, to hold the government to account for its response to the health crisis and the resulting economic disaster.
Trudeau also announced April 18 the government is providing $306 million to help Indigenous companies.
Later April 18, the federal government was set to deploy celebrities in new ads meant to amplify the plea of public health experts for Canadians to stay home.
The ads, one in French, one in English, were to begin broadcasting nationally during the “One World: Together at Home” concert.
The English advertisement features astronaut Chris Hadfield and hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser, alongside Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.
— With files from the Associated Press