In a rare televised national address, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to the airwaves tonight to warn that Canada is at a “crossroads” as COVID-19 cases spike in some provinces, and with pandemic conditions in the fall expected to be worse than what the country endured when the crisis was just beginning.
Canada entered an ordered shutdown of economic and social life in mid-March, when there were only a few dozen new cases being reported each day. Now, with 1,000 new cases reported nationwide yesterday, Trudeau said there can be no doubt that four of the country’s provinces — Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Quebec — are in the second wave of COVID-19.
“I know this isn’t the news that any of us wanted to hear. And we can’t change today’s numbers or even tomorrow’s … but what we can change is where we are in October, and into the winter,” he said.
“It’s all too likely we won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving, but we still have a shot at Christmas.”
Trudeau said that while the outlook is grim, Canada has the tools it needs to blunt the impact of a pandemic that has already claimed the lives of 9,200 people in this country.
“We have the power to get this second wave under control. I know we can do it, because we’ve already done it once before. In the spring, we all did our part by staying home. And this fall, we have even more tools in the toolbox,” he said.
Trudeau said Canadians must continue to wear masks where possible, limit social interactions — “It’s no time for a party” — and download the COVID-19 alert app so that those who test positive can anonymously alert close contacts.
“It’s a powerful, free tool that’s easy to use and protects your privacy,” he said.
WATCH | Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s address to the nation:
Trudeau also sought to reassure Canadians that the government is working to procure the goods needed to get the country past this health crisis.
He said the government has signed billions of dollars worth of agreements to buy vaccines, therapeutics and personal protective equipment (PPE). Canada faced critical shortages of gloves, masks and gowns in the early days of the pandemic, after government agents failed to adequately supply the national emergency stockpile.
Beyond warnings about a projected spike in cases in the coming months, Trudeau used the second half of his 15-minute address to tell Canadians that the government will be ready to help them navigate the economic fallout — pointing to some of the policy proposals that were outlined in the speech from the throne this afternoon.
He said record-low interest rates make it possible for the federal treasury to loosen the purse strings and spend more to support Canadians at a critical time.
“While we’re still dealing with this pandemic, I don’t want you — or your parent, or your friend — to take on debt that your government can better shoulder,” Trudeau said.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who responded to Trudeau’s remarks from isolation after testing positive for the virus last Friday, said the Tories have lost faith in the government’s response to this pandemic.
“The situation facing my family shows we must remain extremely vigilant in our battle against the spread of COVID-19. We must also be very vigilant for the future of our country,” he said. His wife, Rebecca, has also tested positive.
He urged Trudeau to push Health Canada regulators to approve rapid testing devices to ease the pressure on hospital-run testing centres that have experienced hours-long lineups in some parts of the country.
WATCH | Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole responds to Trudeau:
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved two antigen testing devices months ago — tests that can deliver results in less than 15 minutes — Health Canada has said it is not ready to put its stamp of approval on such tests.
Antigen tests — which, depending on the device, use matter collected from a nasal or throat swab — don’t require the use of a lab to generate results. The FDA has said such tests are a safe and reliable way to determine a person’s COVID-19 status.
“It is unacceptable that we trust countries like Japan, Germany and the U.S. with our national security intelligence but we don’t trust their approval of a 15-minute saliva test,” O’Toole said.
Government promises 1 million new jobs
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette delivered the government’s nearly hour-long speech from the throne in the Senate chamber earlier today.
In that speech, the government pledged to create one million new jobs, extend the wage subsidy program until next summer, launch the largest jobs training program in the country’s history and begin to build a national child-care program to support working women.
The Liberal government also promised to push ahead with plans to create a universal pharmacare program with any provinces willing to take part.
WATCH | Throne speech outlines Trudeau government’s plans for pandemic recovery:
The government promised to pursue an ambitious environmental agenda to fast-track Canada’s efforts to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions through home retrofits and infrastructure spending, and through tax incentives for companies building zero-emissions products, like electric vehicles.
“The economic impact of COVID-19 on Canadians has already been worse than the 2008 financial crisis. These consequences will not be short-lived. This is not the time for austerity. Canada entered this crisis in the best fiscal position of its peers and the government is using that fiscal firepower,” the government said in the speech.
The Bloc Québécois and Conservative parties promised Wednesday to vote against the speech.
If NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his caucus also vote against the speech, Canadians will be headed to the polls for a fall federal election.
Singh told reporters that he had not yet decided how his caucus will vote when it’s given the chance in the Commons in the days ahead.
“We’re going to take a lot of time to consider the throne speech and make sure we evaluate it and make a decision around whether we’re supporting or not,” he said.
WATCH | NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh responds to Trudeau:
He said he’s troubled by the Liberals’ pitch to do away with the Canadian emergency relief benefit (CERB) in favour of a revamped Employment Insurance (EI) system, warning it could hurt workers who have been forced to stay home because of the pandemic.
In his response to Trudeau, Singh said he’d pressure the Liberals to maintain relief benefits for those who have seen major upheavals to their lives as a result of COVID-19.
“I know that you’re worried … I can assure you once again we’ll be there to fight for you,” Singh said of New Democrats.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet — who already signalled in the summer that the party would vote to bring down the Liberal government — used his three-minute response to Trudeau to demand that Ottawa flow more funds to provinces to offset the rising cost of health care.
Last week, the premiers urged the federal government to boost the Canada Health Transfer by some $40 billion more a year to help provinces handle mounting health costs that represent more than half of all provincial spending.
Like O’Toole, Blanchet has also tested positive for COVID-19 and the Bloc caucus is in isolation.
Conservatives say no
Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen said the Tories cannot support the speech because it doesn’t address a major issue: Western alienation and national unity.
The speech said little about the oil and gas sector — an industry that has been hit hard by sinking oil prices and dwindling demand, leaving thousands jobless.
“There were no words that said, ‘We value natural resources, we value our forestry workers, we value our agricultural sector.’ They should have said all that and they didn’t. We were hoping for something better,” she said. “Conservatives continue to be the only party standing up for the West.”
The speech included big-ticket spending promises with no plan to pay for them — which Bergen dismissed as irresponsible.
“They’re still talking about how budgets will balance themselves, so it’s very, very concerning,” Bergen said, citing Trudeau’s claim from years back that a growing economy would reduce federal deficits.
Bergen said the speech offered little new material — “just grand gestures and empty promises” — and the prorogation of Parliament to deliver the speech was a naked attempt to shield the Liberal government from further parliamentary inquiry into the WE Charity scandal.
Asked if it was responsible to push Canadians closer to an election during a pandemic, Bergen said Canada is a democracy and Tories have the right to vote against a speech that fails to address their priorities.