Government set to announce $25B aid package to help Canadians through COVID-19 crisis

By | March 17, 2020

The federal government is set to announce a massive aid package worth more than $25 billion to help Canadians and businesses get through the COVID-19 crisis, CBC News-Radio Canada has learned.

A senior government official told CBC News the package will be delivered through existing safety net programs, including employment insurance and the Canada Child Benefit.

“It’s going to be significant and comprehensive,” the senior government official said.  

“People need rent money and groceries. Businesses need to bridge to better times.” 

During a news conference Tuesday outside his residence at Rideau Cottage, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is also looking at temporarily recalling Parliament to bring in emergency economic measures. He also hinted at a possible delay in the April 30 tax filing deadline.

“Tomorrow we will be making another major announcement on economic actions to support Canadians as quickly as possible. By the end of the week, we will have more to say about changes for the upcoming tax season,” he said. 

“We’re looking at giving more flexibility for people to be able to make payments and for businesses to have more liquidity during this time.”

Trudeau also said the government is examining the Emergencies Act to decide if it should be invoked, or if there are other ways for the government to take steps to protect the public.

The Emergencies Act can be enacted in times of temporary “urgent and critical” situations that seriously endanger the lives, heath or safety of citizens. Bringing the Emergencies Act into force allows the government to:

  • Impose travel bans.
  • Order and carry out evacuations.
  • Regulate and distribute essential goods and services.
  • Establish emergency shelters and hospitals and authorize emergency payments.

Failing to comply with measures under the Emergencies Act can result in fines of up to $5,000, or even jail time, according to the government website.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said his MPs are ready to return to Ottawa to pass emergency legislation “ASAP” to support Canadians hurt by COVID-19.

“Canadians have important questions about the govt’s handling of this pandemic. Conservative MPs will continue to press for answers on behalf of Canadians,” he tweeted.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tells Canadians he doesn’t know how long measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 will be in place. 0:39

Earlier today, in an interview with Toronto’s 680 News, Trudeau said the government will introduce measures such as employment insurance supports and direct income supports for those who don’t qualify for employment insurance.

“We’re going to be flowing income supports to millions of Canadians. We’re going to make sure that we’re able to weather this crisis in the right way,” he said.

Trudeau reminded Canadians that everyone has a responsibility and a role to play in containing the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing measures that include avoiding gatherings of more than 50 people and working from home where possible.

Could take ‘weeks or months’

“We don’t know exactly how long this is going to take, whether it takes weeks or months,” he said.

“But we know that every step of the way, we will be there to support each other.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said today invoking the Emergencies Act is a “last resort” that would give the federal government extraordinary powers. It would be invoked only in consultation with the provinces and territories, she said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says the Canada-U.S. border is a ‘lifeline’ for both Canadians and Americans, when asked why more restrictions are not being put into place along the border to stop the spread of COVID-19. 2:15

“We are in a difficult situation,” she said. “As the World Health Organization said this morning during its daily update, this is the defining global health crisis of our time.”

On Monday, Trudeau announced a series of measures to contain the spread of the virus, including barring entry to all travellers who are not Canadians or permanent residents, with the exception of Americans, crew members and diplomats.

Today, Freeland said cabinet ministers on the special COVID-19 response committee have had long discussions about the status of the Canada-U.S. border. She called it a “lifeline” for citizens in both countries because essential goods such as food, medicines and medical supplies are constantly crossing the border in both directions.

Ministers are speaking with departmental officials, business groups, labour organizations and provinces to determine the best way forward, she said — adding that now is not the time for Americans to be taking non-essential trips to Canada.

“Let me encourage potential visitors to Canada not to make those trips to Canada unless it’s absolutely essential,” she said. “Now is not the time for our American friends to be coming just for a visit.”

As of Tuesday, there were 466 confirmed and presumed cases of COVID-19 in Canada.

Speaking on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics Tuesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said conversations between American and Canadian officials are happening “incredibly rapidly.”

“On both sides of the border there’s a desire to curtail non-essential travel and we’ll have more to say about that at the conclusion of those conversations,” she told host Vassy Kapelos.

At the news conference earlier today, Hajdu said as the number of COVID-19 cases dramatically increases, officials are urging Canadians to take steps to “flatten the curve” of infection and limit community transmission. She said that while those measures are disruptive and stressful, they’re critical at this point in time.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu asks Canadians to think of ways they can help their neighbours get through the Covid-19 crisis together. 1:20

“The flatten the curve message today is really the most important one. The measures that we take today will help us ensure that we can actually reduce the level of community transmission that is happening across the country,” she said.

Hajdu became emotional as she also urged Canadians to be kind and generous with one another during this time of crisis.

“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 and say that you’re there with them, even in spirit, to ask what they might need,” she said.

Hajdu said that assistance could include helping deliver groceries or sharing supplies with those in need.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said Parks Canada facilities will also be shut down due to COVID-19.

Parks Canada will no longer admit visitors and will suspend all services related to its national parks, historic sites and national marine conservation areas, he said. Only essential research, rescue, security services and maintenance will be maintained.

The prime minister said other financial support measures could be introduced, including:

  • Money for businesses to allow them to keep people on the payroll even when they are at home.
  • New access to credit for businesses. Last week, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced a $10 billion credit facility to lend money to businesses under stress due to the pandemic.
  • Help with mortgage payments.
  • Enhanced Canada Child benefits, GST credits for low-income Canadians.

“These sorts of things are all on the table in terms of tools we’re looking at to help Canadians as quickly as possible get through these times,” Trudeau said.

He did not rule out postponing the April 30 tax filing deadline.

“We’re looking at all sorts of ways of helping Canadians, and this is part of what we’re looking at,” he said. “We’ll have an announcement tomorrow most likely around that.”

Earlier Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in his province, a move that will shut down most recreational facilities, libraries, bars and restaurants. Grocery stores, pharmacies and public transit will remain open.

Alberta and Prince Edward Island have each declared provincial states of emergency.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a package of special financial supports is on the way to help millions of Canadians and businesses get through the COVID-19 crisis. 22:01

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