COVID-19 responses accelerate ahead of First Ministers’ call

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Canada surpassed 2,000, Prime Minister Trudeau announced additional measures to fight the spread of COVID-19: 

  • The Prime Minister will have a call with First Ministers this evening to discuss coordinating approaches and messaging with the provinces and territories.   
  • $192 million in new projects prioritized under the Strategic Innovation Fund to provide direct support to AbCellera and Medicago to support COVID-19 research and development, along with investments in research at the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre, and the National Research Council facilities in Montreal to expand eventual vaccine production 
  • $5 billion additional lending capacity to Farm Credit Canada for Canada’s farmers and food producers 
  • Additional international flights have been arranged to return Canadians from Peru, Spain, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala 
  • Increased call to action for Canadians to social distance, including a public media campaign, and for individuals to do their part to ensure that health and economic recovery is not put at risk 

Following the federal government’s update, both Ontario and Quebec announced the closures of all non-essential businesses. In concert with Ontario’s announcement, Toronto Mayor John Tory declared a state of emergency in that city this afternoon 

 In Ontario, all non-essential businesses are to close on Tuesday, March 24th after midnight for 14 days, with the possibility of extending this timeframe as required. A full list of businesses that are permitted to stay open will be released on March 24, and a 1-800 number and website will be made available for further inquiries. It is expected that essential manufacturers, supply chain providers, supermarkets, pharmacies, LCBO stores and takeout restaurants will remain open.  Though the list will be released on March 24, it is likely that the list will be somewhat flexible with businesses being able to make a case for why they should be included as an essential business that can stay operational.  

In Quebec, non-essential businesses will be shut down for three weeks, with pharmacies and grocery stores exempted. A list of essential businesses and services has been released, and if business activities that provide an essential service or function are not listed, companies can apply for designation as an essential business. 

Elsewhere in the country, Vancouver city council passed new coronavirus enforcement measurespermitting bylaw officers to issue fines of up to $50,000 for failing to maintain social distance, and all public outdoor recreation facilities within parks and beaches have been closed. Nova Scotia announced a requirement for people entering the province to self-isolate for 14 days. 

These announcements precede the First Ministers call this evening, where the Prime Minister and First Ministers are anticipated to discuss uniformity of advice to Canadians.  In addition, it is expected that there will be discussion of:  

  • The federal Emergencies Act, as well as the different tools that each order of government has and identify if provincial tools are not adequate   
  • Increased reporting and quality of public health data. Alberta has been acknowledged for the strength of its data, while other jurisdictions are lagging. Ensuring that there is open, transparent and accurate data is critical to decision-making across levels of government 

The First Ministers call this evening is coming at a critical point in determining a more cohesive approach to the COVID-19 fight across Canada.  While the federal Emergencies Act is a last resort for the federal government, as it overrides provincial jurisdiction and requires Parliamentary approval and oversight, the response to the situation by Canada’s governments is evolving and escalating, which may create the need for stronger coordination in responses.