Extraordinary Measures: A Saturday Sitting

The House of Commons has been recalled by the Trudeau Government to sit this Saturday to pass legislation to implement the government’s 75% Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. The House sitting will begin at 12:15 pm and the Senate is scheduled to sit at 4:00 pm, indicating the bill will be dealt with in one day.

The move comes after a week’s worth of negotiations between the federal parties to enact the proposed $73 billion measure to protect jobs in the wake of COVID-19. It also follows a number of announcements today from the federal government, including the March jobs announcement and the release of the federal government’s epidemic modelling.

Earlier this week, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit was opened, with millions of applications made and payments being received. Passing the wage subsidy legislation this weekend will be another step ahead – but the question will remain whether it is enough to get Canada through to recovery.

Despite the flow of data and projections from the federal and provincial governments this week, Canada remains in the early stages of the pandemic. The most critical times are ahead for both the health system and the economy and the best tools to respond remain physical distancing, good hand hygiene and staying home.

Recognizing the challenge that this prolonged duration poses to Canadians, the Prime Minister appealed to Canadians’ strength and resolve in his address today. Ensuring that Canadians get the support they need will be critical to ensuring that they continue to play their part in the response, including this upcoming holiday weekend, and for the weeks to come.

Projecting Canada’s COVID-19 impact

The federal government has released its modelling on the COVID-19 pandemic, following the footsteps of many provincial governments. In its modelling scenarios, the federal government provided two approaches:

  • A forecasting model, based on observed caseloads, where Canada could see between 22,580 and 81,850 cases and 500-700 deaths by next Thursday, April 16
  • A dynamic model, which considers how the epidemic might unfold over the coming months, considering how the virus behaves and potential impact of public health measures

Considering the stronger public health measures in place, the cumulative national impact is projected:

  • If 2.5% of the population is infected: 934,000 cases, with 73,000 hospitalizations, 23,000 in ICU, and 11,000 deaths
  • If 5% of the population is infected: 1,879,000 cases, 146,000 hospitalizations and 46,000 in ICU, and 22,000 deaths

From a comparative perspective, the overall picture indicates that Canada’s epidemic curve is in earlier stages than other countries, with the total case count increasing more slowly than most countries. Case numbers are at present doubling every 3-5 days.

However, the federal government’s projections best reflect an aggregate of a series of regional epidemics, rather than a cohesive national picture. As a result, the view of public health officials is that the epidemic will reach the peak of the first wave in different regions at different times, which makes it difficult to put a precise date around the peak or duration of the pandemic.

Officials emphasized that once the peak is reached, it is critical to maintain public health control measures to shorten the duration of the first wave of the outbreak, as well as reduce the impact of subsequent outbreaks of the virus over time as a vaccine is developed. Enhancing testing protocols and tools for contact tracing will be key activities to managing the epidemic and may enable control measures to be adjusted over time based on the local epidemic situation in each province and territory.

Managing the Economic Impact

Early and rapid epidemic control is also key to the federal government’s economic recovery plan. With more than a million Canadians becoming unemployed in March (read StrategyCorp’s insights here), and with federal projections indicating that the epidemic could peak in late spring and end in the summer, concerns are being raised about whether federal economic measures will need to be in place for additional months.

The Prime Minister expressed hope that the economy will begin a graduated return in the coming months after the first wave passes. The next few weeks, however, remain critically important to determining whether that can be achieved.

From an economic perspective, passing legislation and implementing the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy is critically important to get funds flowing to employers to protect jobs. Within the past days, three Canadian airlines have publicly announced that they are rehiring workers because of the subsidy.

The emergency wage measure is anticipated to be in place for 12 weeks, from March 15 to June 6. With the duration of the pandemic looking like it will exceed that timeframe, we can anticipate that programs will remain nimble as they adapt to the future reality.

Ensuring that public health controls also remain in place and adhered to by Canadians in the coming days and weeks is also critically important to ensure that the duration and impact of this first wave is reduced.

Ontario launches a Jobs and Recovery Committee

Employment data by Statistics Canada showed Ontario lost more than 400,000 jobs in March. The actual number of unemployed Ontarians is expected to be significantly higher since that data was captured nearly three weeks ago, before the list of essential businesses was shrunk. As a result, Premier Ford along with Finance Minister Rod Phillips and Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy, announced the creation of the ministerial Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee.

The Committee will begin consulting with sector stakeholders to determine measures to be announced in the next phase of Ontario’s Action Plan, which will be launched “as soon as COVID-19 is contained.” Premier Ford continued to caution that things could get worse before they get better, and that Ontario must first address public health concerns to effectively enable economic recovery.

Provincial legislature returns on Tuesday 

With the province’s declaration of emergency ending on April 14, the government is recalling the legislature at 1:00pm on Tuesday, where it is expected that they will extend the declaration of provincial emergency, which now requires legislative approval after two two-week extensions. It is also expected that the government will propose housekeeping changes where necessary to allow for continued virtual operations, such as allowing municipal by-laws that are set to expire to be automatically extended.