A summary of the day's activities of Tuesday, August 18, follows.
Federal Government Relief Measures
There were no new funding announcements today.
Statement of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister Trudeau announced today that he asked Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, to prorogue Parliament. This will provide the government with an opportunity to present a Speech from the Throne on Wednesday, September 23, 2020, the same week the House of Commons was previously scheduled to return. This speech will present the government's detailed vision for the future, and will provide the opportunity for a vote of confidence on this new plan.
The Prime Minister said the new plan is a long-term plan for recovery that will address the fundamental gaps the pandemic has exposed. "This is our chance to change the future for the better," he added.
In response to questions from journalists, the Prime Minister confirmed personal tax increases are not part of the recovery plan. He said, "we will be investing in the kinds of things that will grow our economy."
In addition, the Prime Minister denied that his government was using prorogation as a tactic to halt all ongoing WE Charity probes. He said that his office had already released all the documents requested by Parliamentary Committees looking into the matter.
In her first comment as Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland confirmed that decarbonisation would be part of the recovery plan. She added, "the plan needs to be green, equitable and inclusive and to focus on jobs and growth. The coronavirus is still with us. Our commitment as a government is to support Canadians as we get through this challenge and build better."
Federal Government Briefing
Chrystia Freeland is Canada's first female finance minister. She was sworn in her new role this afternoon at Rideau Hall after the abrupt resignation of Finance Minister Bill Morneau yesterday evening.
Chrystia Freeland keeps her role as deputy prime minister, though her intergovernmental affairs position was reassigned to veteran Liberal Dominic LeBlanc who is currently the President for the Queen's Privy Council for Canada. Dominic LeBlanc had previously held the post as intergovernmental affairs minister before stepping back in early 2019 to seek treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
This new role places Chrystia Freeland again at the very centre of a high-profile, high-pressure national conversation around the best way to move forward as the country continues to grapple with the social and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and a deficit currently pegged at $343 billion.
Penny Collenette, a University of Ottawa adjunct law professor and former senior Liberal staffer, noted Chrystia Freeland is very "in sync" with the prime minister.
Daniel Béland, a political scientist at McGilll University and director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, said Chrystia Freeland appears to have the full confidence of the prime minister and is very effective in her current roles.
"But she is already dealing with many key files and her moving to Finance could create significant transition issues for the entire Trudeau government," he said.
"I think it was absolutely critical that the prime minister moved immediately to appoint a new finance minister," former Conservative finance minister Joe Oliver told BNN Bloomberg today. "Freeland is going to take on that extremely challenging role without a direct background in finance or economics, but a fairly extensive background now, with five years in government," he added.
While the Prime Minister will have Chrystia Freeland at the cabinet table to take on financial matters, he is also receiving external informal advice from former Bank of Canada and Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who some had thought was lining up to take Bill Morneau's job.
Largely seen as a steady hand that the Prime Minister has more than once put into a tough role, Chrystia Freeland will take on steering Canada's recovery through what has ballooned to be a $343-billion deficit, expanded in large part to pay for a suite of emergency benefits, and to stave off further staggering job losses.
There has also been considerable discussion about the particular impact the pandemic is having on women's economic standing—a "she-cession" as some have called it—and having a female at the helm of the finance department could be the Liberals' way of signalling that they're aware of the challenges facing Canadians in rebuilding. Commenting on her role as the first female finance minister in Canadian history, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland did admit that being a woman and a mother would influence her approach to recovery.
Statement of Ontario Premier Doug Ford
At a news conference in Scarborough, Premier Ford announced the province was set to issue Request for Proposals to advance tunnelling work to move forward with Scarborough subway extension. Kinga Surma, Associate Minister of Transportation (GTA), joined the Premier.
Premier Ford continued to defend his government's back to school plan during the answer and question session with journalists. He welcomed Chrystia Freeland's appointment as Minister of Finance and said he would give her time to settle in before he called her to discuss the federal government's financial contribution to the province's transit projects in the Greater Toronto Area.
Statement of Quebec
Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé provided an update on the province's plan to deal with a possible second wave of COVID-19. Associate Minister of Health and Social Services, Mr. Lionel Carmant, Minister for Seniors and Caregivers, Mrs. Marguerite Blais, and the National Director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda joined Minister Dubé.
Minister Dubé unveiled the government's Action Plan for a Second Wave ("Action Plan"). The Action Plan includes an assessment of the difficulties encountered and the initiatives implemented during the first wave of the pandemic. It also identifies issues and priority actions to prepare the province for a possible second wave.
The Action Plan includes nine areas of intervention: living conditions for the elderly, vulnerable people, the labour force, screening, prevention and management of outbreaks, clinical organization, supply, governance and communications. Several measures are already underway, and all will be implemented by September 30, 2020. For each measure, the government promises that an authorized person will be responsible and accountable.
In addition to the Action Plan, Minister Dubé announced that Public Health will receive $ 106 million in funding to ensure the protection of the health of the population and better support regional public health directors in their mandate. The funding will make it possible to hire more staff and acquire material resources.
Elsewhere in Canada
Yesterday, Alberta Health announced that 285 Albertans tested positive for COVID-19: 177 cases on Friday, 86 on Saturday, and 96 on Sunday. Alberta Health originally posted numbers for the three days that totalled 359 cases, but Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, later said that the Friday case numbers include 74 that were actually included in the database from dates before August 14, reducing the total number of positive COVID-19 cases to 211 over the weekend.
On Monday, August 17, Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, and Dr. Réka Gustafson, British Columbia's deputy provincial health officer, announced 236 new cases of COVID-19 in the past three 24-hour reporting periods. In the three periods, British Columbia reported 100 cases in the first reporting period from August 14 to 15; 88 cases from August 15 to 16; and 48 cases from August 16 to 17. Currently, four individuals are hospitalized with COVID-19, three of whom are in intensive care.
On August 17, the Ministry of Education announced the province has provided school districts with updated operational guidelines that set requirements for masks. Under the updated health and safety guidelines, masks will be required for staff, middle and secondary students in high traffic areas such as buses and in common areas such as hallways, or anytime outside of their learning group whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained. Exceptions will be made for students who cannot wear masks for medical reasons.
The guidelines also cover the key components of delivering K-12 education during the pandemic, including curriculum, report cards, supports for students with disabilities/diverse abilities, and finance and operations. Expectations on the following areas are also a part of the guidelines: mental health; child care; inclusive education; blended learning; assessments; graduate programs; indigenous students and family; and food and meal plans for students in need.
In order to support staff and students to meet this expectation, the Ministry of Education is providing additional funding to school districts that will support the purchase of up to 1.5 million masks, enough for every public-school staff member and student to have at least two masks. Further, the Province is providing an additional $45.6 million to school districts for enhanced cleaning, handwashing stations, reusable masks and other safety measures.
On August 17, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture announced a $2-million Arts Infrastructure Program because of the deep impact COVID-19 has had on arts and culture venues. The BC Arts Council will administer the program. Arts and cultural organizations, including Indigenous groups, will be eligible for up to $75,000 to improve arts and culture spaces or $40,000 to buy special equipment to support art programming. Applications will be open from Monday, August 17, to October 19, 2020.
Also on August 17, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction announced that the Province is extending the provincial temporary crisis supplement for people on income disability assistance and low-income seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. For those who are not receiving federal benefits like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the Province's temporary COVID-19 Crisis Supplement that has been provided since April will be extended for an additional four months. No action is required from people. The temporary $300 crisis supplement will continue to be automatically applied to cheques distributed September 23, October 21, November 18 and December 16. This supplement will also continue to be provided to low-income seniors receiving the B.C. Senior's Supplement and income assistance and disability recipients residing in special care facilities. As well, the federal government recently announced a one-time $600 payment to recipients of federal disability benefits. These include Canada Pension Plan or Quebec Pension Plan disability benefits, disability supports provided by Veterans Affairs Canada and disability tax credit certificate holders. This federal benefit payment will be fully exempt for people currently receiving provincial assistance.
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