Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government will announce measures “very soon” to address the economic consequences of the novel coronavirus.
Speaking with reporters on Parliament Hill, Mr. Trudeau did not reveal any specific actions, but the federal labour minister said the government is looking at the impact of the downturn on workers who may be required to take time off work due to illness or quarantine requirements.
“I recognize that there are going to be significant economic impacts for Canadians, for workers, for businesses. And that’s why we’re going to be talking very soon about measures that Canada’s going to put forward to support people on the economic side,” Mr. Trudeau said. “On the health side, we’re going to continue to act in ways recommended by the top experts, by the top medical professionals, coordinate with other levels of government, coordinate with the international community, do everything we can to keep ensuring that Canadians are kept safe.”
Following a meeting of the special cabinet committee on COVID-19, Deputy Prime Minister and committee chair Chrystia Freeland said the government is also assessing the impact of much lower oil prices on Canada’s energy sector.
Ms. Freeland said she spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday about a range of issues, including the energy sector.
“We talked about how the North American oil and gas sector needs to be supported by our countries, which it is. So we are very mindful of what is happening right now with the oil and gas sector, the consequences for oil and gas workers, and that is something that we are definitely focused on,” she said.
In addition to leading the government response to the corona virus, Ms. Freeland has also been in charge of working with provincial premiers on some of their concerns. All premiers have supported calls for Ottawa to update and enhance the fiscal stability program, which compensates provinces that experience a sudden drop in revenue due to economic shocks. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador have asked for retroactive payments and a lifting of the current per capita cap.
That issue is certain to come again this week when Mr. Trudeau hosts Canada’s first ministers for two days of meetings in Ottawa, starting Thursday.
Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said she is reaching out to labour leaders, and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains is contacting business leaders to discuss potential federal measures.
“We want to ensure that workers feel like they are protected and that they are not put I a situation where they feel that they are compelled to go to work in order to put food on the table to feed themselves,” Ms. Tassie said while discussing the possibility of changes to Employment Insurance.
In Question Period Tuesday, Conservative MP and finance critic Pierre Poilievre said Mr. Trudeau’s government squandered the opportunity to run surpluses during stronger economic times and are now in deficit as the government prepares for the downturn.
“Why did he spend the cupboard bare in the good times and leave us so weak and vulnerable now, in the hard times?” he asked.
NDP MP and finance critic Peter Julian said Liberal ministers keep promising to announce measures soon, but have yet to reveal anything of substance in response to the coronavirus.
“Empty words from the Liberals do not help these workers pay their bills,” he said.