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A hand painted sign about the Canada Emergency Business Account is seen in the front window of Likely General, a store in Toronto, on April 15, 2020.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The organization representing Canada’s largest corporations is urging the country’s first ministers to take a co-ordinated and cautious approach to reopening the economy and lifting stay-at-home orders to combat the coronavirus.

Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada, wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers and territorial leaders before their weekly meeting Thursday evening, urging them to listen to health authorities before restarting the economy.

“Governments should not feel pressured to move faster than public health considerations permit. A slow, steady and carefully calibrated approach to restarting the economy is the best possible way to maintain public confidence and avoid future lockdowns,” Mr. Hyder wrote. “Decisions should be based on sound medical analysis, accompanied by widespread, systematic testing and contact tracing of positive cases.”

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Earlier this week, Mr. Trudeau said Ottawa and the provinces are in discussions about reopening the Canadian economy in phases, but emphasized that Canadians should assume the current restrictions will be in place for weeks.

Ottawa seeks ‘shovel-ready’ projects for post shutdown stimulus plan

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On Thursday, Mr. Trudeau repeated his view that current restrictions will need to continue for weeks. He said a phased-in reopening of the economy cannot begin until measures are in place for “massive” testing and contact tracing, in addition to clear evidence that cases have declined.

“I think everyone understands that until we have a vaccine, until we are in a place where there is proper treatment, there is a massive amount of testing, we are not going to be able to talk about getting back to normal,” he said. “It would be absolutely disastrous to open up too early or too quickly and have another wave hit us that could be just as bad as this one and find ourselves in a situation of having to go back into quarantine, the way we are right now, and have everything that we’ve done these past few weeks be for nothing.”

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the province may soon release a plan on reopening the economy if COVID-19 case numbers remain low. British Columbia Premier John Horgan said his government is also looking at plans to restart the economy. Both premiers say their approach to lifting restrictions will be done gradually.

The Business Council, which represents corporations that employ 1.7 million Canadians, had called for an aggressive approach to confronting the spread of COVID-19 in an open letter to Mr. Trudeau last month.

In Thursday’s letter, Mr. Hyder said the timeline for the resumption of business will likely happen region by region and sector by sector, but said it needs to be co-ordinated.

"We urge you to agree on a common set of risk-informed protocols and guidelines for workplaces and public settings such as schools, universities, parks and public transit,” he wrote.

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When businesses do reopen, Mr. Hyder said face masks, face shields, gloves and other forms of personal protective equipment will be necessary to ensure the health and safety of employees in some workplaces.

“Governments must ensure that employers have access to sufficient quantities of such equipment at all times,” he wrote. “Until there is a vaccine, we cannot lower our guard.”

Mr. Hyder said Canada must also carefully watch how other countries, which were hit earlier by the coronavirus pandemic, begin to relax public health measures and reopen their economies.

There also needs to be a co-ordinated approach with Canada’s trading allies to minimize supply chain disruptions, he said. The Prime Minister will be speaking to fellow Group of Seven leaders Thursday before he talks to the premiers.

Mr. Trudeau said he intends to discuss with the premiers how they can jointly increase wages of essential workers making less than $2,500 a month, such as those at long-term care facilities.

Quebec and B.C. have already implemented direct wage support for low-income workers in the essential-service sectors. The federal government will be sharing the cost of this wage support through a new transfer to these provinces, according to a Department of Finance background document.

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If other provinces sign on to temporary top-ups, the department said Ottawa “will cover a portion of the cost" for “those on the front line in hospitals and nursing homes, those ensuring the integrity of the food supply, or providing essential retail services to Canadians.”

The first ministers are also expected to discuss measures to help postsecondary students and businesses worried about commercial rent.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his Finance Minister, Rod Phillips, is working with Ottawa on the issue of small-business owners who are facing evictions for not paying April rent on commercial property.

“You have to realize there’s 1.2 million leases just here in Ontario and we need the support of the federal government if we’re going to look at this,” he said Wednesday, adding that Ottawa has provided a small-business loan of up to $40,000 to help them pay rent.

With files from Laura Stone and Bill Curry.

Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says before life can return to normal, officials need to be able to detect and stamp out new outbreaks of COVID-19. The Canadian Press

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