Ottawa and the provinces are in discussions about reopening the Canadian economy in phases, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that Canadians should assume the current restrictions will be in place for weeks.
The Prime Minister also said announcements are coming this week to address situations in which businesses and individuals don’t qualify for the various federal support programs that have been announced in response to COVID-19.
“I know that everyone is very interested to know when things are going to get back to normal,” Mr. Trudeau said during his daily news conference.
“The reality is it is going to be weeks, still. We recognize that it is going to be important to get our economy going and we will have to do it in phases," he said.
Timelines have been extended due to several factors, Mr. Trudeau said, including the wait for a COVID-19 vaccine and different conditions in different parts of Canada.
“We will have to remain vigilant until such a point as a vaccine against COVID-19 is found,” he said.
Talks with the provinces also continue. “Different regions of the country are at different places along the evolution of their COVID-19 curve,” he said. "Those discussions are ongoing about how we’re going to reopen the economy. It’s just that it’s going to be a while still.”
Mr. Trudeau announced Tuesday that the government will provide nearly $130-million for northern communities dealing with COVID-19, including $72-million in transfers to the territorial governments.
Mr. Trudeau said further policy measures will be announced this week. He added that the government knows there are gaps in the Canada Emergency Response Benefit for individuals and the Canada Emergency Business Account interest-free loans for small businesses.
“We know there is more to do. You might not currently qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, but you still might need a hand. If you’re a student or an essential worker, for example, this week we’ll be talking about how to reach you while also supporting sectors that have been especially hard hit," he said.
"At the same time, we’re working to enhance the Canada Emergency Business Account, as well as new supports on commercial rent for businesses that are hardest hit. I’ll have more to say about all of this soon,” he said.
The CEBA program allows banks to provide up to $40,000 in interest-free loans to a business, of which $10,000 is forgivable if fully repaid by Dec. 31, 2022.
Mr. Trudeau also listed tourism, aviation, and oil and gas as specific sectors the government will address.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Tuesday that he continues to urge the government to support special sittings of the House of Commons so that MPs can question the Prime Minister and federal ministers.
Mr. Scheer said the recent sittings – including over the weekend – have shown it is possible to meet in drastically reduced numbers in order to allow for physical distancing.
“Members of Parliament can meet in a responsible manner, while respecting public health advice,” he said. “They are an essential part of our democratic process.”
The House of Commons is currently suspended until April 20. Mr. Scheer said any arrangement to extend that suspension should include opportunities for MPs to meet in reduced numbers in Parliament. The government has said it prefers virtual sittings and has asked the Speaker of the House of Commons to review potential technological options.
Mr. Scheer also questioned why the government has yet to announce a specific package of measures aimed at the hard-hit oil and gas sector.
“Over three weeks ago, Bill Morneau told the Senate that a package for the oil and gas sector was only hours or days away, but not weeks. Well, it’s been weeks. And the hardship continues to roll through Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. So many families have been affected by the downturn,” he said.
The House of Commons met over the weekend to approve a second piece of emergency legislation aimed at addressing the economic consequences of the COVID-19 virus.
However, business groups warn there are still small business owners who cannot qualify for the new programs because of the specific criteria the government has announced.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said one in five small businesses are not able to access the CEBA loans. They are only available to businesses with between $50,000 and $1-million in annual payroll.
The CFIB notes that the minimum threshold excludes thousands of small firms that pay the owner and the owner’s family through dividends rather than salaries, which are taxed at higher effective rates.
“We’re hearing from many hard-hit businesses that need the loan but don’t qualify, whether it’s because they’re too small, too large or don’t have a payroll,” said Corinne Pohlmann, the CFIB’s senior vice-president of national affairs, in a statement Tuesday.
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