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How many people have lost their livelihoods as a result of measures taken to slow the spread of COVID?

Well, consider this: applications opened this morning for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, a $500-a-week payment created just weeks ago. Only about a quarter of Canadians eligible for the credit could apply today (those born in the first few months of the year). And yet, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, nearly a quarter of a million people had successfully applied within just a few hours.

CERB is one of the suite of tools the government has given itself to either keep Canadians employed or pay them for work they’ve lost. Mr. Trudeau, at his daily news conference this morning, said the government was already preparing to broaden the eligibility of the program, even as Canadians begin to apply for it.

He said the program would soon allow for people who have lost most of their work (but not all) to receive some support. CERB currently only gives funding to those who have lost 100 per cent of their income over certain time periods.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.


News is currently dominated by the COVID-19 outbreak. For a full rundown, you can subscribe to our Coronavirus Update newsletter (sign up here). Here are some stories that speak to the political and governmental response.

To mask or not to mask? The government changed its advice today, with Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam saying it may be a good idea for Canadians to wear non-medical, cloth masks to help the public cut down the spread of droplets from an asympotomatic or presymptomatic person’s mouth.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says a shipment of medical masks bound for his province were stopped at the Canada-U.S. border on the weekend. Half a million masks are now set to cross the border after a delay. Mr. Ford also said that, without the new shipments, the province would run out of protective equipment within a week.

Hospital workers who work on either side of the border are being asked to pick one. The concern is that U.S. institutions are being overrun with COVID cases at a higher rate than Canadian hospitals.

Banks and the federal government are working out details of giving interest-free loans to small businesses, but a key point of disagreement is whether the companies should get the money right away. Sources say that Ottawa wants to impose a five-day delay period on giving the money out, so it can practice due diligence. Businesses say they need the money right away.

At least nine First Nations have positive cases of the coronavirus – and may not have the resources to deal with it.

And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has the virus, has been admitted to hospital for more tests. His office says he is still in charge of the government for the time being.

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on the Canadian having to spend its time mollifying the Americans: “But the coronavirus pandemic exposed the tears in that fabric. American leadership in this crisis has been non-existent. Red states and blue states war over who is to blame for the country’s late and clumsy response to the pandemic, and whether churches should remain open. Once, the world would have counted on the U.S. to co-ordinate a global response to COVID-19. No more.”

Globe and Mail editorial board on Alberta’s government investing $7.5-billion in the Keystone XL project: “As [Premier Jason] Kenney unveiled his investment, we couldn’t help but think of the fiasco at Muskrat Falls. Newfoundland and Labrador is currently in dire financial straits, saddled with a crippling debt. Much of it is attributable to a huge bet the small province made on the Muskrat Falls hydro project. The relative level of failure at Muskrat Falls is far greater for Newfoundland than even a total loss on Keystone XL would be to Alberta. But the decision making is similar.”

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, in The Globe on COVID in Indigenous communities: “In many First Nations, potable water is intermittent at best and clean running water is a luxury. Timely access to health care is simply not a reality. Complicating this, First Nations also have higher incidences of heart disease, tuberculosis, diabetes and chronic lung problems brought on by living in mouldy and unsafe housing. Indeed, from China to Europe to the United States, one fact is becoming clearer by the day: Inequality is a comorbidity and often determines who lives and who dies. This pandemic exacerbates the already dire circumstances in which too many of our people live.”

Yoni Freedhoff (Maclean’s) on the actual number of cases in Canada: “We also need to remember that deaths are a lagging indicator, meaning it takes roughly an average of three weeks from the time of infection to the time of death so those 28,000 people were contagious three weeks ago.”

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