PM unveils new COVID-19 aid for scientists, farmers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rolling out new measures to mobilize the Canadian science sector and assist farmers as the push to combat the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Monday morning Trudeau is announcing new support to help speed up Canadian research and life-science companies to “support large-scale efforts towards countermeasures to combat COVID-19, including potential vaccines and treatments.”

And, the prime minister is presenting new measures to support farmers and agri-food businesses that are facing financial impacts of the pandemic. This includes $5 billion in lending capacity for producers, agribusinesses and food processors.

The prime minister’s remarks from outside Rideau Cottage come as Canadians settle into another week of what experts say could be months of physical distancing measures. The Conference Board of Canada is forecasting that the global outbreak could result in the loss of over 330,000 jobs in Canada, should the public health measures remain in place for several months. 

Trudeau said that the physical distancing measures may be taking a toll but they cannot stop. 

Prior to addressing Canadians, Trudeau hosted a call with all premiers—many of whom have now declared provincial states of emergency—and spoke with the prime ministers of Ethiopia and Japan. He made similar calls to several other world leaders last week. 

Following the prime minister’s remarks, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland will join other officials to provide an update on the COVID-19 efforts, after leading a meeting of the special cabinet committee focused on the federal response to the novel coronavirus.

Over the weekend public health and government officials expressed increasing alarm at the crowds seen gathering in public places such as parks and beaches, prompting the following urging from Health Minister Patty Hajdu: “Our freedoms around the measures that we’re taking right now depend on people taking them seriously… So I would encourage Canadians to think about that and to think about their obligation to act collectively right now.”

Hajdu was referencing the federal government’s ability to drastically eliminate Canadians’ ability to move freely, through powers they could enact under both the Emergencies Act and the Quarantine Act.

So far the federal government has not chosen to take such draconian measures, but if it becomes clear that provincial and municipal efforts to restrict movement are not effective, Trudeau has said it’s an option they could take.

Emergency sitting Tuesday

On Sunday Trudeau announced that the House of Commons will resume for a special hours-long sitting to pass the aspects of the $82 billion financial aid and economic stimulus package that require legislation, such as changes to employment benefits for Canadians who are out of work and enhancing the Canada Child Benefit.

The special bill has been put on notice by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and it’s titled “An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19.” It is the only item of business on Tuesday’s agenda.

All parties have agreed to a plan to have 32 members in the House on Tuesday, when the bill will be fast-tracked through all stages and sent to the Senate by day’s end. There will be 14 Liberals, 11 Conservatives, three members apiece of the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, and one Green MP.

The government will be flying in some key opposition members from Western Canada to take part in the historic sitting.

The Senate will then reconvene on Wednesday with a similarly limited roster of senators and staff to scrutinize and pass the bill, and the final step—a royal assent ceremony—is expected that day.

“During the recall, steps will be taken to ensure the health and safety of senators and staff involved in Chamber operations,” said the Senate in a statement. 

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