Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called on premiers and mayors to “do the right thing” by imposing restrictions to stem the spread of COVID-19, pledging the federal government will be there with financial help to make those difficult decisions easier.
“I would hope that no leader in our country is easing public health vigilance because they feel pressure not to shut down businesses or slow down our economy,” Trudeau said Tuesday at a press briefing in Ottawa. “I understand that worry but let me tell you, that’s how we end up with businesses going out of business and the economy damaged even more.”
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Trudeau noted “concerning” record spikes of new cases across the country, something he said is putting added pressure on all levels of government to keep people safe and protect jobs.
“So I urge the premiers and the mayors to please do the right thing: act now to protect public health. If you think something is missing in the support we’re offering your citizens, tell us,” he said. “We will work with you as we have since Day 1.”
The prime minister did not publicly name any provincial or territorial leaders. Yet his blunt words came after Ontario, which eased restrictions despite a second wave this fall, reported a record high of 1,388 new cases. The government of Alberta is also facing pressure from at least 74 doctors, who in a public letter to Premier Jason Kenney Monday called for “a two-week, short, sharp lockdown” in that province.
As Trudeau spoke, the Manitoba government announced new restrictions, including a ban on social gatherings, to tackle a surge in cases in there. The prime minister said the federal government will provide more than $61 million in immediate funding to help Indigenous communities in Manitoba fight the pandemic.
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Trudeau said that while people are “tired and frustrated by COVID-19,” failing to protect the health of Canadians now will only hurt the economy worse in the long run. While vaccines are on the horizon, he said, Canadians must first make it through a difficult winter.
“We want people to be able to hold on through this challenge. That’s why we’re there directly to support businesses and people right across the country,” he said.
“And that’s why we certainly encourage the provinces to act quickly to control the spread of this virus with the measures that, increasingly, scientists and experts around the world, are agreed are effective: targeted shutdowns, limits where necessary.”
Trudeau repeatedly stressed that Ottawa has direct support for families, workers, and businesses impacted by potential shutdowns, including “extra top-ups” for businesses forced to close due to local public health directives. Still, it is not the federal government’s role to decide “who closes down where and how fast,” he said.
Trudeau denied it was time for the federal government to invoke the Emergencies Act, which would give the prime minister and cabinet sweeping temporary powers, such as the ability to seize property and prohibit travel in the country. The legislation, which hasn’t been used before, would allow the federal government to override objections from provinces and territories to do what it feels is necessary in a public welfare emergency.
Trudeau said the Emergencies Act has come up several times during his conversations with premiers throughout the crisis.
“I continue to reassure them that I don’t see it as being necessary right now. I know that all Canadians are united in wanting to fight this pandemic,” he said.
“I know that all premiers are thinking of the health of their citizens as well as they think of the health of their economy. That’s why I’m confident we are going to be able to… continue to work together well and do the right things.”
Ford: ‘I don’t know if he’s speaking to me directly’
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Ontario Premier Doug Ford did not directly answer a reporter’s question about whether he should change his government’s strategy in light of Trudeau’s remarks.
“Well I don’t know if he’s speaking to me directly and if he is I want to thank him for his ongoing support,” Ford told reporters in North York, Ont. “But we need more support for businesses, that’s what we need. We need more support — financial support.”
With a file from Emma Paling, The Canadian Press