Cabinet retreat to confront challenge of limiting damage from ongoing pandemic

OTTAWA — Bold plans to rebuild Canada's shattered economy will take a back seat during a two-day cabinet retreat as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers confront the more immediate challenge of how to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from doing even more damage to Canadians' lives and incomes.

The retreat, starting Monday, is being held as COVID-19 cases are spiking again after a summer lull and experts are warning of a second wave over the fall and winter.

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Trudeau last week warned Canadians are "going to have to learn how to continue to live with COVID-19 for many, many more months." Indeed, the government is operating on the assumption that the global fight against the deadly coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will continue for at least two more years.

That grim assumption will underlie cabinet discussions as ministers flesh out plans for the Sept. 23 throne speech, which Trudeau has promised will outline "a detailed vision for the future and a plan to keep Canadians safe while we rebuild a stronger Canada that works for everyone."

The speech itself is expected to focus more on getting through the pandemic than how to rebuild after it's over.

According to insiders, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter, it will include three main priorities: the measures needed to protect Canadians' health and avoid another national lockdown; the economic supports needed to help keep Canadians financially afloat while the pandemic continues; and longer-term measures to eventually rebuild an economy that, as Trudeau has put it, is healthier, safer, cleaner, more competitive, fairer and more inclusive.

In particular, it is expected to promise more funding for health care — including long-term care homes, which have borne the brunt of the more than 9,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Canada — and for child care so that women in particular, who have been hardest hit by the shutdown, can go back to work.

It is also expected to promise investments in affordable housing, in recognition that low-income Canadians living in over-crowded conditions have struggled during the pandemic.

Details on the longer-term recovery measures won't be revealed until an economic statement later in the fall.

But how fast Canada's economy bounces back from the pandemic will depend first and foremost on how well the country protects itself while it rages.

That reality is reflected in the agenda for the opening day of the cabinet retreat.

Ministers are to hear presentations from Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam along with the two co-chairs of the COVID-19 vaccine task force, Dr. Joanne Langley and Mark Lievonen. They will also hear from Dr. David Naylor, who is co-chair of the task force set up to look at COVID-19 immunity, and chief science adviser Mona Nemer, who is a member of the group.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2020.

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