Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media about Canadian measures to counter the COVID-19 virus in Ottawa, Monday March 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Not time for state of emergency, Trudeau says, but Parliament asked to pass COVID-19 aid

The $82-billion package would pause student loans, allow homeowners to defer mortgages

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he will recall Parliament on Tuesday to approve the recently-announced COVID-19 financial aid package.

The $82-billion package would pause student loans, allow homeowners to defer mortgages, waive the one-week EI waiting period and a new Emergency Care Package for those who don’t qualify for EI.

Trudeau spoke from the steps of Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, where has been self-isolating along with his wife, Sophie, who has flu-like symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19.

More than 1,300 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Canada, along with 19 deaths.

The Prime Minister thanked NDP and Conservative leaders for agreeing to meet. Canada’s Parliament is scheduled to meet at noon Tuesday to pass the $82-billion aid package which includes $27 billion directly to Canadians and another $55 billion in tax deferrals for both businesses and individuals. Earlier this week, Trudeau said half a million people, or 2.5 per cent of the country’s labour force, had applied for EI, signalling mass layoffs.

During his press conference, Trudeau was pressed about why the Emergencies Act, which would allow the government to enforce social distancing and self-isolation measures.

The Prime Minister said “nothing is off the table,” but said feds were working with local and provincial authorities before taking this measure country-wide.

“There is no one measure that is going to be sufficient to get us through this situation,” Trudeau said.

Photos on social media have shown people packed on Vancouver’s beaches, while images from weddings in Surrey and Abbotsford raised worries over if people were truly social distancing.

Multiple provinces, including B.C. and Alberta, have declared states of emergency that would give them the ability to enforce provincial orders, as have cities like Vancouver, Delta and New Westminster.

Speaking at another press conference Sunday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said there could be “more penalties if people don’t take this seriously.”

“[We are] asking them, recommending them and hoping we don’t have to get to ordering them” to abide by social distancing measures, she said.

Hajdu said those penalties could be monetary or criminal. Even without the Emergencies Act, under the Quarantine Act the government has the ability to fine or arrest people returning to Canada who do not self-isolate or quarantine for 14 days.

The health minister said Canada has become “increasingly alarmed” as officials watch the situation in places like New York and Italy, the latter of which seen over 50,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 5,000 deaths. Worldwide, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 307,200 people and killed more than 13,000.

Government house Leader Pablo Rodriguez said a small group of MPs will gather Tuesday for a 4.5-hour session.

That group will include 14 Liberals, 11 Conservatives, three New Democrats and three from the Bloc Québécois. Rodriguez said MPs who do not have to fly to Ottawa will be prioritized.

READ MORE: Trudeau promises $82B in economic supports in COVID-19 fight

More to come.


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