THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 29, Season 9
Sunday, March 22, 2020
Host: Mike Le Couteur
Guests: Minister François-Philippe Champagne,
Craig Alexander, Perrin Beatty, Barry McLoughlin, Mayor Jim Watson,
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, Professor Leah West
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “This is a difficult and extraordinary time.”
Finance Minister Bill Morneau: “Right now, my only job is to make sure that Canadians can keep food in the fridge.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford: “But in difficult times like these, we learn a lot about who we are as a people.”
Health Minister Patty Hajdu: “Think of ways you can help to ensure that we get through this together.”
Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada: “We don’t just need to flatten the curve, we need to plank it.”
Finance Minister Bill Morneau: “We’ll provide $27 billion of direct support.”
Robin Gill, Global News: “The federal government revealed plans yesterday to shut down the U.S.-Canada border.”
Health Minister Patty Hajdu: “There are lonely people. There are frightened people.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “And we’re just going to be here for each other.”
Mike Le Couteur: It’s Sunday, March 22nd. I’m Mike Le Couteur, and this is The West Block.
Social distancing, travel restrictions and closures: the norm in the fight against COVID-19.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We know this is a difficult and extraordinary time in which Canadians are taking difficult and extraordinary measures, and we will continue to do that until Canadians are safe.”
And joining me right now is the Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne. Mr. Champagne, thanks so much for joining us.
François-Philippe Champagne, Foreign Affairs Minister: Thanks for having me this morning.
Mike Le Couteur: And thanks for being here because you were feeling under the weather and you had to undergo a COVID-19 test. Tell me, how scary was that for you?
François-Philippe Champagne, Foreign Affairs Minister: Well, you know, I was the week before—I think it’s two weeks now, time goes so quickly—you know, I went to visit our troops in Europe and was in a number of countries. So when I came back, you know, with a mix of jetlag and a mix of being under the weather, I thought—I followed, you know, health advice. The health advice said, you know, under those circumstances, you should take no chance. And I took no chance, I got the test and got the negative result and that allowed me—you know the good thing out of that is since I could not move, I could even work more. So that was good because I was confined in one room in my house and just was managing all the operation around me.
Mike Le Couteur: You must have been nervous, though.
François-Philippe Champagne, Foreign Affairs Minister: I was nervous, but I mean in a sense, I knew that at the end of the day, I had a job to do. You know, we’re facing unprecedented circumstances and in this case, like many of our folks who are on the front line, you don’t think too much about yourself. It’s about serving. It’s about making sure we have thousands—tens of thousands of Canadians who depend on me and my team to fly them back home. So, I must say, my—I didn’t spend much time thinking about me. My days and my nights are about thinking how can I bring back these people who are stranded for no fault of their own. You know, we’ve seen countries imposing airspace closure, airports closure, martial law in some countries, travel restrictions. So my job, and our job, is really to make sure that we find safe passage for these people to be able to come back home, because home is the safest place now.
Mike Le Couteur: So about that, we had a flight come home last night from Morocco, hundreds of Canadians on that so they’re back home. You’re also looking at Spain and Peru, how soon can Canadians in those countries expect to board a plane to finally get back to Canada?
François-Philippe Champagne, Foreign Affairs Minister: Well I hope we’ll have other news to announce on that—updates, because getting the plane is usually the easiest piece. You know, that’s step one. After that, I need to negotiate country by country. So that’s why information is key in times of crisis and in times where people are nervous and it’s understandable. So what I do once we have a lock on an aircraft, then it’s really making sure that I’ll be able to get that plane to land. So getting the landing permission, getting safe passage for the crew, making sure that we have a proper boarding procedure because as you know, people are going to come back. Only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to board and those which are coming back will have to self-isolate for 14 days. So it’s probably one of the most complex operations, you can imagine. I was talking to CEOs of airlines this week and I want to thank you, whether it’s West Jet, Sunwing, Air Canada, Air Transat—Air Transat, I think, brought back like 30,000 people. So there’s a lot of things happening, but obviously what you hear sometimes is those are the most difficult cases. You know, we have people in Guatemala. We have people in Ecuador and there, that’s where I need to intervene almost on an hourly basis because countries change the rules, it’s situation on the grounds are moving. We need to make sure people can get to these airports, so that’s what we’re doing on a 24/7 basis.
Mike Le Couteur: So what do you say to Canadians? Because the prime minister admitted yesterday there will inevitably be some Canadians that you can’t get home. What do you say to those Canadians that will now feel abandoned by this government?
François-Philippe Champagne, Foreign Affairs Minister: Well we’ll help you where you are. You know, if you look at the scale of what we’re trying to achieve, Canada and any other country, this has never been seen in the history of the world, where you have all these issues at the same time: air space closure, airport closure, martial in some countries. So what we have to accept is that there’ll be some Canadians who can’t come back home. And what we’ll do with our missions around the world is to provide them services, to assist them the best we can. We’ve done that, as you know, when we had the Diamond Princess, we had folks in hospital in Japan. We had a similar situation with the Grand Princess in Oakland, so we know how to help people there. But I’ll be honest with you. This is going to be in a scale that we’ve never seen before. To give you a sense of perspective, we’ve got like 14,000 e-mails in the last 48 hours, 10,000 calls. We have 600 people in our operation centre 24/7. So this is on a scale that we’ve never seen, so everyone is mobilized. We’re focusing on helping those in need most, and my other job is to maintain these aerial bridges between Canada and for example, Europe and Latin America and Asia, to make sure that Canadians who could be stranded in a country can make their way, for example, to London. And I negotiated with the British government that whatever happens, we will always keep flights between London and Canada, making sure that people for emergency situations, essential travel, can come back home.
Mike Le Couteur: But you don’t have that everywhere. So for instance, with people on cruise ships there’s an estimated 4,000 Canadians still stranded on cruise ships and about 70 cruise ships around the world. What are you saying to people who are out at sea now? They’re not even near an airport.
Mike Le Couteur: I wanted to look a little bit ahead because on Tuesday, Parliament will return. Roughly 30 parliamentarians, MPs will be coming to pass the $82 billion stimulus package, doesn’t expect to be held up at all. The finance minister has said that his number one priority is to put money in people’s pockets so that they have food in their fridge. Why hasn’t this government said you know what? We’re just going to cut cheques to every Canadian now instead of trying to wait for these programs that could take some time for that money to get out the door?
François-Philippe Champagne, Foreign Affairs Minister: Well, you need to find a way to get that money to people and I think that’s exactly what the finance minister is saying is that we have these programs, we’ll make sure that everyone, whether it’s workers, whether it’s families that everyone—we want to take care of our people, but the way to do that, obviously, you need to work with a system to provide these funds. So that’s why these programs are in place. They’ll be bona fide to make sure that we’re facing something that we’ve never seen before, but we need to find the way, the mechanism which is fair, quick and appropriate, you know because we need to have speed and resiliency in that. So we need to balance these things to make sure that what we do is fair, but also it’s fast and it’s resilient. That’s exactly what I think the minister is looking at is the vehicle to deliver that money to those people as quickly as we can.
Mike Le Couteur: We’ve only got 30 seconds, so very quickly. The Emergencies Act, a lot of people walking around right now and saying maybe people aren’t social distancing enough. At what point do we have to be like California and say, or other countries and say that’s it, police will be on the streets. If you are walking in the street, you will be arrested. When does Canada get to that?
François-Philippe Champagne, Foreign Affairs Minister: We’re looking at all our options and I must say that’s why we need everyone, you know, in order to protect your own health, you need to abide by what the public officials and health officials are telling.
Mike Le Couteur: Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have, Minister. Thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate it.
François-Philippe Champagne, Foreign Affairs Minister: Thank you for having me.
Bill Morneau, Finance Minister: “Canada’s balance sheet is the envy of the world. And it means we have the fiscal firepower to respond. We’re now prepared to use it. COVID-19 is an extraordinary challenge that requires an extraordinary investment. Usually, my job is to ensure that we maintain our fiscal track, but right now, as minister of finance, my only job is to make sure that Canadians can keep food in the fridge.”
Mike Le Couteur: Welcome back. That was Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau on the $82 billion package his government is putting together to help businesses, workers and homeowners, suffering from the economic impacts of COVID-19. But, will it be enough?
Joining me now from Toronto is economist Craig Alexander, and in Ottawa, Perrin Beatty, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us.
We’ll jump right in, Perrin, to you first. The federal government says this is the first round that the finance minister will take, a first round of stimulus package, possibly two or three more. We are hearing from businesses that it’s the right measure, but maybe the wrong amount. Do you agree with that?
Craig Alexander, Deloitte Canada: Yes, the important thing was the minister of finance indicated this was a first step. And he was acting with an unprecedented action in terms of trying to provide some assistance here, but he recognizes, as he has to, that there’s going to be much more to follow.
Mike Le Couteur: Now Mr. Alexander, we’ve seen Denmark provide wage subsidies, up to 75 per cent compared to just 10 per cent for Canadian workers. We’re seeing layoffs, including Air Canada. Now if the government does have another card to play when it comes to wage subsidies, why isn’t it playing it right now?
Perrin Beatty, Chamber of Commerce President: Well, I think you need to be very careful looking at international comparisons because at the end of the day, we’re only at the first instalment of the fiscal stimulus package. And I think from a government point of view, they could have waited for, you know, weeks in order to put all of the details together on the entire package, or they could act immediately and give us an immediate indication of some of the big measures they’re doing and then follow it up with the other details when they had it designed. And I think that’s exactly what’s transpiring here.
I think the two big risks that we needed to focus on is if Canadians are going to stay home, and that was the directive from the government, you know, to stay home in order to do the containment, well then you need to provide income support to Canadian workers. And that’s what we have in terms of expanded EI, Employment Insurance, and also effectively, an EI program for workers that don’t qualify. And then for businesses, the big issue is going to be cash flow and liquidity. Can they manage the business through to the other side of this valley? And they’re going to need financial supports.
So again, what we heard in the first round of the fiscal stimulus package was items that are going to help boost the liquidity of businesses and keep credit, flowing.
Now I think, you know, as we move forward, we’re going to get more details in terms of programs to help particularly hard hit sectors and potentially, more support for workers. And I think this is the right thing to do. The most important thing was to act quickly, not wait for all the details.
Mike Le Couteur: And Mr. Beatty, everybody knows there’s a lot of money to get out the door in a short amount of time, perhaps not many people know that there are regional development agencies that the government has. Is this going to be their job now, to get that money out the door and quickly?
Perrin Beatty, Chamber of Commerce President: That’s certainly part of it. But absolutely, the critical issue here is how do we move the money very quickly? Because it’s urgent that businesses and that individuals be able to have access to it.
One of the ways in which the government can do that is on the wage subsidy that they indicated earlier, that they were going to do to the tune of some 10 per cent with a cap of $25,000 over the next three months. That’s one tool that they can use to use employers to keep people on the payroll so that they don’t have to go on Employment Insurance (EI). But employers really need help, desperately, to be able to do that. Their receipts are falling off dramatically. As a result, then, they need every bit of assistance they can get to be able to keep people working.
Mike Le Couteur: Now, Mr. Alexander, the Conservatives have kept pointing out that the federal government and the federal deficit is ballooning, that the Liberals have spent the cupboard dry instead of saving for times like this. Are they right to point that out right now?
Goldy Hyder: What it shows is we need to weather this storm. I mean Philip said rightly, we need to do what we need to do, the best that we can to weather this storm. And we need to recognize that the fluidity of the situation, this is temporary. We just don’t know how temporary it is. We don’t know how long it’s going to last. We will get past this as we got past SARS and other things in our history, but we need the immediate focus that this government is putting on communicating, on ensuring Canadians and reassuring Canadians and making sure that our health care system is supported in doing all that we can on that front. But we also need to look a little bit beyond that, because there is going to be real collateral damage to business and to people during this process. What do we need to do at the other end of that? I would suggest that the minister of finance, and others, may want to look at an economic advisory committee that perhaps is tasked with the mid to long-term, what will that recovery look like? Because we don’t want to arrive at the other end and say now what do we do? Why don’t we have people thinking about that as much as we have people thinking about the immediate and the short-term implications?
Mike Le Couteur: And Philip, how much of that thinking is going on now, do you think, behind the scenes and looking at okay, when we finally emerge from this, if plan A goes to plan—I mean, if this is a plan A, we may be through a plan D, C and all the rest of them, but how much of that planning is going on behind the scenes, right now?
Craig Alexander, Deloitte Canada: Well, I think that in the current environment, we don’t worry about the deficit, to be honest. I’m an economist. I have been, you know, arguing that the government needed to be mindful of the size of its deficit when the economy was growing. But now that the economy has stumbled, that we’re heading into a very deep contraction, given the pressures that businesses are going to feel and the impact on personal incomes, this isn’t—this is not an environment in where—in which you’re going to worry about the size of the deficit. Right now, it’s really about providing the maximum amount of fiscal stimulus and then when we’re outside of the crisis then we can deal with the fiscal cost that was created. And the important thing is that we’re not just seeing this in Canada. We’re seeing very coordinated fiscal and monetary policy stimulus around the world. And you have governments that are injecting large amounts of money. At the same time, central banks are doing everything they can to keep credit and money flowing and this is absolutely the right thing to be doing.
Mike Le Couteur: Also hearing that the federal government could be preparing for some sort of a bail out for oil and gas companies, is now the time to be doing that as well?
Craig Alexander, Deloitte Canada: Well as I said, one of the things that was missing in the prior announcements was specific measures to address the hardest hit industries. And I think the reality is, it takes—you know, it requires more design to figure out what you’re going to do for particular sectors, or particular industries, whereas, you know, making an expansion of EI, or providing liquidity funding is something you can do—you can make an announcement about very quickly. I think what we’re going to see in the coming days and weeks will be more measures targeted at the industries that are hit the hardest. So when we think about—you know, one of the things that’s happening right now from a Canadian economy point of view is, not only are we being hit by the flu pandemic, but we’re also experiencing an enormous oil shock. So the oil and gas sector is going to be very hard hit by the low level of prices, so support for the energy sector is something that we’re going to need to see. But we’re also going to find that there’s going to be other sectors that also are going to be sort of nationally important sectors that are going to need financial support. You know, I do want to be mindful that this is a valley. You know, eventually we will contain this virus. Eventually, it will burn itself out. And when that happens, I think there will be a very strong rebound in economic activity. So there is a very deep valley, though, that we need to navigate our way through and we just don’t know how long that—like how wide that valley is. We don’t know when the epidemic will actually—or the global pandemic will subside. But ultimately, the tide will eventually turn. So in my mind, the key priority is helping sectors, and helping businesses and workers, while we’re in the valley.
Mike Le Couteur: Mr. Alexander and Mr. Beatty, thank you so much for joining us today. We’ll have to leave it there, unfortunately. I really appreciate it, though.
Coming up, crisis management: What works and what doesn’t during a time like this?
Doug Ford, Ontario Premier: “My friends, these are unprecedented times. But in difficult times like these, we learn a lot. We learn a lot about who we are as a people.”
Mike Le Couteur: Welcome back. That was Ontario Premier Doug Ford last week as he declared a provincial state of emergency because of COVID-19, using calming words of reassurance. Now what should political leaders say and do, to manage a crisis?
Joining me now is Barry McLoughlin, author of Overcoming Panic and Fear: Risk and Crisis Communication. Thanks for joining us, Barry.
Barry McLoughlin: Thank you very much, Mike.
Mike Le Couteur: And we’re trying to keep that safe distance.
Barry McLoughlin: Yeah, six feet—whatever. Yeah.
Mike Le Couteur: We practice what we preach.
Barry McLoughlin: Yeah.
Mike Le Couteur: So we just heard from Doug Ford who was using that kind of reassuring voice. Is he striking that right balance?
Barry McLoughlin: Yeah, I think that is the balance you’ve got to strike, which is sober, serious but empathetic, giving some sense of feeling and that you understand what people are going through. And I think people have been really pleasantly surprised by his way of communicating very, very consistently throughout that. I noticed each time he communicates, he has his team with him. So whether it’s the health minister, the finance minister, the education minister and so on, it’s important to show an all-government approach. And the federal government’s doing the same thing and so are municipal governments.
Mike Le Couteur: Considering the federal government, how would you rate their response, not only on the messaging, but the optics and how everything is rolling out?
Barry McLoughlin: It’s very interesting because they have a unique challenge in that they have—the prime minister is self-isolating, and he’s doing it from Rideau Cottage, which I don’t think anyone’s ever seen before. But each time, it’s become now a standard. He comes down the steps, the odd time he forgets his raincoat and has to dash back in. But that’s kind of a human dimension to it. I think he’s got the right tone. I think he also is showing empathy. He’s able to speak from now, a base of I’m going through with my family, what quite a number of you are going through. And so I think that he also, has found his voice. It’s really an opportunity in a crisis, to show that you are a leader or you’re not. I think in this case, he also is showing that he’s a leader.
Mike Le Couteur: Being praised for self-isolating and sort of doing as he is saying and suggesting to others, but also being slammed for not taking a test. And he says it’s on doctor’s orders. Does the government need to communicate that better so that people—so they’re not leaving themselves open to that criticism?
Barry McLoughlin: Well of course, it is interesting and I think there are a lot of questions about it. I had a question about that myself, but in the end they ultimately will say, the medical officers of health, that even if you think you have it, you have to self-isolate, anyway. You monitor yourself. There’s no magic thing he can do in the interim anyway, so I think he is taking the right approach. Even though, I think a lot of Canadians want the prime minister of Canada to know whether he has it or not. He’s chosen not to, and he used one excuse, which was that, you know, people—basically it’s not using up a test that could go to others. And I think one of the challenges, actually is the availability of testing, the availability, ultimately, of these ventilators and equipment. That’s a lingering and overriding concern going on here.
Mike Le Couteur: When governments face a crisis like this, I think, you know, Chrystia Freeland, the deputy prime minister, sort of put it well. She’s—a few weeks ago, when she said we’re looking at the Goldilocks approach: not too much information to make people panic, not too little information to make people panic. Are we at a stage now, where it is getting to a point where we need to just put it all on the table and the government needs to come clean about everything?
Barry McLoughlin: Well, I don’t think—first of all, I think government has to be transparent. They have to tell you why they’re saying what they’re saying, and they should make that available to you. It shouldn’t just be words. They have to have some proof. Canadians want some proof. Secondly, it’s information when you need it, where you need it. So again, because this is the first major crisis of its kind that’s in the full social media, online digital world, and so people want it right away. They want to access it instantly. And so flooding information out there is probably not the right thing anyway.
My greatest worry is information overload in which people start to tune out. When people start to tune out, they’re no longer paying attention to you. So you want messages that get people to understand and to take action that reduces or mitigates the risk. But at the same time, you do not want the kind of information and words that you use that will panic people. So when you hear headlines—I saw a headline in the paper the other day, a nightmare scenario. The word nightmare is completely, you know, right over the top. It’s very emotionalized and not helping people at all. And it’s helping to panic.
Mike Le Couteur: But then you have leaders like Emmanuel Macron in France, who are calling it—saying that they’re at war with COVID-19, same thing with President Trump. So, when we are seeing all of these leaders speak like this, how are Canadians supposed to react?
Barry McLoughlin: I think Canadians feel actually quite good that in contrast to President Trump, who started off by denying it, blaming it, still going partisan, only gradually getting onboard, we are such contrast to that, but I think it’s made Canadians feel somewhat good in contrast. We can’t be, however, patting ourselves on the back too much. We’ve got a long way to go here. I mean, we do know one thing. This will get better—this will get worse before it gets better. This much—everybody has said this. The question is: We have to stay calm and feel, anyway, that the government has a strategy, has a plan and that we’re going to somehow get through all of this. That belief is really important.
Mike Le Couteur: We’ve only got one minute left so I’ll just ask you quickly. In this age, where the information is everywhere, people are getting it from social media and they’re getting it from other media. How do governments counter the message, or the false messages that are online that people are taking as gospel?
Barry McLoughlin: Great point. They have to actually correct misinformation that gets out there. Not every little thing, but when something starts to take hold they’ve got the analytics to prove that there’s a lot of exposure to certain messages. When it’s wrong, tell us it’s wrong and tell us what is right. We have to continue to believe in government. Canadians normally do believe in government. This is their time to take advantage of that by making sure that they correct the record when it’s wrong, and set it right when it needs to be set right.
Mike Le Couteur: Well said there, Barry. Thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
Barry McLoughlin: My pleasure, Mike.
Mike Le Couteur: When we come back, what are some of the challenges mayors on the frontlines are facing with this new pandemic?
Kennedy Stewart, Vancouver Mayor: “After the best advice from health officials, Fire Chief Darrell Reid and Police Chief Adam Palmer, I have decided we need to declare a state of emergency on Vancouver.”
Valérie Plante, Montreal Mayor: “The virus continues. If we need to isolate more people, we will have to adapt. The faster we contain the virus, the faster we will go back to our normal life and I think this is what everybody’s hoping right now.”
John Tory, Toronto Mayor: “Today the Government of Ontario announced it was declaring a province-wide state of emergency as part of the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration will help the province and it will help cities across the province, including Toronto.”
Mike Le Couteur: Welcome back. Cities across the country are declaring states of emergency as they try to mobilize forces, to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. Now what are the challenges mayors face on the frontlines?
Joining me now is Ottawa’s mayor, Mr. Jim Watson. Thanks very much for joining us Mr. Mayor. I just wanted to ask you first, how regularly are you speaking to other Canadians mayors, and how much are you coordinating the efforts to limit the spread of the virus?
Jim Watson, Ottawa Mayor: Well we have two groups here in Ontario. One is the Big Cities Mayor caucus, which is a national organization and there was a conference call last week, where we shared best practices and so on. And then I think on Monday of this week, we have the larger, the Mayors caucus of Ontario, which is the large cities in the province of Ontario. So there’s a lot of information sharing and that goes to our city managers, our public health officials, our police chiefs. Everyone’s in constant communication, so that if someone comes up with a really good idea, you know, share it with the group so we can pass it along to our citizens.
Mike Le Couteur: If you can, take us inside that call a little bit. Can you give us an example of some of the information sharing, or one of those ideas that came out of one of those calls?
Jim Watson, Ottawa Mayor: Well, you know, a number of mayors, for instance, have started economic task forces. We launched one earlier this week, to deal with what is going to be a very, very difficult situation for small businesses, restaurants and so on, who’ve had to shut down because of the state of emergency. And that has a ripple effect. They lay off people, their employees. The operation is shut down, their revenue stream is cut to zero. What are we going to do when we’re through all of this to get those businesses back up and running so we don’t have hundreds of small businesses have had to close shop because of the virus.
Mike Le Couteur: I think there’s a lot of people in this city, particularly, who are worried about the immediate need. There’s about a million people in Ottawa here, how prepared are the hospitals and health care facilities for an even wider spread of this pandemic?
Jim Watson, Ottawa Mayor: Well that’s a good question. I don’t think anyone has a specific good answer at this point. We’ve certainly been proactive here in the City of Ottawa. We were one of the first cities to set up a testing site off-site, away from hospitals because we don’t want people going in with the virus to the emergency ward. We’d rather have them assessed off-site. So that’s one step that we’ve taken. We’re working closely with the hospitals. They’re the ones that actually formerly sponsor these off-site tents, and in our case it’s an old arena in the south end of the city. So, you know, we’re doing everything we can to be creative, to make sure that we have the necessary supplies, whether it’s face masks and ventilators and so on. But obviously, we have no idea where this is going to go. We’ve never had this kind of an emergency. And I was talking to another reporter just a few moments ago, and she was saying, you know, in the past when we’ve had emergencies like this, we’ve always rallied behind our neighbours when we had the tornadoes, the two big floods over the last three years. We come out in mass numbers to go and help sand bag and help take trees off people’s roofs. Today, with this crisis, we’re told stay away from people. So it’s a completely different phenomenon, and that’s why I’m so grateful that we have such dedicated staff that are working literally around the clock on setting up new assessment centres and making sure that the public has as much information as possible to limit the spread and that we continue at the City, to be able to deliver those basic services that people come to expect. You know, the water has to be clean and secure, the garbage and recycling has to get picked up, the roads have to be patrolled, the ambulance service is needed, as is the fire.
Mike Le Couteur: I wanted to pick up on that. You go around the city and you can see that unfortunately, not everyone is taking that whole social distancing seriously. Do you think that we need something like the Emergency Measures Act that the federal government has talked about, to truly flatten the curve and make people follow this?
Jim Watson, Ottawa Mayor: I think that’s, you know, as the prime minister said, everything’s on the table, and I think the premier said the same thing. That may be the case if this thing continues to get worse at a faster pace. We obviously want to flatten the curve and we want to make sure the curve starts to go down. But at the same time, we also have to ensure that we’re providing those services. For instance, you know, a number of people have said, well I’m not taking the bus anymore. You know, I want a refund. Well, the bus service is still available and it’s still there for people to use, because a lot of people need it, particularly health care workers on shift work and so on, to get into work. So, we have to continue to have some presence on the street and the buses, for instance, we’ve blocked off the area where the driver is to give him or her some distance from passengers and doing what we can, not only to provide the service but also to respect the needs of our own employees who are out there in the public doing some pretty good work.
Mike Le Couteur: But would you want to see the federal government actually say okay, that’s it. It’s the Emergency Measures Act, everybody has to stay in their house and it’s enforceable either by fine or by law.
Jim Watson, Ottawa Mayor: Yeah, again, I don’t think we’re there at this point. Obviously, that’s a big step to take. There would have to be some exceptions in terms of people going out to get groceries and so on, and pharmaceuticals. You know, I think people understand this is a very serious situation and by enlarge what I see people out on the street, there are very few people walking down sort of the main streets of Ottawa. The Chateau Laurier just announced it’s going to close temporarily, so we’re losing obviously, almost all of our tourists. So, it’s a serious situation, but I’m not at a point where I can say that’s necessary at this point.
Mike Le Couteur: And I wanted to speak about that sort of business side. A lot of restaurants we’ve been speaking to say they had to reduce staff because of that state of emergency, where they went to only take-out only or delivery. Are you worried that some of the Ottawa businesses aren’t going to survive this? And do you think that the federal government’s response financially with that stimulus package has been too slow?
Jim Watson, Ottawa Mayor: No, I don’t think it’s been too slow. They’ve actually worked very, very fast. The challenge now is getting the system in place to get the dollars in people’s hands. You know, for instance, I’ve heard some very good suggestions with respect to the restaurant and the small businesses. If they could offer some kind of a coupon or a bond, you know, you give $50 for a gift card, for a restaurant. You can’t use it right away, obviously because the restaurant’s closed and maybe you come back in a few months and use it at that restaurant. We’re going to have to help these small businesses. You know, we don’t have the financial capacity. At the City, we deferred taxes and people will be able to defer their taxes if they’re in a real hardship case, and we’ll deal with that at our next council meeting, which will be on Wednesday. Which by the way will be the first time people on council can actually call in for a meeting. So we’re trying to limit the number of people coming to our council meeting to respect the 50 person gathering maximum. But the reality is that we’re going to have to help these small businesses, and if we can help kick-start with some kind of a coupon or a bond program that people purchase it now to give the restaurant and the small business some cash flow, and then come and use that gift certificate, or like many of us, probably lose it and the restaurant benefits. But these people put their heart and soul and life savings into these small businesses and we’re going to have to count on the community to come out and really support them when we’re through this crisis.
Mike Le Couteur: And as you said, the whole community comes together. Mr. Mayor, I really appreciate you joining us today. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to leave it there for today.
Jim Watson, Ottawa Mayor: Great. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Mike Le Couteur: Up next, we’ll break down COVID-19. What do we know about the virus itself?
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, Canada Research Chair of Molecular Emerging Viruses: “If we start coughing when you get there, it’s like what do you do?”
Unidentified Caller: “How will we know when is the appropriate time to seek somebody from the health department?”
Mike Le Couteur: Now those questions are being asked around the world as scientists try to find a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and as doctors attempt to treat its victims. Now what do we know about it so far?
Joining me now from Winnipeg, to break it all down is Dr. Jason Kndrachuk, Canada research chair of molecular emerging viruses. Thanks so much for joining us, doctor. First off, given your experience on treating and researching emerging viruses, how different is COVID-19 from others that we’ve seen in our history?
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, Canada Research Chair of Molecular Emerging Viruses: You know, I think it’s actually fairly familiar to us and in the sense it’s a respiratory virus. It’s attacking a particularly vulnerable population in terms of seniors. We know, you know, it’s transmitting by respiratory droplets. The difference for us is the fact that it is an influenza, it’s a coronavirus. We don’t have any pre-existing immunity, from what we’ve seen to this and we certainly don’t have any vaccines or therapeutics. So this really complicates the issue for us, in terms of trying to actually combat a global pandemic.
Mike Le Couteur: How much of this virus, though, is still unknown?
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, Canada Research Chair of Molecular Emerging Viruses: Well, you know, looking back on when this virus first emerged, or at least when it was first reported, we’re looking at about 11 weeks of time. There is, you know, probably years’ worth of knowledge that we still need to figure out for this virus. If we think back to 2002, with SARS coronavirus and even MERS coronavirus from 2012 when it emerged, we’re still learning. We’re still learning on a consistent basis with both those viruses. So, I think we fast-tracked a lot of things. You know, definitely we have a global concerted effort amongst researchers and clinicians, to try and figure out what we can as quickly as possible. But it is going to take time for us to truly understand where this virus came from and why it is doing what it’s doing.
Mike Le Couteur: When you compare the fight and the sharing of that research, as you just mentioned, how different of a position are we now in as researchers and as a global community in trying to fight it, because we are sharing so much and because we are so interlinked in this sort of global village?
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, Canada Research Chair of Molecular Emerging Viruses: Well, the way I like to continue to talk about this virus is the fact that this is really the first pandemic in the age of social media, and that really has changed the dynamic of how we actually discuss and learn about this virus, from both the positive and the negative. So, in terms of research, you know, we obviously know cases initially, you know, showed up in China. Chinese researchers were very quick to start providing us with molecular, as well as clinical information at a moment’s notice. And that has continued on through each region that has been affected by this virus. So that has actually, I think, completely changed the playing field. I think we’re able to learn and adapt in real-time and hopefully, come up with better mitigation procedures as a whole.
Mike Le Couteur: I think for people out there, they really want to know, and they want you to break it down for us, in terms of how long can this live on surfaces? Is it better to wash your hands or to use a hand sanitizer? How much of this is known? And what do people need to know about this virus when they’re walking around out in public?
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, Canada Research Chair of Molecular Emerging Viruses: So I think we can actually lean back quite a bit on what we know from other coronaviruses. So, basically from the 1960s, up until 2002, coronaviruses were actually endemic in the population. They probably created cold-like symptoms in people that were infected, and then obviously SARS and MERS and SARS COVID-2 have emerged. You know, most of the properties that we understand about coronavirus is applied to this virus as well. So surface stability, we think, you know, is probably in the neighbourhood of a few hours. You know, there has been some conjecture as to whether or not this transfers on to multiple days, but all that is under ideal laboratory conditions. So we think that in the natural environment, it probably is something where a few hours is where we’re looking at for its actual stability.
In terms of washing and disinfection, we predominantly still suggest that, you know, listen, soap and water are by far and away, our best ability, or our best, you know, I guess, armament, to try and combat this virus. Disinfectants and hand sanitizers do work, though, they require a specific concentration of alcohol to be able to actually exert any inactivation properties onto the virus. And of course, you get into some issues in terms of how dirty somebody’s hands are, or how greasy because all this plays into the effectiveness of that product. So, ultimately, soap and water are by far and away the absolute best thing that we can do to try to clean surfaces and clean ourselves.
Mike Le Couteur: Now if we do take a step back, the last global pandemic that we lived through was H1N1 and some researchers say that that pandemic should have served as a warning sign for the latest one. Now, why didn’t we see this coming?
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, Canada Research Chair of Molecular Emerging Viruses: You know, it’s a great question and I’ve tried to maybe take a step back from being combative about it. I was on the ground in West Africa during the Ebola epidemic, you know, and trying to provide the preparedness and response efforts where and when I can here right now with COVID-19. I think there’s some differences, right? So I think we had always assumed that the next pandemic would likely be influenza. So, you know, we saw with 2009 that we didn’t quite see the global toll that we had seen in prior pandemics. I think maybe we felt that our preparedness strategy was a little bit better than what it is. And ultimately, what I don’t think we were quite prepared for, was this potential insurgence of ill and sick patients coming into health care clinics and hospitals all at the same time. And that really is what we’re concerned about with COVID-19, is the fact that, you know, during a flu season, 500,000 people die globally, but they’re not all showing up at the hospital at the exact same time. This will stretch our limits and our capacity regardless, I think, of how far this virus spreads. We’re already seeing that in the United States and we will see that in Canada. It’s a matter of how quickly we can flatten the curb, to try and combat the overall toll of this virus.
Mike Le Couteur: Okay. Thank you very much for that, Doctor. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to leave it there. We appreciate you being with us, today.
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, Canada Research Chair of Molecular Emerging Viruses: Great. Thank you very much.
Mike Le Couteur: Coming up, as people scramble to come back to Canada from across the globe, we’ll look at some of the legal tools the government can use to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We are also separately looking at the Emergency Measures Act, to see if there are tools that they offer us that allow us to do more things that are needed for Canadians that can’t be done other ways.”
Mike Le Couteur: That was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, talking about measures his government might use to try and flatten the curve of COVID-19. What are these emergency measures and how would the affect all of us? And just how far can the government go legally, to try and stop the spread of this new coronavirus?
Joining me now is Leah West, an expert on national security law at Carleton University. And Professor West thanks so much for joining us.
First of all, I just wanted you to help us understand the Emergency Act—Emergencies Act that the federal government could bring into place. What would it look like in its most basic form to ordinary Canadians?
Professor Leah West, Carleton University: So what we would see would be the federal government invoke what is called a Public Welfare Emergency. That’s the type of emergencies under the Act that deals with powers to be invoked during a time of a communicable disease outbreak like what we’re seeing with COVID-19. So, to invoke that, that would be an order issued by the governor and councillor, or a cabinet. It doesn’t require Parliament to actually—to issue this type of emergency. And then once that emergency is issued, there’s various regulations and orders the government could also invoke that would give them various powers that they typically wouldn’t have, to deal with this crisis.
Mike Le Couteur: For most Canadians, would we see something like we’ve seen in other countries, where there are police forces, or members of the military at each street corner enforcing curfews?
Professor Leah West, Carleton University: In terms of whether or not the military will be called out, that’s actually not even something that needs to be done under the Emergencies Act. The military could be called out to assist like we typically see with regular emergencies. So to assist in the building of temporary shelters, that’s something the military could do under the National Defence Act. But what we could see is the government, say, requisition property, to build makeshift hospitals, property that would belong to private citizens or to the provinces, and that they could setup temporarily shelters, emergency hospitals and property that wouldn’t normally be used as a hospital facility. We can also see the government, potentially, call on people. Like we’ve seen retired nurses volunteer to come out of retirement. They could kind of bypass some regulations, to allow those nurses to provide health care. They could also enforce certain people, to provide essential services and they could take control of goods and services at a federal level. So if you need to start managing things across the country that could be done by the government. There could be things like no-go zones or no movement areas, or the government could move people and goods out of a certain area. That’s all types of powers that could be invoked under the Emergencies Act, but the idea of some sort of martial law is not something that would be invoked or could be invoked under a public welfare emergency.
Mike Le Couteur: So because of that limiting of movement or limiting of goods, do you foresee any legal challenges to this, if it is finally put in place?
Professor Leah West, Carleton University: So realistically, as long as the government puts into place orders that are necessary and proportionate and clear about what they are doing and what those powers would enact the government to do, that they are really responsive to the crisis, I don’t see why it would be necessary for someone to raise a challenge. Obviously, if the powers start to really erode on people’s capacity and liberty in a way that doesn’t seem congruent with the crisis, then potentially you would see a challenge. But realistically here, we’re talking about measures that would infringe upon someone’s liberty, someone’s movement, which would normally be protected under Section 7 of the Charter, or like we see in Section 6 of the Charter, which allows Canadians to leave and return from Canada. But when we’re talking about an emergency, we have Section 1 of the Charter that allows for reasonable limits on our rights. And so long as the orders imposed are reasonable, that is something that could be found to be constitutional in a time of crisis that we’re in.
Mike Le Couteur: Now we did see Italy impose curfews and restricting movements on people, but people also kept breaking it because despite the threat of fines, they kept circulating and going out. Are you worried that that could happen here and that we wouldn’t be able to flatten the curve, because people sometimes just don’t want to give up that type of freedom?
Professor Leah West, Carleton University: I think we’re all probably worried about Canadians not taking this seriously, but there are a variety of measures and it’s not necessarily up to the federal government to manage that. We’ve seen almost every single province invoke their own emergency powers that could enforce various things like curfews as you talked about, on a more local level. So we wouldn’t, hopefully, need to see blanket limitations on Canadians, so long as we are following the guidelines being put out by public health officials and our leadership. Hopefully we don’t see those kinds of measures, but they could be imposed at a more local level rather than necessarily across the board.
Mike Le Couteur: Now, I wanted to ask you about South Korea. They went a completely different other direction. They didn’t go into lockdown. They created GPS enabled apps, to monitor people in quarantine. An alarm would go off if someone ventured outdoors or outside that zone. Do you think that type of monitoring is going too far?
Professor Leah West, Carleton University: Well, I don’t—I don’t really see the need for it at this time and it isn’t really something that would typically be in line with the Canadian values and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to have that level of surveillance on Canadians. What we would normally see would be more limited individualized kind of responses to Canadians when we start to think about surveillance and monitoring. So kind of that mass level surveillance is just not something I would see being imposed here. There are certain provincial require—or legislative provisions that could allow for the collection of information that would potentially allow for health tracing, but I know that the provincial minister of health in Ontario has said that that realistically isn’t how we deal with things in Canada.
Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, and as you said, hopefully we don’t get to that spot yet. Thank you very much for joining us, professor. Appreciate your time.
Professor Leah West, Carleton University: Thank you.
Mike Le Couteur: Well that’s all the time we have for today. And we appreciate you joining us, as we try and keep you up to date on this ever-evolving crisis.
Now as the prime minister has said, we’re all in this together. So if you have a chance, when you’re at the grocery store, thank the people who are working there, or the people who are working at the coffee shop. Don’t forget, they’re coming into work every day, to help you feel a sense of normalcy in this very abnormal time.
And to continue to help navigate all of this, Global will be airing a network special at 10pm eastern, tomorrow. We hope to answer some of your questions and show you how others across the country are adjusting to a rapidly changing reality. We hope you join us, and we hope to have you back here with us next week, for another edition of The West Block. Until then, I’m Mike Le Couteur. Stay safe, everyone.