The West Block — Episode 30, Season 9

The West Block: Mar 29
Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, March 29, 2020 with Mercedes Stephenson.


Episode 30, Season 9

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Host: Mike Le Couteur

Guests: Minister Navdeep Bains, Mercedes Stephenson,

Lt. Gen. (ret’d) Andrew Leslie, Premier Stephen McNeil

Location: Ottawa

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Enough is enough. Go home and stay home.”

Finance Minister Bill Morneau: “It’s a simple and effective way for us to get money to people. We are working hard to make sure that that happens.”

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil: “Telling all travellers if you’re coming home, that is going directly home and isolating for 14 days.”

Global News National Anchor Dawna Friesen: “The United States, which now has the most cases in the world, yet the American president is considering sending troops to the border with Canada, to protect that country from us.”

Ottawa Bureau Chief Mercedes Stephenson: “Sources tell Global News that the current plan would see 1,000 troops.”

President Donald Trump: “We have some troops up in Canada.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland: “We would view as damaging to our relationship.

Mike Le Couteur: It’s Sunday, March 29th. I’m Mike Le Couteur, and this is The West Block.

Quarantines, self-isolation, emergency benefits, all are top of mind as Canada, and the world, try to flatten the curve for COVID-19.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Enough is enough. Go home and stay home. This is what we all need to be doing.”

Mike Le Couteur: Joining me now is Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovations, Science and Industry. I just wanted to ask you first, last week, Global News reported on President Donald Trump’s plan to station troops 30 kms from the Canada-U.S. border. There has been a report that the U.S. is backing away from that plan. Has the Canadian government been given any confirmation that is no longer happening?

Minister of Innovations, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains: Look, we’ve engaged with our American counterparts on this issue and on several issues and we made it very clear that this is an unnecessary step. We oppose such precautions that they want to take and I have enormous confidence in the Canadian Border Services Agency to deal with the new restrictions that we put in place, so we’re going to move forward in that manner.

The number one goal, as you know, is to make sure that we limit the movement of people, to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on our health care system so we can save lives. And that’s the objective and that’s what we’re going to focus on.

Mike Le Couteur: But do you know whether or not they will still be doing that and putting those troops at the border?

Minister of Innovations, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains: They know our position. Our position is crystal clear. This is completely unnecessary. We’re opposed to such measures. We’ve had a long and proud history of an undefended border with them and we’re confident that we can move forward in that manner.

Mike Le Couteur: I just wanted to ask you about another decision that President Trump might make. He says he wants the U.S. to be up and running by Easter, including—it could include a full reopening of the border. Given what we saw during NAFTA negotiations, can Canada really pushback against the U.S. without expecting some sort of retaliation from the Americans if he does decide he wants the border up and running again?

Minister of Innovations, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains: Look, there’s a lot of speculation. We don’t know exactly how things are going to unfold. As you can fully appreciate, the situation is very fluid. Things are changing on a daily basis. The number of COVID cases in the United States is rising at an alarming rate. And so we recognize that the health and wellbeing of Americans and Canadians are at stake here and we’ll make sure that we convey our concerns and our issues with regards to what we’re hearing from experts, the kind of measures we need to take place in order to save lives and that’s what we’re focused on.

Mike Le Couteur: Let’s bring it back home here now. The province of Ontario struck a deal with auto parts manufacturers to help make ventilators. The U.S. government is forcing General Motors to do the same. Your government has said it will work with industry to help, but given how important time is, can’t your government be doing more to push Canadians companies to pitch in and help?

Minister of Innovations, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains: Well, we are mobilizing industry at an unprecedented rate to scale up operations, to retool. We’ve opened up all government programs to assist that in a timely manner. We made some announcements with regards to some of the measures that are moving forward to assist this retooling and we’ll announce companies that are moving forward to help build masks, focus on ventilators, as you said, gowns and gloves. There’s a lot of goodwill out there. Many companies are stepping up and we’re going to engage with them. And I’m confident that we’ll have more supplies not less going forward in the coming weeks and months.

Mike Le Couteur: But instead of just engaging with them, why can’t you just order companies to do it? It would seem like it’s a natural job creator, or to keep them on payroll, anyways.

Minister of Innovations, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains: Oh, they’re stepping up. They’re stepping up in a big way. They are mobilizing. They are building these essential supplies for us, so there’s no order that’s required. The level of cooperation is there. The goodwill is there. And we’re working around the clock to do this. And with regards to jobs, that’s why this week we announced an increase to the wage subsidy to 75 per cent in order to make sure that companies can keep people on the payroll.

Mike Le Couteur: Now we’ve seen some companies doing things on their own and I don’t know whether or not those are the ones you’re engaged with or not. But Bauer, the hockey company making face shields for health care workers. How are you able to sort of track all of this so that this really is a whole coordinated effort?

Minister of Innovations, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains: And that’s a fair point. That’s what I’m working very closely with my colleague, Patty Hajdu to understand the needs with respect to health care supplies that they want us to pursue. They’re working and engaging with the provinces and territories, and I’m also working very closely with Anita Anand, the minister responsible for procurement. So we use our purchasing power to quickly identify the opportunities and purchase the stuff that we need. So we’re building a lot of stuff and we have a strong domestic capacity and we’re purchasing a lot of stuff. We want to be over prepared and not underprepared.

Mike Le Couteur: Another part of the announcement this week involves research for a vaccine. Often in this field, it sees groups working in silos instead of working together. What is your government doing, to ensure that all of the information is being shared and everyone is working together towards getting that vaccine?

Minister of Innovations, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains: That’s a fair point. We’ve allocated hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars towards vaccine development, towards antivirals and our policy is an open science policy. That is that we’re sharing, you know, best practices within Canada and with the World Health Organization. As well, Dr. Mona Nemer, the chief science advisor is fully engaged on this with other partners and other countries around the world, to share what we’re doing, to make sure that we look at the clinical trials that are taking place and we can move this forward in a timely manner. We’re—this a global challenge. This is a global pandemic and so it requires a global effort when it comes to vaccine development. And we actually have a policy around that saying we’re going to share what we have and we’re going to share that knowledge with other jurisdictions.

Mike Le Couteur: Now while you do that, how do you make sure that other jurisdictions are sharing information with you, because researchers are not always known around the globe for sharing that information? How do we break down all of those silos so that the whole globe is actually working towards finding this vaccine?

Minister of Innovations, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains: Well we’re engaged with the World Health Organization and they’ve got the goodwill of many researchers around the world and it’s in our collective interest to work together. Not only are we focusing on vaccine development, though, and antivirals, but also production capabilities within Canada as well, in case we need to quickly transition to produce those vaccines here that we can do so.

Mike Le Couteur: How close are we to that, though?

Minister of Innovations, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains: Oh, I mean, you’ll get different timelines. As Dr. Tam has said, this can take quite some time because the clinical trials are important. Some have estimated a year, some have said 18 months. It really does depend. It’s something that could happen very quickly. It’s just very, very challenging to put a specific timeline, but we’ve got incredible scientists, researchers, institutions at play. The International Vaccine Centre in Saskatchewan, the University of Saskatchewan is working on some incredible clinical trials as well. So we’re confident that we’re making progress, but it is—it would be misleading if I had a particular date to share with Canadians at this moment.

Mike Le Couteur: Understood. Thanks for that, Minister. We appreciate you taking the time today. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to leave it there.

Minister of Innovations, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains: Alright, thanks very much.

Mike Le Couteur: Up next, COVID-19 and the challenges it’s causing at the Canada-U.S. border.

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President Donald Trump:  “Well, we have very strong deployments on the southern border, as you know with Mexico, and we had some troops up in Canada, but I’ll find out about that—I guess it’s equal justice to a certain extent. But in Canada, we have—we do have troops along the border. You know we have a lot of things coming in from Canada. We have trades, some illegal trade that we don’t like.”

Mike Le Couteur: Welcome back. That was U.S. President Donald Trump last week after Global News reported the Trump Administration wanted to station U.S. troops within 30 kilometres of the Canadian border, to monitor illegal border crossings. Our bureau chief and host of this show, Mercedes Stephenson, broke that story and she now joins us from self-isolation.

Mercedes, what were your sources telling you was the reason for having those troops near the border?

Mercedes Stephenson, Ottawa Bureau Chief and Host of The West Block: Well, there’s the official reason, Mike, and then there is likely the political reason. Let’s start with the political one. Donald Trump has been under significant criticism in the United States, for his administration’s response to the COVID-19 emergency. And a lot of the sources I was talking to were saying this is not about any real concern about the Canadian border. One former Canadian general said this isn’t an operation. It’s a demonstration, politically, to try to change the channel and that that was the real motive behind it for the administration.

Now, we do know that there was a leaked memo from U.S. Border Services asking for those troops. And the official reasons that were being cited by the United States when they talked to Canada, was concern about potential migrants coming from Canada carrying COVID-19. The thing is, Mike, there’s been no big flood, and the trend is people crossing the border from the U.S. into Canada, illegally, not the other way around.

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Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, and Mercedes, we only have about half a minute now. This is a tough relationship at the best of times. What does this mean going forward now?

Mercedes Stephenson, Ottawa Bureau Chief and Host of The West Block: Well, it’s something the administrations in the U.S. and in Canada have to continue to handle. We have a very close relationship. The border closing would absolutely devastate both countries, economically. But working with Donald Trump is no easy feat, as our viewers know. So they have to find a way to continue to maintain that relationship, keep the border open to essential goods, but also move forward together, and that will be increasingly difficult as this crisis escalates. But so far, the government’s been doing a pretty good job.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, I appreciate that. Thanks for your time, Mercedes. Great reporting on this, we’ll talk to you soon.

And joining me now from Ottawa is General Andrew Leslie, a retired lieutenant general and former parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs responsible for Canada-U.S. relations. Thanks so much for joining us.

First off, as Mercedes Stephenson reported last week, the U.S. was getting ready to militarize their border but then they backed off. What do you think was behind that move?

Lieutenant General (retired) Andrew Leslie: Well, I think—you know what? It’s sometimes difficult to figure out what goes on inside some of the mind of the folk who are articulating such opinions in the White House. I think the bottom line is that the Government of Canada became aware of it and the prime minister did exactly the right thing. He spoke to the source. He picked up the phone, called President Trump and then [00:03:19].
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Mike Le Couteur: Now the Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland used some strong language. She was saying that it would have been “damaging to our relationship.” But would Canada really have had any kind of recourse against the U.S.?

Lieutenant General (retired) Andrew Leslie: There’s the Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1818, but quite frankly, there’s such a mercurial atmosphere. Keeping in mind that the White House itself like Canada is dealing with a whole bunch of extraordinary circumstances and tragedies, the right thing was done. The prime minister picked up the phone, called the president. That’s over.

Mike Le Couteur: Now President Trump was also talking and has been talking about having the U.S. open for business again by Easter is seemingly ignoring his own health officials’ recommendations. So if Canada doesn’t agree to reopen the border by then, how do you see that playing out?

Lieutenant General (retired) Andrew Leslie: What the president does to decide vis-à-vis the United States, of course, is entirely the purview of the Americans to resolve. Most of the experts that I’ve heard, believe that the first waves have certainly not yet peaked in either Canada or the United States. The numbers in terms of the sick and the very sick are expected to spoke sometime over the next couple of weeks and then we have the second wave. So it’s too soon to say when this is going to be over and I believe that’s the position of [00:04:30 INAUDIBLE].
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Mike Le Couteur: But I guess, I’m asking you, because if they reopen the border, do we have any choice but to go along with it? Or that if they want to open the border, because you look back to the NAFTA negotiations when it wasn’t going the way that President Trump wanted it, he slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum. So, do we just have to go along with whatever the U.S. decides?

Lieutenant General (retired) Andrew Leslie: No, we don’t. But look, the borders, theoretically, it’s not closed now. It’s closed to non-essential traffic. In the last week, if memory serves from my time when I was in Global Affairs, about 100,000 trucks cross the border each way. So, there’s still an enormous volume of machines and people that are crossing the border. They’re just restricted in terms of are they carrying vital goods for Canada or vice versa? Keeping in mind, you know the average daily traffic was three times that.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, okay. So let’s go back to on this side of the border, then. You’re in favour of the government using the Emergencies Act, something that they continue to refuse to do. What arguments would you make to the prime minister to use it?

Lieutenant General (retired) Andrew Leslie: The Emergencies Act, I believe it’s important, vitally important that it be implemented now. Currently, the provinces are leading the fight against an unseen enemy that’s trying to kill us and succeeding. That fight is going to have to spike in intensity, and of course, the time to introduce all the measures that are available to the federal government to provide that national leadership, in terms of corralling the provinces and helping them between and amongst one another, is before we get to the absolute crisis point, which still is probably a couple of weeks away.

Mike Le Couteur: Sorry. So in your mind, we’re not getting ahead of it at this point by not making that move right now?

Lieutenant General (retired) Andrew Leslie: I believe that’s correct, yes. So far, everyone has done good work. People are working really hard, but we’ve already heard reports that hospitals are running short of ventilators. They’re running short of masks. Teams are getting exhausted. How do you adjudicate and balance the demands for resources, such as ventilators, between provinces? How do you make sure that the essential services lists match? How do you actually help? For example, just like B.C. has done, they’ve essentially, under provincial authority, they’ve taken charge of the supply chain. What does that mean for cross border ability to help one another? And that’s where the federal government has to lead.

Mike Le Couteur: So, would it also include seeing the military in the streets and trying to manage movement of people? Because some are concerned that that could create more panic than is needed at this point. Or, do you think that there is a purpose for the military to be involved in the situation now and to help sort of enforce that self-isolation, or the physical distancing that everybody says is so important now?

Lieutenant General (retired) Andrew Leslie: Look, the Emergencies Act was crafted in 1988. It’s well-thought-out. It’s well-reasoned. This would probably be a public welfare emergency, and one of the subtitles within that portion of the act actually deals with a pandemic. The military has no role to play in terms of armed support. But the military is the organization of last resort and I think quite wisely, everyone is keeping the military hunkered down, so if and when the time comes for them to backstop a variety of our current frontline troops, or the medical teams and the doctors, and the farmers and the truckers delivering our stuff, and the pharmacists, there’s a person pool available, should it be required, but not yet.

Mike Le Couteur: I mean, there’s a number of politicians who continue to be so frustrated because their repeated calls for it are not being heeded by the public.

Lieutenant General (retired) Andrew Leslie: That is a policing function. And especially now, as we approach spring in Canada and a whole bunch of things happen in spring in Canada, like floods. You’ve got forest fires season and you’re going to have to eventually, perhaps, use military personnel to backstop some of the less technically demanding or sophisticated medical teams, be it drivers, be it trained personnel who are organized and are capable of going into harm’s way without a moment’s hesitation. But keep them safe. Keep them secure for now, because they are the force of last—oh sorry—they’re the organization of last resort.

Mike Le Couteur: General Leslie thanks for joining us. We’re going to have to leave it there. We appreciate your time.

Lieutenant General (retired) Andrew Leslie: You’re more than welcome.

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Mike Le Couteur: Welcome back. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Nova Scotia’s health care system was struggling. They don’t have enough doctors, ER rooms were closing on a rotating basis, and with about 20 per cent of the population aged 65 and older, the province is taking some of the strongest measures to try and flatten the curve.

Joining us now, to talk more about this is the Premier of Nova Scotia Stephen McNeil. Thanks so much for joining us, Premier. I guess the first thing I want to ask you is you declared a state of emergency which imposed very strict rules on how many people can gather in public. Anyone who enters the province must self-isolate for 14 days. These measures are all enforceable by police. How much further are you willing to go?

Stephen McNeil, Premier of Nova Scotia: Well listen, we started out by encouraging Nova Scotians to join us as we wanted to make sure we took—made people safe and followed the public health order of self-distancing, not the public gatherings. No more than 50 people when we started out. And then last weekend, we had people showing up to beaches, our parks were full. We then realized we had to bring in very strict measures, which we did, reduce social gatherings to five. Police have the ability to enforce it, and I will not let a small group of Nova Scotians to affect the overall health of our province. And we will do what we have to do to make sure that we continue to have control of this virus in our province and do everything we can to protect the citizens of Nova Scotia.

Mike Le Couteur: It might be a bit extreme, but you also called on some divine intervention, praying for rain, or even a snowstorm. I mean, how frustrated are you that citizens don’t seem to be taking this seriously?

Stephen McNeil, Premier of Nova Scotia: Well, I don’t know if it’s too much to ask for divine intervention on most things, but you know what? We were—we continue to work with Nova Scotians, but each time, if they show disregard, quite frankly, for public health, we will do what we have to do, to make sure people self-isolate for 14 days. And that is not just out of the country, that’s anyone who leaves our province for another province. When they come back, we expect them to self-isolate for 14 days. We expect people to practice the five rules social gathering piece: 6 feet apart when it comes to distancing if you have to be out. Those are the rules that we’re going to enforce, and it’s ones that we know, quite frankly, will help us stay on top of this virus. If we don’t do it, if we as individual Nova Scotians don’t accept these small measures—these small inconveniences that are being asked of us, to protect the overall population of our health, we will not have the success that I believe we can achieve.

Mike Le Couteur: Now there is one more help that you can get that’s from the prime minister. He said last week, most premiers on that conference call were not asking for the Emergencies Act to be brought in. Were you one of the ones who now want it, though?

Stephen McNeil, Premier of Nova Scotia: No. I mean, I said to the prime minister on that call that’d be the decision the national government makes. We’re very clear that we will make the decisions that will protect Nova Scotians. If he felt that would help the national government, then that would be a decision they can make. But we were going to make the decisions inside of Nova Scotia that we believe protected the health of Nova Scotians.

Mike Le Couteur: Now, I started this by saying, you know, your population is amongst the oldest in the country. Given how this virus is more fatal in the elderly, how concerned are you that it’s going to hit your province harder than others?

Stephen McNeil, Premier of Nova Scotia: Well, one of the very first things we did was lockdown nursing homes. We’ve denied access to them, completely shut down. Only workers are going in. We continue to ensure that we’ve gotten people out of the hospital. They’re about 70 per cent capacity today in our acute care system. You know, not only does it impact seniors, but it impacts Canadians and Nova Scotians with other underlying health issues, who are obviously very concerned with this virus, gets community spread in certain areas. It’s a lethal disease, quite frankly and we need to make sure that we do everything we can to contain it.

Mike Le Couteur: Now several provinces and the federal government announced billion dollar aid packages. Your numbers that you’ve announced so far, just number in the millions so far, and do a lot for businesses. What do you say to critics who will say that your aid package, so far, does little to put money in the pockets of Nova Scotians.

Stephen McNeil, Premier of Nova Scotia: Well any national government you say as recently as Friday, put in a package out there that was protecting small business owners across the province—across the country. Wage supplements of up to 70 per cent. Those who were self-employed: $2,000 a month. We’re looking at how do we stack on top of that if required, but the reality of it is that we, ahead of most Canadian provinces, shut down our service sector. We closed restaurants, closed bars. Much of our downtown core and our cities and towns have been closed because of that decision. What we’re doing is trying to keep the entrepreneur somewhat viable. We want to make sure that when we come out of this, there’s jobs. And we believe the best way to do that, is to somehow support the entrepreneur when it comes to the fixed costs they have like rent to differ that. And we’ve worked today, on Friday, with our—some of our commercial developers, to ensure that we can do that, because we want to prepare our economy to be ready to take off as soon as public health gives us the word that we can open it up again..

Mike Le Couteur: So we’ve only got a few seconds left in closing here. In your province, school was supposed to return after next week. When are you going to make a decision about that?

Stephen McNeil, Premier of Nova Scotia: Well, we’re working now with our partners in the education system and putting courses online, but there’ll be a final decision. But it looks like school will not be reopening following the two-week closure after March break.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, likely the same thing in a lot of other provinces. Premier thanks so much for taking the time and that’s all the time we have right now and we appreciate you being here.

Stephen McNeil, Premier of Nova Scotia: Thanks for having me.

Mike Le Couteur: And we thank you for joining us as well today. For viewers in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, we have another half hour coming up for you. To everyone else, have a great week and stay safe.

Additional West Block programming aired in some markets on Sunday:

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Episode 30, Season 9

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Host: Mike Le Couteur

Guests: Dan Kelly, Jeremy Kronick, Linda Silas, Minister Patty Hajdu,

Mercedes Stephenson, David Colette

Location: Ottawa

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We will be supporting small and medium-sized businesses with payroll support up to 75 per cent.”

Quebec Premier François Legault: “We must put Quebec on pause.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford: “Our resources are spread.”

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister: “Our funds could be gone in three months or less.”

Finance Minister Bill Morneau: “There aren’t faster ways to get money in Canadians hands. That is in fact, the challenge that we’re facing.”

Global News National Anchor Dawna Friesen: “It’s called the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and it will inject billions into the economy.”

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Health Minister Patty Hajdu: “This will be serious and that there will be significant penalties if people violate the quarantine. The fresh air is actually good you. It is also a way to alleviate boredom and anxiety, and it helps with mental health.”

Mike Le Couteur: It’s Sunday, March 29th. I’m Mike Le Couteur, and this is The West Block.

The federal government spent last week announcing its two-pronged approach to help businesses and Canadians affected by COVID-19. First, with a $107 billion benefit package and then, increasing wage subsidies for small and medium-sized companies. The provinces have announced their own aid packages also worth billions of dollars.

Joining me now to talk more about this is Dan Kelly, the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, and Jeremy Kronick from the C.D. Howe Institute. Both of you are in Toronto. Thanks so much for joining us.

Dan, we’ll start with you. Late this week, the government finally announcing it was going to increase the wage subsidy program for businesses from 10 per cent now to 75 per cent. How much is this going to help your members?

Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses: It’s big. It’s certainly late in the day to do this because, of course, there have been millions of Canadians already laid off by companies of all sizes. But having this wage subsidy is going to be really key to keeping many employers connected to their employees through this crisis. In our opinion, the best single move the government can make to try to—to help us get out of the economic turbulence that we’re in right now, is to ensure that businesses, as soon as the emergency is over, are able to call back their workers. And if everybody’s been unemployed and is on EI, that’s going to take months and months. So this measures welcome and a little late, but really important.

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Mike Le Couteur: And Jeremy, another thing that happened on Friday is the Bank of Canada announced they’ll be making their final rate cut to .25 per cent. How significant is that on its own, and when you combine it with all the measures that were announced last week?

Jeremy Kronick, C.D. Howe Institute: Well I mean the rate cut itself was widely expected to go down to 0.25, which was the lower end of what they had in the 2008 financial crisis. But perhaps more importantly, they activated quantitative easing, basically. And that was something that they, unlike the U.S. Fed and the U.K. Bank of England, they were able to avoid doing that in 2008. And so that’s probably even the bigger thing that they’re going to start buying government bonds, especially—which is even more needed in in an environment where we’re going to see deficits ballooning to the size that you suggested off the top.

Mike Le Couteur: Dan, your group also applauded the government’s new benefit program, because a worker doesn’t have to be laid off to qualify for it. Tell me why it’s so important for businesses to have that kind of flexibility?

Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses: Well for one thing, a business is going to be able to pay that worker an awful lot more quickly than the EI system would, or even the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit will. Those benefits, of course, are there for those that need them and I’m not opposed to them. But they’re going to be weeks and weeks before employees actually see cheques from government. If an employer is still connected to their employees and their wages are supported by government in this very difficult period, that worker is going to get paid right away. Some of them will be able to continue to work, because they’re able to work from home. And those that can’t will be sitting at home with the benefit of their full pay cheque helping them out. But for the employer, it means that as soon as the emergency phase is over, they’re going to stay connected to these workers and they can come back. Think about this, if there are millions and millions of people that are laid off, at the end of the COVID emergency, how many of them who are on EI are going to say you know what? I’m stressed out. I’m going to stick on EI for the next couple of months and maybe come back or look for another job in September. This way, as a result of the connection staying with the employer, that person will likely be back to work the very next day and that will help the economy recover an awful lot more quickly.

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Mike Le Couteur: And could it be that people are going to look at this and say I want a job that is more resistant to this type of thing?

Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses: Absolutely. The mental health benefits of employee not losing their job are massive. You can imagine, all of us are feeling stress right now because of the health care implications of COVID-19, but for millions of Canadians, we can take care of the economic stress that would come along with this. This is not something that we would typically recommend, but this is not the average—this is not an average recession. Fiscal measures to just dump money in the economy are not likely to help. This is a Main Street problem more than it is a Bay Street problem. It’s affecting us all, but if we can keep small businesses and their employees together, gosh, that’s going to help the employee out enormously, but it’s also going to help out the business get back to work an awful lot faster.

Mike Le Couteur: Jeremy, to that end, one of the big knocks on this program is how long it’s actually going to take to get money in the pockets and the bank accounts of Canadians. People are worried about missing credit card payments or rent. Was the government too slow in responding? Because when we look at the timeframe, it really feels like it’s going to be two and a half, three weeks before money is actually in people’s bank accounts.

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Jeremy Kronick, C.D. Howe Institute: Yeah. I mean it’s a fair point. You know, Dan raised it earlier that, you know, we’ve already seen a lot of job loss. I think the claims were a million already for EI, and so that’s a lot of people who are already out of a job. And so you can make the argument that they were slow. You know, the interesting thing was they started to make the announcements about the policies along this vein. But in terms of the size, it’s only today that we’re moving to sort of the number that was probably necessary from the beginning. But, you know, Dan mentioned it, this is a very unique recession. This is, you know, what we call a “Black Swan” event. And it’s—you know it’s hard for anybody, for businesses, for governments, to individuals, to know exactly how to act in this type of scenario. And so I am a little bit sympathetic to the government trying to figure this out, but looking certainly in hindsight, ideally this would have been done to the size that it was, earlier.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, and one of the problems, I think, is that the government keeps saying look, this just the first step, or maybe the second. I don’t know if we’re at step one and a half? But because we’ve seen that they’ve announced one and then it gets a little bit bigger. Do you think that the need to very quickly address those next steps, or just put all the cards on the table right now, Jeremy?

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Jeremy Kronick, C.D. Howe Institute: Yeah, I mean in my view right now, the key is speed. The key is speed and efficiency, and operationalizing these policies as soon as possible. I mean, you can get hung up in the details, and we heard today in the announcement that there’s a lot of the details we don’t know. You know, who’s going to qualify? Is there a cap per employee? Is it going to cover 100 per cent of the wages? But these types of questions, I think we need to worry less about the specifics and just get this thing going, because the key is to do this quickly.

Mike Le Couteur: And Dan, in that vein, what are you telling your members—sorry, I mean all those businesses with regards to trying to keep their doors open, for as long as possible and try to keep people on their payrolls for as long as possible?

Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses: Absolutely. Look, there—we have—we normally get 50 calls a day from small business members of CFIB from across the country, that this week reached 800. With the announcement of these new benefits that’s likely to double again, and we’re going to struggle to keep up with them. And we don’t have a lot of answers at the moment from government, but they’ve done the first big step and that is to say to business owners that are going day-to-day, wondering how long am I going to be able to hang onto my employee? Can I—is there enough money in the business to pay them out, this week? And could I borrow some money to pay them next week? The message from government is that the help will be there, the subsidy will be there for them to pay those wages, or a large chunk of it. That is going to be enough, I think, to slow down the number of layoffs that we would have otherwise seen. I think that that’s good news. So even if all the details haven’t been boiled together, getting the message out that help is on the way is enormous and a credit to the government for moving. It is way too late, but they have moved and that is good news from a small business perspective.

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Mike Le Couteur: Gentlemen, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much for talking to us today.

Jeremy Kronick, C.D. Howe Institute: Thank you.

Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses: Anytime.

Mike Le Couteur: Coming up next, taking care of those who take care of us. Do nurses have everything that they need in the battle against COVID-19?

Unidentified Citizen: [Cheers and applause] “Hooray for health care workers. Hooray for the nurses and doctors.”
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Mike Le Couteur: Welcome back. There has been an outpouring of appreciation across the globe and on social media for frontline health care workers, but they may not be feeling the love in the workplace as they deal with a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

And joining me now is the president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions Linda Silas. Linda, first thing off, the prime minister has promised that he will get more equipment. We’re hearing stories about how supplies are being rationed now at hospitals. What are you hearing from the nurses on the ground right now?

Linda Silas, President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union: Everyone is shaking their heads, because we hear the message from the prime minister and every premier in every province and territories, but those on the frontlines are being rationed, or the special equipment is being behind locked doors. It’s pure craziness and it’s insulting to the health care professionals that are there doing their jobs, saving lives, and we need to fix this and fix it quickly.

Mike Le Couteur: So it’s behind locked doors. Who has the key? And when are they allowed to actually get more equipment?

Linda Silas, President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union: You know, Michael, in this country we have Occupational Health and Safety laws that say that any worker must have a safe workplace. Just like you, just like any construction workers, firefighters, they must have the equipment to make sure they can do their job safely. So what employers are doing now is now safe, and I would push it further, it’s illegal. We have to connect with our employers and say you need to use the professional judgement of your nurse, of your whole team of professional health care workers. They need to look at the patient, the situation and do a risk assessment right there and then and decide what kind of personal protective equipment they need to take care of the patient, but also to keep themselves safe. And this is important to do right now because patients are coming in.

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Mike Le Couteur: So I wanted to ask you in terms of the actual pandemic here in Canada, how concerned are you that the big wave of cases has not come here yet and we still aren’t ready in terms of equipment or staffing?

Linda Silas, President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union: Saying that we’re not ready is false. We are ready. We have an amazing health care system. What is insulting is there is that fear of we might run out of personal protective equipment, of the appropriate respirators, when we know, and what we hear from the prime minister, down, that they have stockpiles. It’s almost like the toilet paper fiasco. We have them there. We have to make them available for our health care workers. The problem is we’re just at the peak, and patients are just coming in. About 6 per cent of patients with COVID-19 enter the hospital and a third of them enter the intensive care areas, so we have to be ready. But the hospitals, when they look at their system as a whole, they’ve cleared non-urgent surgeries, the beds are ready, everything. But we’re still into this battle of protecting health care workers today.

Mike Le Couteur: Now in Italy, they’ve been having to choose who to treat, who to let die. How worried are you that that could happen here?

Linda Silas, President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union: You know we’re trained; we’re educated to take care of people and do everything we can to save their lives. And when we listen to what’s happening in Italy or Spain, it is frightening. None of us in my generation and a few generations before have never lived that in health care. So my heart goes to every health care worker, every professional out there that’s going to have to make those decisions. But honestly, we are doing the right thing in Canada. If we could just continue on our social distancing, people realizing that stay home, give us a chance to get this virus out of our community and give us a fighting chance in our health system to do our jobs. And that’s the only thing we’re asking: let us do our jobs to save as many lives as we can, and then we’ll be writing a positive history chapter for our country in the years to come.

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Mike Le Couteur: Well you talk about that positivity. Earlier in the show, we showed some social media posts: people applauding health care workers. But we’re hearing that that’s not really the way they’re treated when they actually return home. What are you hearing from nurses about that?

Linda Silas, President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union: Yeah, with this virus I’m not hearing it as much, but when SARS was in Toronto it was shameful. If anybody knew you were a nurse, you were a health care worker they were escaping you. We are well-trained professionals. We know how to disinfect ourselves, if I can use that plain term, before we enter our communities. We have families, too. There’s not a nurse, a doctor, a health care worker that doesn’t have a family that cares about them like you care about your family. So we know how to do it, you need to trust us. But employers need to give us the tools to be able to do it.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, unfortunately—hopefully that situation gets better, Linda. That’s where we’re going to have to leave it, unfortunately. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Linda Silas, President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union: Well, I thank you.

Mike Le Couteur: Up next, perceptions of the pandemic. We’ll talk to a pollster whose been taking the pulse of the people.

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Patty Hajdu, Health Minister: “The fresh air is actually good for you. It is also a way to alleviate boredom and anxiety, and helps with mental health and the challenges that people are facing in this extremely anxious and fearful time. And so we will continue to provide Public Health guidance on how to do so, in a safe way.”

Mike Le Couteur: That was Health Minister Patty Hajdu last week, talking about the importance of maintaining your mental health while in self-isolation. One person who knows about that very well is our Bureau Chief and the host of the show Mercedes Stephenson. Thanks so much for taking the time for a chat today, Mercedes. Now experts have said to keep a routine, so how have you managed to do that?

Mercedes Stephenson, Ottawa Bureau Chief and Host of The West Block: Well, I feel very fortunate that I’m a Canadian who has a job right now, and that job as a journalist has kept me exceptionally busy. So I haven’t really noticed the disruption in routine in terms of being at home and feeling isolated and not having to do my usual things. What I found instead is that I really feel the absence of colleagues, that we don’t have the meeting when we all come in the morning and you get to see people’s facing and watch their body language and have that human contact. It’s missing. And what was also odd for me is I was one of those Canadians who came back from being outside the country. So when I left, things were relatively normal, and when I came home, the streets are empty, people are in quarantine. It’s a completely different society right now and that’s been an adjustment for sure.

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Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, and to your point. I mean, you’re such a social person. How have you managed trying to keep that social feeling with other people?

Mercedes Stephenson, Ottawa Bureau Chief and Host of The West Block: Well, so this kind of technology is great. We’re able to actually—I mean, I can’t see you right now, but I can FaceTime with friends and family. I’ve had a lot of people, and I’ve really been touched by how many in your life, including people like my friend’s dad from high school who reached out to say are you okay? Do you need anyone to talk to? Do you need groceries brought to you? So I found that there’s been an incredible feeling of warmth and community. Despite not being directly in touch with people, I actually find I’m hearing from more people than I have in a long time, and it’s been really nice and really reassuring to have those connections.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, thanks for that, Mercedes. Maybe one of the benefits of all this is reaching out to old friends. And we can’t wait to have you back in the bureau. Thanks again, for joining us.

So millions of Canadians are doing what Mercedes is doing right now and feeling those same things. Knowing that you’re not alone can help you get through this crisis. Now one polling firm decided to take the pulse of the people asking Canadians about their state of mind and if they’re ready to be in quarantine, if they contract the virus.

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And joining us now is David Coletto from Abacus Data. Thanks very much for being here, and tell me a little bit about this. It’s a really good look at this pandemic and how people are seeing it. Only 5 per cent of people think that worst is behind us so far. How does that play into people’s mental state?

David Coletto, Abacus Data: Well, I think it’s a recognition that we’re only at the beginning of this, right? Five per cent think the worst is behind us, but 65 per cent think the worst is still to come and the rest of us aren’t quite sure, is a reflection of how quickly, I think, people’s concern and understanding of the scale of this epidemic is. And for a few weeks ago, it was something happening somewhere else, right? We saw what was going on in China. We then saw it move to Italy. Now it’s come here and I think there’s growing recognition of the true impact it’s going to have on all of our lives, both in the short-term and the risks to our health, but the long term economic and social consequences.

Mike Le Couteur: One of the stats in it that I thought was really interesting, not only because it involves the media, but 36 per cent of people don’t want to watch it on the news, watch about it on the news or read about it. It makes them feel more anxious. How dangerous, though, do you think that is in terms of public education and people really being armed with the knowledge as they go through their daily lives?

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David Coletto, Abacus Data: Well, I think we’re watching in real-time, the impact it’s having on people’s emotional state, right? And you can’t—we see in our own data, the amount of people who are following this story, who are watching TV, news is an example, to understand the days and minutes of this issue evolving. And at some point, people are going to hit a wall and say, I don’t want to hear anymore because it’s really all bad news. There’s not a lot of great positive news stories coming out of this yet. And so the risk is people just turn it off. And at a moment where critical information is coming out every day that is affecting our own behaviour, what we should be doing: staying home, staying away from others and the escalation of government policy around that, means that it’s going to get, perhaps, harder and harder to reach people and communicate out, which is why I think you see the federal government rolling out a $30 million ad campaign because they realize not everybody is watching TV, not everybody is getting information in the same way, and that as this goes on, people might start tuning it out. And I think that is a risk and the news, is just having a real negative effect on people’s just anxiousness and overall state of mind.

Mike Le Couteur: Do you think it’s also people just want to say look, just tell me when this is over and I can go back to normal, and I’ll sort of hide out in my own home until then?

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David Coletto, Abacus Data: I think there are. There’s quite a few people who aren’t actively watching this and aren’t sort of getting the minute-by-minute, play-by-play on what’s happening. And so how do you communicate to that group, right? And the risk of misinformation getting around, or rumours, or word-of-mouth spreading things that aren’t necessarily true, escalates the more that that happens.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, and another thing in your survey says that most think it’ll take about two to three months before things get back to normal, before we can live our daily lives. Twenty-nine per cent still aren’t sure. Why do you think that is?

David Coletto, Abacus Data: I think partly because it’s such a rapidly evolving issue, right? Just think about it. Two weeks ago, all of us were in a completely different state of mind than we are today. And I think that’s reflective of people’s general uncertainty about this, right? They just don’t know how long it’s going to take, how quickly we’re going to be able to—if we are going to flatten the curve and things are going to get under control that we’re going to be able to live our lives day-to-day. What is important, though, is there is a relationship between how long you think this is going to last and your level of concern. And those who are uncertain are just as concerned. So, it’s not necessarily affecting the decisions they’re making. They’re just not able to plan. And that lack of planning, lack of control is what creates further, I think, anxiety around this issue.

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Mike Le Couteur: And that lack of control of whether or not people think they’re actually going to get it. That leads me to my next question, which is 55 per cent of people think that it’s likely they or someone they know will come into contact with the virus. To that end, though, what does your data show about how people are ready for being in isolation, 14-day isolation?

David Coletto, Abacus Data: Well, the first is that number has gone up very quickly over a very short period of time. Two weeks ago, we asked the same question and a minority of Canadians thought they were likely, or someone they knew was likely to get it, so it has changed quickly. But on this preparedness question, we hear stories about people, you know, stockpiling certain types of household goods, or canned food, or whatnot.

Mike Le Couteur: Which may or may not be useful.

David Coletto, Abacus Data: Which may not be useful, but nonetheless, there’s a recognition that some people are preparing, and most Canadians say they are at least somewhat prepared for a 14-day isolation, if they’re required to so. But there’s still a minority of people, and this is the—to me, the important thing in all this research is that while most Canadians are doing the things they should be doing—maybe they are stocking too much on certain things, but they are social distancing. They are, you know, staying home from work. They’re doing all the things that people are asking of them, but the minor—there’s a minority who aren’t. And that’s—j

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Mike Le Couteur: How shocking is that to you?

David Coletto, Abacus Data: Well, that’s the shocking number and it’s who of that group aren’t. For example, we see that there’s a big gender gap, right? Men are less likely to be concerned, less likely to be social distancing, less likely to think this is a big deal, to be young men.

Mike Le Couteur: For sure. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much for joining us today, I really appreciate it.

Barry McLoughlin: My pleasure.

Mike Le Couteur: And that’s all the time we have for today. Thanks so much for joining us. I hope we’ve helped you better understand what is happening in your world, as you try to keep yourself and others around you, safe. For The West Block, I’m Mike Le Couteur. Have a great week and stay safe, everyone.